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Ravenna Spencer v. City of Philadelphia

April 2, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Susan Paradise Baxter United States Magistrate Judge

Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter


Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter

Relevant Procedural History

Plaintiff, a state inmate acting pro se, originally filed this civil rights action on July 7, 2009. A convoluted procedural history ensued, most of which need not be related here. Plaintiff continued to represent himself in this case until August 12, 2011, when Attorney John Mizner entered his appearance on behalf of Plaintiff in this and other federal cases. Following the appointment of counsel, the Third Amended Complaint was filed on October 19, 2011. ECF No. 78.

In the Third Amended Complaint, Plaintiff names the following Defendants: Correctional Officer Sergeant Bush; Correctional Officer Scoles; Correctional Officer Lieutenant Vojacek;

Dorina Varner, Chief Grievance Officer; and Brian Coleman, Superintendent of SCI-Fayette.*fn2

Defendants are sued in their individual capacities.

Around December of 2008, Plaintiff, an inmate incarcerated at SCI-Fayette, was called out for an authorized temporary absence (ATA) in order to testify in Philadelphia. Plaintiff packed three boxes of personal property and Defendant Bush took possession of those boxes. ECF No. 76, ¶ 7-8. Because Plaintiff was only permitted to take one box of property with him to the Philadelphia jail, Defendant Correctional Officer Bush put two boxes of Plaintiff's property in storage. Id. at ¶ 13. Upon Plaintiff's return to SCI-Fayette in January of 2009, he sought to retrieve the two boxes from storage. Id. at ¶ 26. These two boxes were never returned to Plaintiff and their loss forms the basis of this lawsuit.

Plaintiff advances the following causes of action: Count I -- Access to Courts; Count II -- First Amendment Retaliation; Count III -- Equal Protection; Count IV -- Due process; Count V -- § 1983 Conspiracy; Count VI -- Replevin; Count VII -- Bailment; Count VIII -- Conversion; and Count IX -- Intentional Interference with Prospective Contractual Relations. All counts are advanced against all five Defendants, with the exception of Count VII, Bailment, which is only directed against Defendant Bush. ECF No. 76.

In response to the Third Amended Complaint, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. Defendants move to dismiss on several bases. ECF No. 77. Plaintiff has filed a brief in opposition to the pending dispositive motion. ECF No. 80. The issues are fully briefed and are ripe for disposition by this Court.

Standard of Review - Motion to dismiss pursuant to 12(b)(6)

A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and all the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007). A complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12 (b)(6) if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570 (rejecting the traditional 12 (b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957)). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ___ U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) (specifically applying Twombly analysis beyond the context of the Sherman Act).

A Court need not accept inferences drawn by a plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004) citing Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Nor must the Court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). See also McTernan v. City of York, Pennsylvania, 577 F.3d 521, 531 (3d Cir. 2009) quoting Iqbal, U.S. at ___, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 ("The tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions."). A plaintiff's factual allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, citing 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, pp. 235-236 (3d ed. 2004). Although the United States Supreme Court does "not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, [the Court does require] enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570.

In other words, at the motion to dismiss stage, a plaintiff is "required to make a 'showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief." Smith v. Sullivan, 2008 WL 482469, at *1 (D. Del.) quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008). "This 'does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,' but instead 'simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234, quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 n.3.

Recently, the Third Circuit expounded on the Twombly/Iqbal line of cases:

To determine the sufficiency of a complaint under Twombly and Iqbal, we must take the following three steps:

First, the court must 'tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.' Second, the court should identify allegations that, 'because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.' Finally, 'where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.'

Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 221 (3d Cir. 2011) quoting Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010).

Several exhibits have been attached to pleadings at this stage of the litigation. However, the use of these exhibits by this Court does not convert Defendants= motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim into a motion for summary judgment. Pryor v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002) (A...certain matters outside the body of the complaint itself, such as exhibits attached to the complaint and facts of which the court will take judicial notice, will not trigger the conversion of an Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss to an Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 motion for summary judgment."). In ruling upon the Defendant's motion to dismiss, the Court may consider and take judicial notice of the docket sheets and court records in Plaintiff's cases before the state and federal courts. Id.

citing 62 Fed. Proc. L.Ed. § 62.520; Anaspach v. City of Philadelphia, 503 F.3d 256, 273 n.11 (3d Cir. 2007) (court may take judicial notice of public records when ruling on rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss).

The Exhaustion Requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act

1.The Act

Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims against Scoles, Vojacek, Varner and Coleman should be dismissed for failure to comply with the exhaustion requirements of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. ยง 1997e(a), which provides: no action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title ... by a prisoner confined in any jail, prisons, ...

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