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Joseph Watson v. Jeffrey Beard

August 21, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lisa Pupo Lenihan Chief United States Magistrate Judge

Chief Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan

ECF Nos. 82, 84, 86, 87


Plaintiff, Joseph Watson, a pro se prisoner currently in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) in the State Correctional Institution at Somerset (SCI-Somerset), initiated the instant action on April 3, 2009, pursuant to the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In his complaint (ECF No. 3) and supplement to complaint (ECF No. 4), Plaintiff alleged that Defendants violated his rights as protected by the First, Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Defendants filed Motions to Dismiss Plaintiff's claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (ECF Nos. 25, 45.) In a Report and Recommendation dated April 12, 2010, the undersigned recommended that the Motions be granted. (ECF No. 49.) The Report was adopted as the Opinion of the Court on May 27, 2010, and dismissal was appealed by Plaintiff. (ECF Nos. 55, 57.) On July 11, 2011, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued an Opinion which stated in pertinent part:

". . . we will affirm the great majority of the District Court's judgment, but will vacate and remand on the retaliation and Fourth Amendment claims as discussed above. We also will vacate and remand on his access-to-courts claims, as he may be able to cure the defect in his allegations if granted leave to amend; on all other claims, amendment would be futile." (ECF No. 62.) As a result, Plaintiff was ordered to file an amended complaint consistent with the appellate court's Opinion. (ECF No. 63.) After Plaintiff sought leave to amend his complaint by adding new claims (ECF No. 66), he was ordered to file an amended complaint consistent with the Third Circuit's Opinion. Plaintiff was granted an extension of time in which to file his amended complaint (ECF No. 71), and he filed an amended complaint on January 12, 2012 (ECF No. 74). By Order of the Court, Plaintiff was permitted to file a second amended complaint, which he filed on February 22, 2012 (ECF No. 81). Defendants have filed Motions to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(16). (ECF Nos. 82, 84.) For the reasons stated below, the Motions will be granted.

I.Plaintiff's Allegations

The following recitation is taken from the aforementioned Opinion of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals dated July 11, 2011.

Watson, a prisoner at SCI-Somerset in Pennsylvania during the period in question, filed this pro se 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action in April 2009, requesting declaratory and monetary relief. He claimed as follows: beginning in 2006, he and other unspecified black inmates that worked in the prison kitchen were specifically targeted for invasive strip searches by kitchen staff, one of whom -- defendant Verneau -- is alleged to have actively and repeatedly molested and sexually harassed Watson during the searches. Watson filed many grievances during this period, in response to which defendant Fisher (the kitchen manager) called Watson into his office, personally apologized, and asked that Watson withdraw his complaint.

Following this intervention, the situation briefly improved, but in 2007 the searches resumed. Having been told of Watson's complaint, Verneau allegedly intensified the harassment. Watson soon learned that other inmates were having similar problems with abusive searches. He obtained "sworn affidavits" from these inmates, intending to use the documents in crafting a criminal complaint against Verneau and his associates. Around this time, Watson received a "misconduct" from Verneau for stealing sugar packets from the kitchen, an event Watson described as being yet another aspect of the ongoing "revenge conspiracy" against him.

Watson then let slip to defendants Fisher and Ream (another kitchen supervisor) that he was preparing a criminal complaint, as he had found the internal prison-grievance system to be ineffectual. They "tr[ied] to talk [him] out of pursuing criminal charges," but to no avail. In response, defendant Fisher, Glass (major of the guards), and Papuga (captain of the guards) sent Pratts and Troy (two guards) to Watson's cell with the purpose of confiscating all evidence against the kitchen staff members, which included the aforementioned "sworn affidavits" and a half-typed criminal complaint, both of which were later destroyed by defendant Security Lieutenant Snyder. Watson was charged with misconduct, was put in pre-hearing confinement in the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU), and was then partially convicted of the charge at a hearing he describes as faulty and lacking due process.

After he was secured in the RHU, Watson alleged, a "witch-hunt" began, and the inmates who had submitted affidavits regarding the kitchen incidents -- some of whom had signed their real names -- were sent to other institutions, leaving them unavailable for the purposes of replacing the destroyed affidavits or corroborating Watson's allegations. Watson further charged that his outgoing and incoming mail (including legal mail) was tampered with during his stay in the RHU, forcing him to "fish" mail to neighboring inmates; as a consequence, several legal proceedings he had commenced were dismissed for failure to prosecute. (ECF No. 62-1 at 2-4) (internal footnotes omitted).

II.Standard of Review

When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), courts must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and read them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Angelastro v. Prudential-Bache Securities, Inc., 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir. 1985). 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." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 556 (2007). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above a speculative level." Id. at 555. The court need not accept inferences drawn by the 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 School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997)). Nor must the court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. at 555 (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). Additionally, a civil rights claim "must contain specific allegations of fact which indicate a deprivation of constitutional rights; allegations which are nothing more than broad, simple and conclusory statements are insufficient to state a claim under § 1983." Alfaro Motors, Inc. v. Ward, 814 F.2d 883, 887 (2d Cir. 1987).

Courts generally consider the allegations of the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record in deciding motions to dismiss. Pension Benefit Guar. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Factual allegations within documents described or identified in the complaint also may be considered if the plaintiff's claims are based upon those documents. Id. (citations omitted). Moreover, a district court may consider indisputably authentic documents without converting a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary ...

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