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Rodney Hontz v. Berks County Prison

October 18, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joyner, C. J.


Before this Court are the Medical Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 16), the Plaintiff's response thereto (Doc. No. 27), County Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 19), and the Plaintiff's response thereto (Doc. No. 25). For the reasons set forth in this Memorandum, the Court will grant both Defendants' Motions to Dismiss, with leave for the Plaintiff to amend as to his ADA claim.


This action arises from the time that the Plaintiff, Rodney Hontz, spent at Berks County Prison in 2010. According to the Plaintiff, on March 18, 2010, he entered the Berks County Prison and was placed in the Medical Unit for monitoring because of a suicide attempt prior to his arrest. About a month later, he was moved to the general population. He then submitted his name for a food service position in the prison kitchen, which was denied.

He submitted a grievance regarding this denial, to which he never received a response. He was then visited by a nurse with PrimeCare Medical, who showed the Plaintiff a form stating that he had Hepatitis C. The nurse told him that the Hepatitis C was the reason he could not work in the kitchen.

The Plaintiff was transferred to state prison on July 20, 2010. There, he was medically cleared to work in the prison kitchen, and was told that inmates with Hepatitis C were permitted to work in the prison kitchen because Hepatitis C is not transmitted through food service.

The Plaintiff, acting pro se, filed his Complaint on May 16, 2012. (Doc. No. 1). The Defendants he named in the Complaint can be categorized as "County Defendants" and "Medical Defendants." The County Defendants named are: Berks County Prison, Warden George Wagner, County Commissioners Kevin S. Barnhart, Christian Y. Lienbach and Mark C. Scott, and Berks County Prison Food Service Supervisor. The Medical Defendants named are: PrimeCare Medical, Inc., Berks County Prison Health Services Administrator, and Berks County Prison Medical Director.*fn1 In the Complaint, the Plaintiff seeks the following relief: declaratory judgment for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; injunctive relief to remedy these violations; compensatory damages for the ADA and Equal Protection violations; and punitive damages for the Equal Protection violation.


Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's claims under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. In considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), a district court must "accept as true the factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom." Krantz v. Prudential Invs. Fund Mgmt., 305 F.3d 140, 142 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996)). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. "Threadbare" recitations of the elements of a claim supported only by "conclusory statements" will not suffice. Id. Rather, a plaintiff must allege some facts to raise the allegation above the level of mere speculation. Great Western Mining & Mineral Co. V. Fox Rothschild LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 176 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "Once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563.

"[A] pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). "When presented with a pro se litigant, [the Court has] a special obligation to construe his complaint liberally." Higgs v. Attorney General of the United States, 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011) (citations omitted). "Thus, even if a pro se plaintiff's claims are not set out in the clearest fashion, the Court is obligated to discern all the possible claims that the Plaintiff may be alleging." Thomas-Warner v. City of Phila., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 146029, at *10 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 20, 2011). However, in doing so the Court still determines whether pro se plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts to support the claims divined from the pleadings. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Moreover, "[a]lthough the Court must accept well-pleaded facts as true, it need not credit bald assertions or legal conclusions." In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429 (3d Cir. 1997).


A. Plaintiff's Claims for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief In his Complaint, the Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment and injunctive relief for the alleged denial of food service work due to Hepatitis C. (Compl., at 5-6, Doc. No. 1). The County Defendants argue that because the Plaintiff is no longer confined in Berks County Prison, having been transferred to a state correctional facility, these claims must be dismissed as moot. (Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss, at 16, Doc. No. 19). In response, the Plaintiff argues that the claims fall within an exception to the mootness doctrine because they are capable of repetition yet evading review. (Mot. in Opp. to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, at 8, Doc. No. 25). The Plaintiff argues that he is likely to be returned to Berks County Prison if he violates the terms of his parole in the future, and therefore the alleged constitutional violations could reoccur. (Id.).

It is well established that Article III of the Constitution limits federal courts to the adjudication of live and actual controversies between litigants. DeFunis v. Odegaard, 416 U.S. 312, 316 (1974). A case becomes moot "when the issues presented are no longer live or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome." Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 496 (1969). The capable of repetition yet evading review exception to the mootness principle is limited to cases where the challenged action was too short in duration to be fully litigated prior to its cessation or expiration and where there is a reasonable likelihood that the same complaining party would be subjected to the same action again. Abdul-Akbar v. Watson, 4 F.3d 195, 206 (3d Cir. 1993) (quoting Weinstein v. Bradford, 423 U.S. 147, 149 (1975)).

The Court declines to accept the Plaintiff's argument that his case is capable of repetition yet evading review because of the likelihood that he will violate parole and be returned to Berks County Prison. "Such conjecture as to the likelihood of repetition has no place in the application of this exceptional and narrow grant of judicial power." Abdul-Akbar, 4 F.3d at 207. Therefore, because the Plaintiff is no longer confined at Berks County Prison and not subject to ...

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