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John R.S. Doe v. Harry Nicoletti

November 13, 2012


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

ECF No. 12


Plaintiff John R.S. Doe ("Plaintiff") is an inmate who is currently incarcerated in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and was previously incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh ("SCI-Pittsburgh") during the time the acts alleged in his Complaint occurred. Plaintiff commenced this civil action through counsel on February 9, 2012, pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff names as Defendants the following officers and employees of SCI-Pittsburgh: Corrections Officer Harry Nicoletti, Jr.; Corrections Officer Berger; Captain Mohring; Superintendent Melvin Lockett; Deputy Superintendent Martin Kovacs; Deputy Superintendent Janice Niemiec; and Major of the Guards John Wiser. Defendant Nicoletti has filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint (ECF No. 12) and Plaintiff has responded in opposition to the Motion (ECF No. 17.) As such, the Motion is now ripe for review by this Court.

A.Plaintiff's Allegations

Plaintiff was held at SCI-Pittsburgh from February 2010 through April 2010. (Plaintiff's Complaint, ECF No. 1 at ¶ 27.) He alleges that during this time period, he: (1) was physically abused by Corrections Officers; (2) was subjected to sexual abuse by Corrections Officers; and (3) witnessed other inmates being sexually and/or physically abused by Corrections Officers. Id. at ¶ 28. He contends that failure to comply with this conduct resulted in further physical and/or sexual abuse and intimidation by Corrections Officers. Id.

Plaintiff avers that Defendants were engaged in a common plan and conspiracy to sexually abuse, physically abuse, and mentally abuse inmates who were allegedly convicted of sexual crimes and they did so in order to control these inmates by intimidation and coercion. Id. at ¶¶ 29-30. He alleges that he was sexually, physically, and mentally abused by Corrections Officers and other personnel because Defendants wanted to control his conduct and keep him from reporting the conditions of the prison to the proper authorities. Id. at ¶ 31.

Plaintiff states that he was sexually assaulted by Defendant Nicoletti from February 2010 through April 2010. Id. at ¶ 32. During the assaults, Defendant Nicoletti allegedly ordered Plaintiff to choose how he wanted to be sexually assaulted. Id. at ¶ 33. Defendant Nicoletti gave Plaintiff two choices; Plaintiff could either be anally raped or forced to perform oral sex. Id. at ¶ 34. In the past, Defendant Nicoletti had punished inmates who resisted his orders by physically abusing them and threatening their well-being. Id. at ¶ 35. As a result of Defendant Nicoletti's threats, Plaintiff was sexually assaulted by being both subjected to anal rape and forced to perform oral sex upon Defendant Nicoletti. Id. at ¶ 36.

Plaintiff believes that an inmate, Defendant Nicoletti, and two other Correctional Officers repeatedly sexually assaulted a transgender inmate over a nine day period in mid-April 2010. Id. at ¶ 38. Plaintiff also believes that Defendant Berger may have been working in concert with and/or on behalf of Defendant Nicoletti and other personnel in order to intimidate inmates by utilizing physical abuse to exert influence and control over them. Id. at ¶ 40. Plaintiff contends that all Defendants knew or should have known of the behavior by Defendant Nicoletti and the other Correctional Officers but they failed to do anything to prohibit or report it. Id. at ¶ 37, 39.

Plaintiff avers that Defendants intimidated inmates, including himself, from voicing their concerns and/or complaints through the grievance procedure, and on the occasion where an inmate would submit a grievance, supervisory staff would review the grievance and discard it in the garbage. Id. at ¶¶ 41-42. He claims that Defendant Lockett and the other supervisory named Defendants knew of this systematic failure of the grievance procedure but did nothing to correct it thereby creating an ineffective and futile system for inmates to communicate their complaints and/or concerns. Id. at ¶¶ 43, 45-46. Plaintiff states that at all times he was in fear for his life and was intimidated and coerced by Defendant Nicoletti and the other Defendants to not say anything about what he saw at SCI-Pittsburgh and what happened to him. Id. at ¶ 47. However, he states that all Defendants, as well as other corrections personnel, knew or should have known about the abuse that was occurring at the prison but they chose not to report it and instead acted to promote this type of conduct. Id. at ¶¶ 48, 55-56.

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Nicoletti consistently moved freely about SCI-Pittsburgh, forcing inmates to perform sexual acts upon him without any resistance and/or questioning from the named supervisory Defendants. Id. at ¶ 57. Defendant Nicoletti allegedly roamed onto separate blocks where he was not assigned, actively seeking out his next victim. Id. at ¶ 58. On these occasions, Defendant Nicoletti was able to gain access to these separate blocks with the assistance of other employees of SCI-Pittsburgh or a key/key card that he was not entitled to possess. Id. at ¶ 59. In this regard, there would have been a written record of Defendant Nicoletti's unwarranted presence on these other blocks and Plaintiff claims the supervisory Defendants would have, or should have, been aware of it. Id. Furthermore, once on the appropriate block, Plaintiff claims Defendant Nicoletti would need the assistance of other Correctional Officers to gain access to his victims' individual cellblocks. Id. at ¶ 60. He was then left alone without any supervision from the block's assigned Correctional Officers. Id. at ¶ 61. Plaintiff claims that all named Defendants had knowledge of this conduct but did nothing, thereby condoning the rampant sexual harassment and intimidation and scheme to physically and sexually assault inmates that was taking place. Id. at ¶¶ 62-64.

Plaintiff contends that the supervisory Defendants allowed Defendant Nicoletti and other Correctional Officers to gather in the "bubble" where they would openly discuss their system of terrorizing, threatening, and physically abusing inmates and they allowed Corrections Officers who were "off the clock" to loiter on and around the block in furtherance of their system. Id. at ¶ 66. He also contends that the supervisory Defendants promoted conduct, which included Correctional Officers instigating fights so that multiple Correctional Officers could participate in retaliatory assaults on inmates. Id. at ¶ 67.

Numerous reports detailing these abuses allegedly reached the Defendants but they failed to prevent or stop it. Id. at ¶¶ 68-69. This allegedly resulted in the discharge of Defendants Lockett, Kovacs, Niemiec, and Wiser; the criminal prosecution of seven Correction Officers, including Defendant Nicoletti; and a civil rights probe into SCI-Pittsburgh by the United States Department of Justice. Id. at ¶¶ 69-71.

B.Legal Standard

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 ...

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