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David L. Simms v. Pa. Dept. of Corrections

December 5, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conaboy


Background David L. Simms, an inmate presently confined at the State Correctional Institution, Waymart, Pennsylvania (SCI-Waymart), initiated this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Named as Defendants are the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections; SCI-Waymart; DOC Secretary John E. Wetzel; and the following SCI-Waymart employees: Superintendent Wayne J. Gavin; Unit Manager L. White; Counselor David Chapel; and Deputy Superintendent Ronda Ellett. Accompanying the Complaint is a request for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. See Doc. 3.

It is initially noted that the claims raised in the Complaint are set forth in a rambling narrative which at times is incapable of comprehension. Simms describes himself as having a handicap which requires him to use a cane.*fn1 Plaintiff states that on July 11, 2012 he was exiting an SCI-Waymart shower when he slipped and fell in a puddle of water injuring his left hand, arm, and shoulder as well as the left side of his head.*fn2 Simms acknowledges that he was taken by stretcher to the prison's medical department where he remained overnight. The next day Plaintiff was taken to an outside hospital where x-rays were taken of his left hand, arm and shoulder. According to the Complaint, those tests revealed that Simms had not suffered any bone fractures. After his hand was bandaged, Plaintiff was returned to the prison.

It is generally alleged that Simms was not provided with adequate medical treatment for his swollen left hand. See Doc. 3, p. 3. Plaintiff further contends that members of the prison medical staff, including non-defendant Joann Loomis, have verbally harassed him regarding his care and tried to force him "too [sic] take medication for the wrong reason."*fn3 Id.

Plaintiff additionally claims that Unit Manager White and Counselor Chapel tried to force him to "do some kind of work."*fn4

Id. The Complaint also appears to be alleging that prison officials including White and Chapel "messed" with Simms' parole eligibility through the employment of forged documents. Id. at p. 12. Simms next maintains that he was subjected to sexual harassment in that White and Chapel would question other prisoners as to what Plaintiff did when he was in the bathroom and showering area and that on more than one occasion male prison staff allegedly watched him getting dressed and undressed in an effort to undermine his claim that his physical injuries/condition prevented him from performing a prison job. Plaintiff's final contention asserts that because he refused to work, Chapel and White purportedly placed him in a two person cell when he should have been housed in a dorm.*fn5

Plaintiff seeks monetary damages as relief.


Pro se pleadings are to be construed liberally, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), and pro se litigants are to be granted leave to file a curative amended complaint "even when a plaintiff does not seek leave to amend," unless such an amendment would be inequitable or futile. Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 235 (3d Cir. 2004). Pro se parties are not, however, free to ignore the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 requires that a complaint contain a short and plain statement setting forth (1) the grounds upon which the court's jurisdiction rests, (2) the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, and (3) a demand for judgment for the relief sought by the pleader.

Although there is not a heightened pleading standard in civil rights cases, a § 1983 complaint in order to comply with Rule 8, must contain at least a modicum of factual specificity, identifying the particular conduct of each defendant that is alleged to have harmed the plaintiff, so that the court can determine that the complaint is not frivolous and a defendant has adequate notice to frame an answer.*fn6 A civil rights complaint complies with this requirement if it alleges the conduct violating plaintiff's rights, the time and the place of that conduct, and the identity of the responsible officials.


One of the named Defendants is the DOC. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that a § 1983 action brought against a "State and its Board of Corrections is barred by the Eleventh Amendment unless [the State] has consented to the filing of such a suit." Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978). Our Court of Appeals similarly concluded that the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole could not be sued because "it is not a 'person' within the meaning of Section 1983." Thompson v. Burke, 556 F.2d 231, 232 (3d Cir. 1977).

In Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58 (1989), the Supreme Court reiterated its position that state agencies are not "persons" subject to liability in § 1983 actions brought in federal court. The Court noted that a § 1983 suit against a state official's office was "no different from a suit against the State itself." Id. at 71. "Will establishes that the State and arms of the State, which have traditionally enjoyed Eleventh Amendment immunity, are not subject to suit under § 1983 in either federal or state court." Howlett v. Rose, 496 U.S. 356, 365 (1990).

After Will, our Court of Appeals held that in determining whether a state agency is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity, a federal court should consider: whether the state would be responsible for the payment of any judgment rendered against the agency; the source of the agency's funding; and the degree of autonomy enjoyed by the agency, as well as other similar factors. Bolden v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Auth., 953 F.2d 807, 818 (3d Cir. 1991).

Accordingly, since the DOC is clearly an agency or arm of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it is not a person and may not be sued under § 1983. See Thompkins v. Doe, No. 99-3941, slip op. at 3 (3d Cir. March 16, 2000) (a state prison and a department within the prison are not persons and may not be sued under § 1983). SCI-Waymart

SCI-Waymart, the Plaintiff's present place of incarceration, is also named as a Defendant. A plaintiff, in order to state an actionable civil rights claim, must plead two essential elements:

(1) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of law, and (2) that said conduct deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 638 (3d Cir. 1995); Shaw by Strain v. Strackhouse, 920 F.2d 1135, 1141-42 (3d Cir. 1990).

It is well recognized that a prison or correctional facility is not a person for purposes of civil rights liability. See Fischer v. Cahill, 474 F.2d 991, 992 (3d Cir. 1973); Philogene v. Adams County Prison, Civ. No. 97-0043, slip op. at p. 4 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 30, 1997) (Rambo, C.J.); Sponsler v. Berks County Prison, Civ. A. 95-1136, 1995 WL 92370, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 28, 1995).

Pursuant to the above standards, SCI-Waymart is clearly not a person and therefore not subject to civil rights liability. See Thompkins v. Doe, No. 99-3941, slip op. at 3 (3d Cir. March 16, 2000).

Personal Involvement

With respect to the claims against DOC Secretary Wetzel, Superintendent Gavin, and Deputy Superintendent Ellett, civil rights claims cannot be premised on a theory of respondeat superior. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). Rather, each named defendant must be shown, via the complaint's allegations, to have been personally involved in the events or occurrences which underlie a claim. See Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976); Hampton v. Holmesburg Prison Officials, 546 F.2d 1077 (3d Cir. 1976). As explained in Rode: A defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs. . . .

[P]ersonal involvement can be shown through allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence. Allegations of participation or actual knowledge and acquiescence, however, must be made with appropriate particularity.

Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207.

Prisoners also have no constitutionally protected right to a grievance procedure. See Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners' Labor Union, Inc., 433 U.S. 119, 137-38 (1977)(Burger, C.J., concurring) ("I do not suggest that the [grievance] procedures are constitutionally mandated."); Speight v. Sims, No. 08-2038, 2008 WL 2600723 at *1 (3d. Cir. Jun 30, 2008)(citing Massey v. Helman, 259 F.3d 641, 647 (7th Cir. 2001)("[T]he existence of a prison grievance procedure confers no liberty interest on a prisoner.")

While prisoners do have a constitutional right to seek redress of their grievances from the government, that right is the right of access to the courts which is not compromised by the failure of prison officials to address an inmate's grievance. See Flick v. Alba, 932 F.2d 728, 729 (8th Cir. 1991) (federal grievance regulations providing for administrative remedy procedure do not create liberty interest in access to that procedure). Pursuant to those decisions, any attempt by a prisoner to establish liability against a correctional official based upon their handling of his administrative grievances or complaints does not support a constitutional claim. See also Alexander v. Gennarini, 144 Fed. Appx. 924, 925 (3d Cir. 2005)(involvement in post-incident grievance process not a basis for ยง 1983 liability); Pryor-El v. Kelly, 892 F. Supp. ...

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