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Jose Feliciano v. Thomas Dohman

March 25, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ronald L. Buckwalter, S.J.


Currently pending before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint by Defendants Thomas Dohman, William Radle, Patrick Curran, David DiGuglielmo, and Michael Lorenzo (collectively "Defendants"). For the following reasons, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.


Plaintiff is an inmate in the Pennsylvania Correctional System. According to the facts set forth in the Complaint, Plaintiff's problems began when he filed an administrative grievance and lodged a sexual harassment claim against School Counselor Theresa Snyder. (Compl. p. 9.) Shortly thereafter, on December 31, 2008, Plaintiff attended his afternoon call out for the law library. (Id. ¶ 1.) While awaiting the opening of the law library, Plaintiff was approached by two security officers, patted down, handcuffed, and escorted to the Security Department. (Id. ¶ 2.) Once at the Security Department, he was taken into the Security Captain's office, where Captain Thomas Dohman and Lieutenant William F. Radle were waiting for him. (Id. ¶ 3.) Captain Dohman asked Plaintiff to "tell him about the stuff," to which Plaintiff responded that he did not know what he was talking about. (Id. ¶ 4.) Captain Dohman then began screaming at Plaintiff stating, "I know she's bringing you that shit! Just tell me she's bringing it in!" (Id.) When Plaintiff again asked Dohman what he was talking about, Dohman said, "look, just tell me she is bringing you drugs and we will let you stay in this institution (Graterford) and you could go back to your housing unit. . . . If you don't cooperate, then I'm sending you far away. . . . Tell me Officer Ballard is bringing you drugs, that is all I want you to say." (Id. ¶ 5.)

At that point, Lieutenant Radle joined in and stated, "You will be far away from you family, Jose. We know they come to visit you, and if you don't tell us what we want you to say, you will never hug your kids again or see your family in a very long time." (Id. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff then told both officers that, "I can't tell you about something that isn't true. . . . What you want me to say is a lie and I will not lie about or on Mrs. Ballard." (Id. ¶ 7.) Dohman, however, remarked that he knew Plaintiff was having a relationship with Ballard and commented, "What, you think I just fell off a turnip truck." (Id. ¶ 8.) When Plaintiff again refused to cooperate, Dohman indicated that he had Plaintiff on tape and began to remove video cassette tapes from a shelf above his desk. (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff stated his belief that this was being done because he filed a complaint against Mrs. Snyder, and Lieutenant Radle responded that, "Then just do what we are asking of you and you could stay here at Graterford. You could work for us and not have to worry about getting transferred." (Id. ¶ 10.)

Upon his further refusal to cooperate, Plaintiff was handcuffed again and escorted to the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU") where he received a DC-141, Part 1 "Other Report," placing him on Administrative Custody ("AC") status. (Id. ¶ 11.) He received his first Program Review Committee ("PRC") hearing on February 6, 2009, at which time he was continued on AC status, under investigation, and pending transfer. (Id. ¶ 12.) At no point was Plaintiff given a chance to speak and/or deny the allegations made against him. (Id.) Plaintiff appealed the decision rendered by the PRC, which was referred back to the Committee for another hearing. (Id. ¶ 13.). The second PRC hearing was held on March 4, 2009, at which Deputy Murray, Defendant Deputy Lorenzo, and Mr. Alinski were present. (Id. ¶ 14.) At that time, Plaintiff claimed that the actions were being taken against him because he refused to lie about Officer Ballard, and he denied all allegations that he ever had a relationship with Officer Ballard or that she brought him drugs/contraband. (Id. ¶15.) Nonetheless, Plaintiff was continued on AC status and informed that he would be transferred per the request of Captain Dohman. (Id. ¶ 16.)

Again in March 2009, Plaintiff was escorted to the Security Department from the RHA, where Lieutenant Radle asked Plaintiff to "cooperate" with him and commented that, "If you just say that Officer Ballard brought you in some drugs, I could make this all go away and I will help stop your transfer." (Id. ¶ 17.) Plaintiff repeated, however, that he had no knowledge of any drugs or contraband being brought into the institution by Ballard or anyone else and would not cooperate in lying. (Id.)

On March 9, 2009, Plaintiff wrote to Superintendent David DiGuglielmo, appealing the decision of the PRC Committee, denying the allegations made by Captain Dohman, and expressing that the actions taken by Dohman were a result of Plaintiff's refusal to cooperate with fabricating a story against Officer Ballard. (Id. ¶ 18.) This appeal was answered by Deputy Lorenzo, who stated that it "was within Dohman's parameters of his position to try and 'cultivate' informants." (Id. ¶ 19.) As such, on April 3, 2009, Plaintiff submitted a grievance for filing by handing it to the section officer, to be placed in the out-going mail bag. (Id. ¶ 20.) This grievance challenged the reasons for Plaintiff's placement on AC status and the retaliatory actions taken by Captain Dohman and Lieutenant Radle. (Id.) During his placement in the RHU, however, Plaintiff received a notice from the State Superior Court in which his appeal was denied and which informed him of his time for seeking allowance of appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. (Id. ¶ 21.)

After submitting several request slips to prison officials pleading to have access to his legal property, Plaintiff filed a grievance, dated April 2, 2009, by handing said grievance to another inmate so that the inmate could send Plaintiff's grievance to the grievance coordinator. (Id. ¶ 22.) On April 8, 2009, Plaintiff was finally escorted to the property room, where he was only allowed to go through several personal property boxes, but was not allowed to organize his legal materials to locate the documents necessary to perfect his allowance. (Id. ¶ 23.) In addition, it was obvious that his property had been searched. (Id.) Plaintiff's April grievance was then answered with a date of April 2, 2009, suggesting it had never been reviewed by the assigned grievance coordinator, Wendy Shaylor, since Plaintiff had submitted it on that same date. (Id. ¶ 24.) Accordingly, Plaintiff immediately appealed. (Id.) On April 13, 2009, Plaintiff sent a letter to Ms. Shaylor inquiring about his grievance challenging his AC placement. (Id. ¶ 25.) When Plaintiff received no confirmation from Ms. Shaylor, he submitted a second letter to her on April 27, 2009, again challenging his AC confinement, inquiring about the status of his grievance, and asking if his two previous letters were received. (Id. ¶ 26.)

During the pendency of his appeal challenging his denial of access to the courts, Plaintiff was transferred to S.C.I. Greene. (Id. ¶ 27.) He was continued on AC status because of his falsified records and was denied access to his legal and personal property. (Id. ¶ 28.) On June 12, 2009, after not receiving an answer from Superintendent DiGuglielmo, Plaintiff submitted his second letter inquiring into the status of his appeal challenging the denial of access to the Courts. (Id. ¶ 29.) Subsequently, on July 15, 2009, Plaintiff sent another letter, but this time to Dorina Varner, Chief Grievance Coordinator, requesting confirmation as to whether his grievance challenging his AC confinement and retaliation claim was received by said office. (Id. ¶ 30.) Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff received a response from Defendant DiGuglielmo, pertaining to his first grievance challenging his denial of access to his legal property and access to the courts. (Id. ¶ 31.) On July 22, 2009, Plaintiff then filed his appeal for Final Review, challenging denial of access to his legal property and denial of access to courts. (Id. ¶ 32.)

Plaintiff was released to the general population at S.C.I. Greene on August 6, 2009, yet his legal and personal property continued to be withheld. (Id. ¶ 33.) On August 12, 2009, Plaintiff received a response from Dorina Varner in a Notice of "Action Required," stating that Plaintiff's appeal had exceeded the two-page limit. (Id. ¶ 34.) Therefore, Plaintiff submitted his revised version of the appeal on August 20, 2009 to the Secretary's Office of Inmate Grievance and Appeals. (Id. ¶ 35.) He then sent a letter to the same office, on October 5, 2009, inquiring as to the status of that revised version. (Id. ¶ 36.) Having received no response as of November 11, 2010, Plaintiff submitted another letter to Ms. Varner regarding the status of his grievance. (Id. ¶ 37.) He followed up with letters to Ms. Varner on March 10, 2011, Jeffrey Beards, the Secretary of Corrections on June 20, 2011, and to Ms. Varner again on October 5, 2011. (Id. ¶¶ 38--40.) Finally, on November 1, 2011, Plaintiff received a response from Ms. Varner's office in which Plaintiff was informed that her office never received Plaintiff's grievance or prior correspondence. (Id. ¶ 41.)

On August 29, 2012, Plaintiff initiated the instant action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his First, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution. Plaintiff also claimed that all Defendants are personally involved and are liable in both their individual and official capacities. (Id. ¶¶ 50--57.) Defendants filed the present Motion to Dismiss on October 29, 2012 and Plaintiff responded on February 11, 2013. The Motion is now ripe for judicial review.


Under Rule 12(b)(6), a defendant bears the burden of demonstrating that the plaintiff has not stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P.12(b)(6); see also Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), the United States Supreme Court recognized that "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 555. Following these basic dictates, the Supreme Court, in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), subsequently defined a two-pronged approach to a court's review of a motion to dismiss. "First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 678. Thus, although "Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era . . . it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Id. at 678--79. Second, the Supreme Court emphasized that "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 679. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will, as the Court of Appeals observed, be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. A complaint does not show an entitlement to relief when the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct. Id.; see also Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232--34 (3d Cir. 2008) (holding that: (1) factual allegations of complaint must provide notice to defendant; (2) complaint must allege facts suggestive of the proscribed conduct; and (3) the complaint's "'factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555)).

Notwithstanding these new dictates, the basic tenets of the Rule 12(b)(6) standard of review have remained static. Spence v. Brownsville Area Sch. Dist., No. Civ.A.08-626, 2008 WL 2779079, at *2 (W.D. Pa. July 15, 2008). The general rules of pleading still require only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief and need not contain detailed factual allegations. Phillips, 515 F.3d at 233. Further, the court must "accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006). Finally, the court must ...

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