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Joseph Heim v. the York County Prison

April 8, 2013

JOSEPH HEIM, PLAINTIFF
v.
THE YORK COUNTY PRISON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge

(Judge Caputo)

MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction

Joseph Heim, a pro se prisoner formerly confined at the York County Prison (YCP), in York, Pennsylvania,*fn1 filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983,*fn2 complaining that YCP officials placed a substantial and unreasonable burden on his ability to freely exercise his religion, Judaism. (Doc. 1, Compl.) He further claims that a corrections officer discriminated against him on the basis of his religion by drawing three antisemitic caricatures of him. (Id.) He seeks monetary damages against all defendants in their personal and official capacities. (Id.) Named as defendants are the following: YCP; Warden Mary Sabol; Deputy Warden Michael Buono; the York County Solicitor's Office; Solicitor Donald Reihart; the York County Commissioner's Office; "Every Commissioner";*fn3 Corrections Officer (CO) Shawn Dubs; Captain Frank Kluyber;*fn4 Chaplain Bupp; and Complaint Supervisor Bea Erni. (Id.)

Currently pending before the Court is the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. In lieu of an opposition brief, Mr. Heim filed a Motion to Dismiss Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. The Court will construe Mr. Heim's motion as a response in opposition to the defendants' motion to dismiss. As the parties have fully briefed the issues, the motion is ripe for disposition.

For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant in part, and deny in part, the Defendants' motion to dismiss and deny Mr. Heim's motion to dismiss the Defendants' motion to dismiss.

II. Background

The following facts are set forth in Plaintiff's Complaint and are taken as true, as they must be when considering a motion to dismiss. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). Mr. Heim filed his Complaint on June 28, 2010.*fn5 I n early April 2008, Joseph Heim arrived at the YCP. (Doc. 1, p. 5.)*fn6 At the time of his inmate intake screening, prison officials "mistakenly" noted in their records system that Mr. Heim had no religious preference. (Id.) Mr. Heim immediately, and repeatedly, attempted to corrected this misinformation by verbally advising various staff members, including Chaplain Bupp, that he was an adherent of Judaism, and requested a Kosher diet consistent with his religious beliefs. (Id.) In late April or early May, after his verbal requests failed to yield a satisfactory response, Mr. Heim availed himself of the YCP's grievance program. (Id.) He requested that his religious status be updated and that he receive a Kosher diet, a Torah, and access to Jewish religious services. (Id., pp. 5-6.) Mr. Heim's first few grievances were not answered. (Id.) Finally, Mr. Heim's July 8, 2010, grievance yielded a response from YCP's Complaint Coordinator, Bea Erni. (Id., p. 6; see also Doc. 1-2, pp. 4-5.) On July 10, 2008, Ms. Erni informed Mr. Heim that he needed to submit proof of his religious affiliation to prison officials before the matter could be reviewed by the Warden. (Id.) Having been denied meals in accordance with the tenets of his faith for three months, Mr. Heim appealed the matter to Deputy Warden Buono. Deputy Warden Buono promptly took steps which gave Mr. Heim the relief he was seeking. Deputy Warden Buono advised him that he was now "list[ed] as Jewish in the prisons' database and ... having a Kosher meal." (Doc. 1, p. 7; see also Doc. 1-2, pp. 6-7.) Mr. Heim started receiving Kosher meals on or about July 14, 2008. (Doc. 1, p. 5.)

In his Complaint, Mr. Heim also alleges that he was subjected to acts of retaliation and discrimination due to his identification of himself as a Jew and his insistence on a Kosher diet. (Id., p. 8.) The alleged retaliation and discrimination took two forms. First, CO Dubs, allegedly drew three crude caricatures of Mr. Heim which mocked his religion. (Id.; see also Doc. 1-2, pp. 23-24.) At least one of these anti-semitic cartoons is alleged to have had an overtly threatening tone, and depicted Mr. Heim as a victim of the Holocaust. (Doc. 1, pp. 8-9.) Second, approximately ten days after Mr. Heim reported CO Dub's actions to prison authorities, and almost immediately after CO Dubs gave Mr. Heim the third drawing, he was transferred to the Behavior Assessment Unit (BAU) on "trumpt up" allegations that he threatened staff so that prison officials, "i.e. Captain Kluyber, and/or staff" could steal the religiously charged drawings, his evidence of CO Dub's faith-based intimidation. (Id., p. 9.) When Mr. Heim's property was returned to him, the original and only copy of the third demeaning sketch was missing. (Id.)

On the basis of these allegations, Heim sues 11 individual and institutional defendants. These defendants include the individuals alleged to have improperly delayed consideration of his religious diet requests through their failure to respond to the plaintiff's grievances, i.e. defendant Erni and Chaplain Bupp. The named individual defendants also include CO Dubs, the correctional officer who allegedly drew and distributed the anti-semitic and violent cartoons depicting Mr. Heim, and Capt. Kluyber, who allegedly conducted a pretexual search of Mr. Heims property to confiscate evidence of CO Dubs' inappropriate drawings. Beyond these individual defendants, who are alleged to have taken actions directly affecting Mr. Heim's First Amendment rights, Mr. Heim names three other individual defendants: Warden Mary Sabol, as to whom there are no well-pleaded facts in the Complaint describing any direct involvement in the matters which are the subject of Mr. Heims' lawsuit; Deputy Warden Buono, whose sole involvement appears to be limited to responding to Mr. Heim's grievance appeal by advising him that his religious status had been modified and he would receive a Kosher diet as requested; and Donald Reihart, the York County Prison solicitor, who responded after-the-fact to a grievance filed by Mr. Heim which sought hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages as a result of this alleged misconduct. (Id., p. 10.)

Mr. Heim also names three institutional defendants, the YCP, the York County Commissioners' Office, and the York County Solicitor's office. However, the Complaint is devoid of any factual recitals describing any agency policy implemented by these agencies that was designed to infringe upon the plaintiff's First Amendment rights. Instead, fairly construed, the Complaint simply alleges that specific individual prison officials neglected his dietary requests for three months, and then subjected him to acts of antisemitic retaliation after he complained about the earlier failure of prison officials to honor his religious dietary needs.

III. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to determining if a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of their claims. See Semerenko v. Cendant Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2000). The Court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim. See Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).

"Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure generally requires only a plausible 'short and plain' statement of the plaintiff's claim, not an exposition of his legal argument." Skinner v. Switzer, U.S. , , 131 S.Ct. 1289, 1296, 179 L.Ed.2d 233 (2011). A complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), giving the defendant "fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). Detailed factual allegations are not required. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964. However, mere conclusory statements will not do; "a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). Instead, a complaint must "show" this entitlement by alleging sufficient facts. Id. "While legal conclusions can provide the ...


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