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Holmes v. Algarin

United States District Court, Third Circuit

September 4, 2013




Pro se Plaintiff James Gerald Holmes brings this suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging due process violations by several officials and employees of the Montgomery County Correctional Facility (MCCF) and by PrimeCare Medical, Inc. (PrimeCare), the medical services provider at MCCF, while he was a pretrial detainee at MCCF. Holmes has named as Defendants MCCF Warden Algarin, Assistant Warden Frey, Sergeant (Sgt.) Berger, Correctional Officer (C.O.) Scullin, Social Worker Bucci, Lieutenant (Lt.) Bates, MCCF Board of Inspectors President McFarland, Lt. Appel, and Social Worker Ianozi (the County Defendants), as well as PrimeCare. Holmes alleges Defendants violated his due process rights by (1) failing to protect him and placing him in unsafe conditions; (2) denying him medical treatment; (3) denying access to and interfering with the prison grievance process; and (4) delaying his parole. The County Defendants and PrimeCare have both filed motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the motions to dismiss will be granted, and Holmes will be granted leave to file a second amended complaint.


In October 2007, Holmes was housed at MCCF pending trial. On October 7, 2012, C.O. Scullin allowed Holmes and other unidentified inmates “out [to get their] morning meal trays without any correctional officer being present.” Am. Compl. 4. Another inmate, who had already been convicted and was serving a 16-year sentence, took Holmes’s tray without his permission. When Holmes notified the C.O. in the control area, [2] the C.O. told Holmes he could not have a second tray and “to deal with it.” Id. The inmate who took Holmes’s tray told Holmes to “stop snitching, ” and when Holmes attempted to retrieve his tray, the inmate began repeatedly hitting Holmes with the tray and bit Holmes. Id. The inmate who struck and bit Holmes is a former drug user who had Hepatitis C. Holmes alleges C.O. Scullin did nothing during the altercation; however, it is unclear from the Amended Complaint whether Scullin was present during the fight.

After the incident, Sgt. Berger conducted an investigation. Holmes was then escorted to the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) without being seen by medical personnel. On October 11, 2012, Social Worker Bucci conducted a hearing on misconduct charges brought against Holmes as a result of the fight. Holmes could not present witnesses because the hearing was held on a day when prison inspections were taking place. Following the hearing, Holmes was held in the RHU for 16 additional days. Holmes appealed this result to Assistant Warden Frey, but the appeal was not resolved before Holmes returned to the general population. While in the RHU, Holmes reported daily to several nurses that he was suffering from headaches and was concerned about the bite he received, but he was never taken to the medical department despite placing several “sick calls.” Id. At some point while he was in the RHU, Holmes spoke with a mental health counselor who took notes regarding his claims and “referred it to the Doctor, ” but he “never received medical treatment for [his] injuries sustained from being assaulted.” Id. at 6. These injuries continue to cause him head, neck, and upper back pain.

Holmes wrote to Warden Algarin and Board President McFarland on October 18, 2012, complaining about not receiving a medical evaluation but he did not receive a response. In his letter, Holmes noted his failure to receive immediate medical attention after the physical altercation violated Section 33 of the MCCF Inmate Guidelines Handbook (Guidelines), which provides “[w]hen inmates engage in a fight, the participants shall be separated at once, seen by the medical department, and classified according to institutional classification policy.” Id. at 8. Holmes also complained about the procedures in his disciplinary hearing in his letter to Algarin and McFarland, arguing that holding the hearing on an inspection day violated Section 37 of the Guidelines, which provides, in relevant part, “[h]earings will be held no less than one day nor more than four working days, excluding monthly inspection days . . . after the inmate has been informed, in writing, of the specific violation of which he/she is accused.” Id. at 10.

Holmes subsequently conferred with Lt. Bates, Lt. Appel, and Bucci about possibly filing a grievance challenging the procedures in his disciplinary hearing. These Defendants told Holmes he could not file a grievance over disciplinary hearing procedures, despite the fact the grievance procedural rules permit such challenges when the disciplinary hearing was conducted improperly. Holmes was released from the RHU on October 27, 2012.

On November 2, 2012, Social Worker Ianozi submitted a parole plan for Holmes, which “hinder[ed] [Holmes’s] release date.” Id. at 7. Holmes’s initial parole date was November 2, 2012, but he was not released until November 9, 2012. Holmes alleges Ianozi purposely interfered with his release date. Holmes also claims he “was denied a grievance” regarding submission of the parole plan, and, according to Holmes, “Mr. Ianozi purposely told me this.” Id. Holmes further alleges the submission of the parole plan was in retaliation for his filing the instant lawsuit.

Holmes initiated this lawsuit on November 5, 2012, by filing an application to proceed in forma pauperis along with his Complaint. On November 8, 2012, Holmes filed an Amended Complaint, adding claims against Ianozi. Although Holmes does not clearly enumerate his separate claims or identify the particular Defendant or Defendants responsible for each alleged civil rights violation, the Court construes Holmes’s Amended Complaint as asserting the following claims: (1) a violation of his due process rights by various County Defendants for failing to protect him from the inmate who assaulted him; (2) an unconstitutional denial of his right to medical care by various County Defendants and PrimeCare; (3) a due process violation by Bucci for effectively denying Holmes’s right to have inmate witnesses testify at his disciplinary hearing by holding the hearing during prison inspections; (4) a due process violation by various County Defendants for denying him the right to file a grievance concerning the disciplinary hearing procedures; (5) a violation of his due process rights by Ianozi for delaying his parole; and (6) retaliation by Ianozi against Holmes for filing the instant lawsuit.


To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when the facts pleaded “allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court first must separate the legal and factual elements of the plaintiff’s claims. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). The court “must accept all of the complaint’s well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions.” Id. at 210-11. The court must then “determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a ‘plausible claim for relief.’” Id. at 211 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

With regards to Holmes’s first claim, failure-to-protect claims by pretrial detainees, although analyzed under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, are governed by the same Eighth Amendment standard that applies to such claims by sentenced inmates. See Paulino v. Burlington Cnty. Jail, 438 F. App’x 106, 109 (3d Cir. 2011) (finding “deliberate indifference” is the proper standard for both prisoners and pretrial detainees) (citing Colburn v. Upper Darby Twp., 946 F.2d 1017, 1024 (3d Cir. 1991) and Calozzo v. Koreman, 581 F.3d 63, 71 (2d Cir. 2009))). To state a claim for a due process violation for failing to protect a pretrial detainee from an assault by a fellow inmate, a plaintiff must allege “(1) he is ‘incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm’; and (2) the prison official acted with ‘deliberate indifference’ to his health and safety.’” Id. (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994)). Deliberate indifference to health and safety is characterized by “something more than mere negligence, ” but “is satisfied by something less than acts or omissions for the very purpose of causing harm or with knowledge that harm will result.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835. Deliberate indifference is equivalent to recklessly disregarding a substantial risk of serious harm. Id. at 836. “The knowledge element of deliberate indifference is subjective, not objective knowledge, meaning that the official must actually be aware of the existence of the excessive risk; it is not sufficient that the official should have been aware.” Beers-Capitol v. Whetzel, 256 F.3d 120, 133 (3d Cir. 2001).

Holmes alleges the County Defendants failed to protect him. Specifically, Holmes asserts he was placed at an unreasonable risk of harm by the failure of the County Defendants to provide supervision at the time of the fight and by housing a sentenced prisoner (the inmate who assaulted him) among pretrial detainees like Holmes. As to his lack of supervision theory, Holmes has not alleged any facts suggesting any Defendant believed, or even had a reason to believe, Holmes was in danger of being assaulted by the inmate who attacked him or anyone else. The Amended Complaint provides no basis to infer the fight was anything other than an isolated incident, and there is likewise no allegation the fight was precipitated by any threat of which Defendants were aware. See Riley v. Jeffes, 777 F.2d 143, 147 (3d Cir. 1985) (“A pervasive risk of harm may not ordinarily be shown by pointing to a single incident or isolated incidents, but it may be established by much less than proof of a reign of violence and terror.” (quotation omitted)). Although Holmes alleges he told an unnamed “C.O. in the control area” the other inmate had stolen his tray, and the C.O. told him to “deal with it, ” Holmes does not allege he told Scullin or any other Defendant about his tray being taken. In addition to his claim that Scullin failed to supervise him, Holmes also alleges Scullin did nothing during the altercation, but fails to state any facts suggesting Scullin was even aware of the altercation; rather, he states the fracas occurred because Scullin allowed the inmates “out for morning meal trays without any correctional officer being present.” Am. Compl. 4. Holmes, therefore, has failed to allege facts to state a plausible failure-to-protect claim based on a lack of supervision.

With regard to Holmes’s theory that the County Defendants were deliberately indifferent for housing pretrial detainees and sentenced inmates together, Holmes does not allege any facts to suggest sentenced prisoners in general, or the sentenced prisoners at MCCF, posed a substantial risk of serious harm to Holmes or other pretrial detainees. Moreover, insofar as Holmes alleges he has some constitutionally protected interested in being housed apart from sentenced prisoners, such claim fails as a matter of law. See Hoover v. Watson, 886 F.Supp. 410, 417 (D. Del. 1995) (finding no authority “to support the assertion that pre-trial detainees who are being lawfully held pending a trial have a ...

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