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Bennett v. Wetzel

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 18, 2013

JAMAL BENNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
J. WETZEL, Secretary of Corrections; J. MAZURKIEWICZ, Warden at SCI Greensburg; W. MATTHEWS, Unit Manager at SCI Greensburg; C. MANCINNI, Psychologist at SCI Greensburg; T. MARHEFKA, Counselor at SCI Greensburg; K. RABIC, A.O.D. Teacher at SCI Greensburg; R. MEADOWS, Counselor at SCI Greensburg; JOHN DOE; MR. RIDDLE, DATS Supervisor at SCIGreene, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

CYNTHIA REED EDDY, Magistrate Judge.

Presently pending before the court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint [ECF No. 10] and Amended Complaint[1] [ECF No. 26]. After review of the entire record, including Defendants' Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 33] and Plaintiff's Response in Opposition [ECF No. 36], Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 32] will be granted.

Relevant and Material Facts[2]

Jamal Bennett, ("Plaintiff" or "Bennett"), an inmate currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution - Dallas in Dallas, PA, brings suit pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. During the events that give rise to this lawsuit, Bennett was incarcerated at SCI - Greensburg. Bennett has named seven (7) individuals employed at SCI - Greensburg, as well as the secretary of the Department of Corrections, as Defendants. Compl., [ECF No. 10]. The Complaint contains a myriad of claims, including alleged violations of Plaintiff's First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, all arising out of his expulsion from a drug rehabilitation program in which Plaintiff participated while incarcerated at SCI-Greensburg. Id.

While Bennett's claims arise from a multitude of incidents which occurred during his incarceration, the heart of this lawsuit involves a meeting between Bennett and several Defendants regarding his status in the facility's Alcohol and Other Drugs ("A.O.D.") Treatment Program. Id. at ¶ 10. Bennett alleges that on November 30, 2012, he was called into Defendant Unit Manager Matthews' office for a meeting at which all Defendants, except for Defendants Wetzel and Mazurkiewicz, were present. Id. at ¶ 12. Bennett describes the meeting as a "lynching party, [held] by a bunch of vigilantes, who had come together by W. Matthews command." Id. at ¶ 13. According to the Complaint, during the meeting, Defendants were highly critical of a homework assignment he had turned in as a part of his participation in the A.O.D. Program. Due to allegedly inappropriate sexual comments Bennett had made on the assignment, Defendants also demanded that Bennett be placed in a "sexual behavior" program. Id. at ¶ 16. Specifically, Bennett alleges that Defendant Matthews stated "[i]f it was up to me, I would remove your ass from class [A.O.D. Program], then throw your ass in the hole, you're going to do this fucking homework over, and do it the way we' like it done, not the way you lived your life." Id. at ¶ 18. Bennett alleges that throughout the meeting various Defendants took turns "assassinating" his character, while providing Bennett with no opportunity to defend himself. Id. at ¶¶ 24, 26.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Bennett was instructed to redo his homework assignment and to turn it in by December 5, 2012. Bennett alleges that he completed the assignment and turned it in on December 3, 2012; however, Defendants allege that the assignment was never received. Id. at ¶¶ 32, 33. Bennett alleges that he was expelled from the A.O.D. Program as a result of his alleged failure to turn in the homework assignment; however, according to documents attached to Plaintiff's Response to the Motion to Dismiss, there were additional reasons for his expulsion from the program including "disruptive and inappropriate behavior." Plaintiff's Response; Exhibit 6, Initial Review Response [ECF No. 36-1]. Bennett alleges that, because of his expulsion from the A.O.D. Program, his impending parole hearing was cancelled. Compl., [ECF No. 10 at ¶ 36].

In addition to the A.O.D. meeting and subsequent repercussions, Bennett alleges that Defendants illegally withheld his tax documents preventing him from filing federal and state income taxes. Id. at ¶¶ 21-23. Furthermore, Bennett states that he filed a grievance following his expulsion from the A.O.D. program, and the next day, Defendant Matthews moved Bennett to a new cell in retaliation for filing the grievance. Id. at ¶ 39. Lastly, Bennett alleges that he was a victim of "love-connections, bloodties [sic], and personal relationships, " because he was disciplined by Defendant Riddle, who is the fiance of Plaintiff's A.O.D. teacher, Defendant Rabic. Id. at ¶ 6.

Bennett unsuccessfully exhausted all administrative remedies as required by the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). He brings the instant lawsuit in which he seeks from all Defendants jointly, compensatory damages of $135, 000, punitive damages of $300, 000, "defamation of character" damages of $63, 000, and "economic and mental" damages of $45, 000 for a combined demand of $543, 000. Id. at ¶ 42.

The parties have consented to jurisdiction by the undersigned Magistrate Judge. See ECF Nos. 11 and 38.

Standard of Review

1. Pro Se Litigants

Pro se pleadings, "however inartfully pleaded, " must be held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-521 (1972). If the court can reasonably read pleadings to state a valid claim on which the litigant could prevail, it should do so despite failure to cite proper legal authority, confusion of legal theories, poor syntax and sentence construction, or the litigant's unfamiliarity with pleading requirements. Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364 (1982); United States ex rel. Montgomery v. Bierley, 141 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir.1969) (petition prepared by a prisoner may be inartfully drawn and should be read "with a measure of tolerance").

In a section 1983 action, the court must liberally construe the pro se litigant's pleadings and "apply the applicable law, irrespective of whether a pro se litigant has mentioned it by name." Higgins v. Beyer, 293 F.3d 683, 688 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Holley v. Dep't of Veteran Affairs, 165 F.3d 244, 247-48 (3d Cir. 1999)).[3] See also Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996) ("Since this is a § 1983 action, the [pro se] plaintiffs are entitled to relief if their complaint sufficiently alleges deprivation of any right secured by the Constitution.") (quoting Higgins, 293 F.3d at 688). Under our liberal pleading rules, during the initial stages of litigation, a district court should construe all allegations in a complaint in favor of the complainant. Gibbs v. Roman, 116 F.3d 83 (3d Cir. 1997). See, e.g., Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir.1996) (discussing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) standard); Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990) ...


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