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Gonzalez v. Harlow

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

January 22, 2014

Mr. HARLOW, et al., Defendants.




It is respectfully recommended that Defendants' Motion To Dismiss [ECF No.14] be granted in its entirety. The Clerk of Courts should be directed to close this case.


A. Relevant Procedural History

Plaintiff Angel Gonzalez, an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Albion, brings this civil rights action against Warden Mr. Harlow and the D.O.C. CERT Team at SCI Albion claiming that they violated Plaintiff's rights under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Plaintiff claims that members of a CERT team injured him when they entered his cell and that he was called a "baby raper" by one of them. He also claims that there was no close supervision over the team when it was in his unit by any SCI Albion officers.

In particular, Plaintiff avers that the CERT team that entered his cell was composed of correctional officers from other parts of the state with only one supervisor who stood apart from the team while in Plaintiff's sex offender unit. He claims that when the team came to his cell "to shake it down" [ECF No.9 at p.2], an unnamed member of the team called him a "baby raper." Id . Plaintiff claims that he was then told to put his face against the wall and he was handcuffed by twisting his arm with such force that he heard a bone pop. He claims that he begged for them not to hurt him and he screamed in pain. Id . Plaintiff explains that the CERT team did anything it wanted to do because the Superintendent did not supervise them. He also claims that during the search some of his food was taken.

Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint in its entirety [ECF No. 14] on two bases: 1) The CERT team, identified by Defendants as the Corrections Emergency Response Team, is not a person for § 1983 purposes and is entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, and 2) Plaintiff fails to show the personal involvement of Defendant Harlow. Plaintiff has not filed an opposition to the motion despite having ample time to do so. Instead, he filed a letter to the Court, dated August 16, 2013, explaining that his jailhouse lawyer was in restricted housing and that he could not proceed on his own. He asked that counsel be appointed to represent him in this matter. His request was denied pursuant to an analysis under Tabron v. Grace , 6 F.3d 147 (3d Cir. 1993), which determination was affirmed by the District Judge on appeal on September 9, 2013. No other filing has been received from Plaintiff.

B. Standards 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 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"); Smith v. U.S. District Court , 956 F.2d 295 (D.C.Cir. 1992); Freeman v. Dep't of Corrections , 949 F.2d 360 (10th Cir. 1991). 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)(same). Because Plaintiff is a pro se litigant, this Court may consider facts and make inferences where it is appropriate.

2. Motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)

A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and all the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true. Erickson v. Pardus , 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007). A complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12 (b)(6) if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) (rejecting the traditional 12 (b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41 (1957)). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (specifically applying Twombly analysis beyond the context of the Sherman Act).

A Court need not accept inferences drawn by a plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp. , 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004) citing Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist. , 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Nor must the Court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555, citing Papasan v. Allain , 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). See also McTernan v. City of York, Pennsylvania , 577 F.3d 521, 531 (3d Cir. 2009) quoting Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678 ("The tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions."). A plaintiff's factual allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556, citing 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, pp. ...

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