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Husband v. Knapp

United States District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania

February 5, 2014

D. KNAPP, et al., Defendants.

Mariani Judge


Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge

I. Statement of Facts and of The Case

A. Procedural History

Eunice Husband is an angry, combative inmate with a phobic fear of blood borne contagion. This constellation of personal qualities is revealed in a pro se complaint which this plaintiff, a federal prisoner, has now filed in federal court. (Doc. 1.)

In this complaint Husband recites that he is housed in the Special Management Unit of the United States Penitentiary, Lewisburg. (Id.) Much of Husband’s complaint is focused upon his contentious relationship with his former cellmates at this facility, and his preference to be housed in a cell without cellmate. As described by Husband, these issues have manifested themselves in several ways. First, Husband reports that he has been involved in at least three fights with cellmates between April and August 2013. (Id.) Husband also alleges that he has reported the prospect for violence with his cellmates to prison officials, but they have failed to take any action to curb this potential violence. (Id.) Instead, according to Husband, prison officials have coerced him to accept cellmates with whom he has later had physical confrontations by threatening to place Husband in four-point restraints unless he agrees to have another prisoner housed in his cell. (Id.) Thus, liberally construed, Husband appears to be advancing an Eighth Amendment claim against those prison officials who, he alleges, have intentionally placed him in these potentially violent circumstances by housing him with other prisoners with whom he fights. (Id.)

Husband’s penchant for fighting, in turn, had led to another grievance by this inmate. Reciting that a number of the prisoners with whom he has fought are infected with blood borne disease, Hepatitis C, Husband complains that prison officials have failed to sufficiently protect him from this illness. (Id.) According to Husband, he has requested blood testing from prison medical staff, but has been dissatisfied with their response to his requests. In particular Husband was disturbed that when a prison nurse, defendant Miosi, attempted to assist him with respect to this concern she presented him with medical forms in January 2014 which suggested to Husband that prison officials believed that he was engaged in unprotected sex or sharing needles, activities he adamantly denies. (Id.)

Husband’s pleadings reflect that this inmate-plaintiff has a profound, consuming and fixed concern that he may be infected by some blood-borne disease. Indeed, due to this concern, Husband seeks injunctive relief from this court in the form of an order directing blood testing for the plaintiff conducted by a “neutral entity.” (Id.) Husband also demands damages of at least $50,000,000, and as much as $100,000,000, depending upon the outcome of these independent blood tests. (Id.) Husband’s complaint names total of 18 correctional defendants. As to five of these defendants, Husband sets forth well-pleaded facts describing their alleged roles in the events which he contends put his physical safety at risk.[1] However, a review of this pleading discloses that, with respect to the remaining 13 defendants, many of whom are supervisory officials, in at least 12 instances Husband either fails to allege well-pleaded facts relating to the defendant,[2] or Husband expressly premises the liability of the defendants on claims of respondeat superior, alleging that the defendants are responsible for the overall operations of the prison.[3] Finally, one defendant, Nurse Miosi, is named in this action despite the fact that the only well- pleaded allegations set forth in Husband’s complaint indicate that the nurse endeavored to care for Husband after one of his fights, and then attempted to discuss his request for blood testing with him, albeit in a fashion that Husband deemed offensive since it suggested to Husband that he was being accused of IV drug use or engaging in unprotected sex. (Id.)

Along with his complaint, Husband has moved of leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Doc. 2.) For the reasons set forth below, we will grant this motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, but we recommend that, with respect to 13 of the defendants named by the plaintiff, the court should dismiss the complaint for failure to presently state a claim upon which relief can be granted, without prejudice to allowing the plaintiff to attempt to correct the deficiencies noted in this report and recommendation by filing an amended complaint.

II. Discussion

A. Screening of Pro Se In forma Pauperis Complaints–Standard of Review

This Court has a statutory obligation to conduct a preliminary review of pro se complaints brought by plaintiffs given leave to proceed in forma pauperis in cases which seek redress against government officials. Specifically, we are obliged to review the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A which provides, in pertinent part:

(a) Screening. - The court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.

(b) Grounds for dismissal. - On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint-(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or

(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

Under Section 1915A, the Court must assess whether a pro se complaint “fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” This statutory text mirrors the language of Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that a complaint should be dismissed for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).

With respect to this benchmark standard for legal sufficiency of a complaint, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has aptly noted the evolving standards governing pleading practice in federal court, stating that:

Standards of pleading have been in the forefront of jurisprudence in recent years. Beginning with the Supreme Court's opinion in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) continuing with our opinion in Phillips [v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 230 (3d Cir. 2008)]and culminating recently with the Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, __ U.S. __, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) pleading standards have seemingly shifted from simple notice pleading to a more heightened form of pleading, requiring a plaintiff to plead more than the possibility of relief to survive a motion to dismiss.

Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 209-10 (3d Cir. 2009).

In considering whether a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, the Court must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the complaint are to be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jordan v. Fox Rothschild, O’Brien & Frankel, Inc., 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). However, a court “need not credit a complaint’s bald assertions or legal conclusions when deciding a motion to dismiss.” Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Additionally a court need not “assume that a ... plaintiff can prove facts that the ... plaintiff has not alleged.” Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). As the Supreme Court held in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), in order to state a valid cause of action a plaintiff must provide some factual grounds for relief which “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of actions will not do.” Id. at 555. “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id.

In keeping with the principles of Twombly, the Supreme Court has underscored that a trial court must assess whether a complaint states facts upon which relief can be granted when ruling on a motion to dismiss. In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the Supreme Court held that, when considering a motion to dismiss, a court should “begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. at 679. According to the Supreme Court, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory ...

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