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Butler v. Thompson

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

February 13, 2014

SUPERINTENDENT BRIAN THOMPSON, MS. ADAMS, Unit Manager; CAPT. WHITE, MR. SPEERS, Counselor; MR. APPLEGARTH, Counselor; and DEPUTY MAHLMEISTER; Dept. of Corrections, S.C.I. Mercer, Defendants.


CYNTHIA REED EDDY, Magistrate Judge.

Presently pending is the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants, with brief in support (ECF Nos. 22 and 23) and the response in opposition filed by Plaintiff (ECF No. 27). For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be granted in its entirety.[1]

Factual Background

Plaintiff, Michael Butler, is a state prisoner committed to the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and at all times relevant to this lawsuit was incarcerated at SCI-Mercer.[2] This action was initiated by Plaintiff on April 12, 2013, by the filing of a prisoner civil rights Complaint. (ECF No. 1). However, because the Complaint was received with no filing fee or an in forma pauperis motion, the case was closed. On April 17, 2013, Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and the case was thereafter reopened and the Complaint filed. Named as Defendants are Superintendent Brian Thompson; Ms. Adams, Unit Manager; Capt. White; Mr. Speers, Counselor; Mr. Applegarth, Counselor; Deputy Superintendent Mahlmeister; Dept of Corrections, and S.C.I. - Mercer.[3]

The factual background is not in dispute. From August-November 2012, inclusive, Plaintiff was given four (4) orders to transfer to Lawrence County Jail and on each occasion, Plaintiff refused, stating that he could not transfer to the Lawrence County Jail because it lacked legal resources that would hinder his pursuit of other lawsuits and because he had enemies at that institution. On three of the four occasions, Plaintiff was issued a misconduct for refusing to follow a direct order. Plaintiff's first misconduct resulted in a sanction of 20 days cell restriction and the second misconduct resulted in a sanction of 30 days in disciplinary custody ("DC") in the restricted housing unit. Plaintiff's third misconduct was dismissed after his misconduct hearing as the hearing officer found that while Plaintiff had been "asked" to transfer, he had not been given a direct order to do so. Plaintiff was not issued a misconduct after the fourth incident because, according to the Compliant, the contract between SCI-Mercer and the Lawrence County Jail was set to expire in January 2014, and thus, Plaintiff, was never transferred to the Lawrence County Jail.

The Complaint alleges that the actions of Defendants Adams, Speers, and Applegarth constituted retaliation and abuse of power violating Plaintiff's rights under the Eighth Amendment; that the actions of Defendants Thompson, Mahlmeister, and White allowed and/or witnessed the illegal actions of Adams, Speers, and Applegarth and encouraged them to continue their illegal actions; and that all of the Defendants conspired to violate 42 Pa. C.S. § 9762, which in Plaintiff's opinion prohibits state prisoners with longer than a five year sentence from being transferred to a county jail.[4] Plaintiff seeks relief in the form of a declaration that his rights were violated, an injunction ordering Defendants to remove his misconducts from his prison record, and compensatory and punitive damages.

Defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss, with brief in support, in which they seek to have Plaintiff's claims dismissed with prejudice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). By Order of October 3, 2013, Plaintiff was given leave to either file an amended complaint in this action no later than November 5, 2013, and if he did not desire to file an amended complaint, Plaintiff was ordered to file a response in opposition to Defendants' motion to dismiss no later than November 5, 2013.

On November 4, 2013, Plaintiff filed a document entitled "Amended Complaint, " but upon review it appeared to the Court that the "Amended Complaint" was in fact a response to Defendants' motion to dismiss (ECF No. 27). On November 5, 2013, Plaintiff was ordered that on or before November 18, 2013, he should either file one stand alone document entitled "Amended Complaint" which contained all of his claims or file a response to the pending Motion to Dismiss. See Text Order of November 5, 2013. To date, Plaintiff has not complied with the Court's Order. Accordingly, the Court will deem the "Amended Complaint" as Plaintiff's Response in opposition to the pending motion to dismiss. The matter is ripe for disposition.

Standard of Review

A. 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)).[5] 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) (same). Notwithstanding this liberality, pro se litigants are not relieved of their obligation to allege sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal claim. See, e.g., Taylor v. Books A Million, Inc., 296 F.3d 376, 378, (5th Cir. 2002).

Because Plaintiff is a pro se litigant, this Court may consider facts and make inferences where it is appropriate.

B. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) - The Legal Standard

A motion to dismiss pursuant Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiently of the complaint. When reviewing a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all well-pleaded facts and allegations, and must draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the plaintiff. Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 62 F.3d 212, 220 (3d Cir. 2011), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___ , 131 S.Ct. 1861 (2012) (citing In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010)). However, as the Supreme Court of the United States made clear in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, such "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (holding that, while the Complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must contain more than a "formulaic recitation of the elements" of a constitutional claim and must state a claim that is plausible on its face) (quoting Twombly, and providing further guidance on the standard set forth therein).

To determine the legal sufficiency of a complaint after Twombly and Iqbal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit instructs that a district court must make a three-step approach when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 n.7 (3d Cir. 2010) (noting that although Iqbal describes the process as a "two-pronged approach, " it views the case as outlining three steps) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675). First, "the court must tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim." Id. at 130 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675) (alteration in original). Second, the court "should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.'" Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Third, "where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.'" Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

Courts generally consider the allegations of the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record in deciding motions to dismiss. Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Factual allegations within documents described or identified in the complaint also may be considered if the plaintiff's claims are based upon those documents. Id. (citations omitted). In addition, a district court may consider indisputably authentic documents without converting a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 223 (3d Cir. 2004); Lum v. Bank of America, 361 F.3d 217, 222 (3d Cir. 2004) (in resolving a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court generally should consider "the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim.").[6]

Moreover, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has held that, in civil rights cases, a court must give a plaintiff the opportunity to amend a deficient complaint - regardless of whether the plaintiff requests to do so - when dismissing a case for failure to state a claim, unless doing so would be inequitable or futile. See ...

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