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Vazquez v. Yeoman

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 23, 2014

JUAN VAZQUEZ, Plaintiff,
CO YEOMAN, et al., Defendants.


SYLVIA H. RAMBO, District Judge.

Plaintiff Juan Vazquez, an inmate currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution in Albion, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Albion"), commenced this civil rights action by filing a complaint on April 24, 2013, pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1.) In his complaint, Plaintiff asserts both federal and state claims regarding back injuries and pain resulting from his cell assignment while he was previously incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Smithfield ("SCI-Smithfield") in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. Named as Defendants are employees from SCI-Smithfield, specifically Correctional Officer ("CO") Yeoman and Sergeant Boroski (collectively "Corrections Defendants"), and Josh Mahute, a physician's assistant ("PA"). Plaintiff seeks compensatory and declaratory relief.

Presently before the court are two motions to dismiss filed by both sets of Defendants. (Docs. 23 & 25.) For the reasons set forth below, PA Mahute's motion to dismiss will be granted and he will be dismissed as a party in this action. Corrections Defendants' motion to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

In his complaint, Plaintiff provides the following factual background. For purposes of disposition of the instant motions to dismiss, the factual allegations asserted in the complaint will be accepted as true and viewed in a light most favorable to Plaintiff.

Plaintiff arrived at SCI-Smithfield on August 31, 2011, and received a cell assignment on the top tier of the C-block housing unit. (Doc. 1 ¶ 8.) On September 8, 2011, Plaintiff went to sick call with complaints of chronic back pain and trouble maintaining his balance. ( Id. ¶ 9.) As a result, Plaintiff was issued a cane and received a medical restriction requiring him to be placed on the bottom tier of the housing unit. ( Id. ) Plaintiff also asserts that, at or around this time, SCI-Smithfield was undergoing renovations and, therefore, it was the "custom/practice" to require that handicapped inmates eat meals in the housing unit rather than the dining hall. ( Id. ¶ 10.)

Plaintiff alleges that Sergeant Boroski, the supervising officer on duty on C-block during this time, was aware that Plaintiff had a cane, chronic back problems, and bottom tier status, but continued to house Plaintiff on the top tier, thus making him travel up and down stairs with his cane. ( Id. ¶¶ 11-12.) He also alleges that CO Yeoman, also located on C-block, was aware of Plaintiff's condition but kept him on the top tier. ( Id. ¶ 22-23.)

"A few days" before September 15, 2011, Plaintiff fell down the stairs in C-block and felt "significant back pains." ( Id. ¶ 13.) As a result, he signed up for sick call with PA Mahute. ( Id. ) On September 15, 2011, Plaintiff went to sick call with PA Mahute, who told Plaintiff that he would contact Sergeant Boroski and CO Yeoman to have Plaintiff's bottom tier status enforced. ( Id. ¶ 14.) Upon his return to C-block, he was not moved to a bottom tier cell and, in fact, fell down the stairs again that day. ( Id. ) Plaintiff was taken to an outside hospital the same day. ( Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff claims that he injured his back again and now "sometimes suffers partial paralysis in shoulder and arm area with constant headaches." ( Id. ¶ 16.)

Plaintiff now alleges that all three Defendants knew of the risk of harm to Plaintiff by keeping him on the top tier, yet intentionally and negligently disregarded that risk. ( Id. ¶¶ 18-20; 24-6; 29-36.) In addition, Plaintiff claims that Sergeant Boroski is liable for failing to supervise CO Yeoman in connection with moving Plaintiff from the top tier to bottom tier. ( Id. ¶ 26.)

In addition to these allegations, Plaintiff alleges that he has fully exhausted his administrative remedies with respect to his claims. ( Id. ¶¶ 39-40.) Defendants do not dispute that Plaintiff has exhausted his administrative remedies.

II. Standard of Review - Motion to Dismiss

Among other requirements, a sound complaint must set forth "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). This statement must "give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). "Fair notice" in the context of Rule 8(a)(2) "depends on the type of case - some complaints will require at least some factual allegations to make out a showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (quotation omitted). "[A] situation may arise where, at some point, the factual detail in a complaint is so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Id. A plaintiff must provide more than "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" to show entitlement to relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555) (recognizing that Rule 8 pleading standard "does not require detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation"); accord, e.g., Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007) (stating that the court is not "compelled to accept unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences or a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.") (quotations and citations omitted).

A defendant may attack a complaint by a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court is required to accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007), and all reasonable inferences permitted by the factual allegations, Watson v. Abington Twp., 478 F.3d 144, 150 (3d Cir. 2007), and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007). If the facts alleged are sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level" such that the plaintiff's claim is "plausible on its face, " a complaint will survive a motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570) (explaining a claim has "facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged"); see also Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234; Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007); Stevenson v. Carroll, 495 F.3d 62, 66 (3d Cir. 2007). Further, when a complaint contains well-pleaded factual allegations, "a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. at 664. However, a court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice." Id.

"To decide a motion to dismiss, courts generally consider only the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993) (citations omitted); see also Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263, 268 (3d Cir. 2007). The court may consider "undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the [attached] document[s]." Pension Benefit, 998 F.2d at 1196. Additionally, "documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading, may be considered." Pryor v. Nat'l Coll. Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002) (citation omitted); see also U.S. Express Lines, Ltd. v Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002) ("Although a district court may not consider matters extraneous to the pleadings, a document integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint may be considered without converting the motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment." (internal quotation omitted)). However, the court may not rely on other parts of the record in making its decision. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).

When presented with a pro se complaint, the court should construe the complaint liberally and draw fair inferences from what is not alleged as well as from what is alleged. Dluhos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir. 2003); Youse v. Carlucci, 867 F.Supp. 317, 318 (E.D. Pa. 1994). Such a complaint "must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94 (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)).

Finally, in the Third Circuit, a court must grant leave to amend before dismissing a civil rights complaint that is merely deficient. See, e.g., Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 252 (3d Cir. 2007); Weston v. Pennsylvania, 251 F.3d 420, 428 (3d Cir. 2001); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116 (3d Cir. 2000). "Dismissal without leave to amend is justified only on the grounds of bad faith, undue delay, prejudice, or futility." Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 236 (3d Cir. 2004).

III. Discussion

In order to state a viable Section 1983 claim, a plaintiff must plead two essential elements: 1) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and 2) that said conduct deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). The defendant's conduct must have a close causal connection to the plaintiff's injury in order for Section 1983 liability to attach. Martinez v. California, 444 U.S. 277, 285 (1980).[1] A prerequisite for a viable civil rights claim is that the defendant directed, or knew of and acquiesced in, the deprivation of the plaintiff's constitutional rights. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207-08 (3d Cir. 1988). On its face, Section 1983 creates no exceptions to the liability it imposes, nor does it speak of immunity for any ...

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