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Powell v. Wetzel

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 3, 2014

JOHN E. WETZEL, et al., Defendants


YVETTE KANE, Magistrate Judge.

Before the Court is Defendants John E. Wetzel, Tabb Bickell, Mark Garman, Timothy Johnson, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, and William Walters' motion to dismiss Plaintiff Kevin Powell's amended complaint, and to strike certain paragraphs of the complaint (Doc. No. 31), Magistrate Judge Schwab's Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 44), and Plaintiff's objections thereto (Doc. No. 45). For the reasons that follow, the Court will adopt the Report and Recommendation in part.


On March, 7, 2013, Plaintiff, a former inmate of State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon, Pennsylvania (SCI-Huntingdon), filed an amended complaint in which he alleges that Defendants violated his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. (Doc. No. 30.) Plaintiff names the following six Defendants in his amended complaint: (1) John Wetzel, the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, (2) Tabb Bickell, the Superintendent at SCI-Huntingdon, (3) Mark Garman, the Deputy Superintendent at SCI-Huntingdon, (4) William Walters, a Major in charge of Unit Management at SCI-Huntingdon, (5) Timothy Johnson, a Lieutenant at SCI-Huntingdon, and (6) the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

On March 21, 2013, Defendants moved the Court to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint in its entirety, and to strike several paragraphs pursuant to Federal Rule of Procedure 12(f). (Doc. No. 31.) On February 25, 2014, Magistrate Judge Schwab issued a Report and Recommendation, wherein she recommended that the Court grant Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment and access to courts claims, deny Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims, and grant Defendants' motion to strike solely with respect to Paragraph 80 of the amended complaint. (Doc. No. 44 at 32-33.) Plaintiff timely filed objections. (Doc. No. 45.) The matter is now ripe for disposition.[2]


A court considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) must determine whether the complaint contains sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Ibqual , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Consistent with the Supreme Court's ruling in Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, and Ashcroft v. Ibqal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit requires district courts to engage in a two-part analysis when reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion: first, a court should separate the factual and legal elements of a claim, accepting well-pleaded factual matter as true and disregarding any legal conclusions; and, second, a court should determine whether the remaining well-pleaded facts sufficiently demonstrate that a plaintiff has a "plausible claim" for relief. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside , 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). Facial plausibility exists when the plaintiff pleads factual content "that allows the court to draw a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id . When conducting its analysis, a court must view the complaint's allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008). A court's determination on Rule 12(b)(6) review is not whether the non-moving party "will ultimately prevail, " but instead whether that party is "entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." United States ex rel. Wilkins v. United Health Grp., Inc. , 659 F.3d 295, 302 (3d Cir. 2011). Thus, a court need not find that the plaintiff's claims are "probable, " rather, a court need only discern whether the complaint contains "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence" consistent with the complaint. Phillips , 515 F.3d at 234.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) provides that a court "may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter." When ruling on a motion to strike, a court must construe all facts in favor of the non-moving party and deny the motion if the defense is sufficient under the law. As a general rule, motions to strike are disfavored, and should be denied unless the challenged allegations have no possible relation or logical connection to the subject matter of the controversy and may cause some significant form of prejudice to one of the parties in the action. See Symbol Techs., Inc. v. Aruba Networks, Inc. , 609 F.Supp.2d 353, 359 (D. Del. 2009).


A. Count I: Eighth Amendment - deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical needs

In Count One of his amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Bickell, Garman, Walters, and Johnson's deliberate indifference to his medical needs violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. (Doc. No. 30 ΒΆΒΆ 109-110.) Magistrate Judge Schwab recommends that the Court dismiss Count One on the grounds that Plaintiff fails to allege that the non-medical defendants had reason to believe (or actual knowledge) that prison doctors or their assistants were mistreating or failing to treat Plaintiff. (Doc. No. 44 at 15.) Plaintiff objects, arguing that the amended complaint contains allegations that the named defendants were aware that Plaintiff as held in the Restricted Housing Unit, which is a "punitive environment, not a therapeutic one, " and thus their deliberate indifference is evidenced by the fact they had "vivid first-hand knowledge of Plaintiff's delusional behavior but they left him in the hole.'" (Doc. No. 45 at 5.)

A prison official's deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of inmates violates the Eighth Amendment. Farmer v. Brennan , 511 U.S. 825, 828 (1994) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); Estelle v. Gamble , 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976) (citation omitted). Deliberate indifference requires that a prison official was subjectively aware of the risk. In other words, the official must "know[] of and disregard[] an excessive risk to inmate health and safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Farmer , 511 U.S. at 836. If an inmate is under the care of medical experts, a non-medical prison official cannot be considered deliberately indifferent for failing to respond to an inmate's medical complaints "absent a reason to believe (or actual knowledge) that prison doctors or their assistants are mistreating (or not treating) a prisoner." Spruill v. Gillis , 372 F.3d 218, 236 (3d Cir. 2004); see id. ("Holding a non-medical prison official liable in a case where a prisoner was under a physician's care would strain this division of labor.").

The Court overrules Plaintiff's objections. Although Plaintiff argues that "[t]he need for pyschiatric treatment in a therapeutic setting for this severely distressed individual was utterly obvious and easy to recognize, " (Doc. No. 47 at 6), he fails to respond to Defendants' argument that the non-medical defendants cannot be held accountable on a theory of deliberate indifference absent allegations they knew or had reason to know that Plaintiff was not receiving medical treatment. See Spruill , 372 F.3d at 236. The amended complaint contains allegations that Plaintiff was required to take certain medications in the pill line, which allows the Court to infer that Plaintiff was under the care of medical experts and receiving medical treatment. (Doc. No. 44 at 15.) Because Plaintiff does not allege that the named non-medical defendants in Count One knew or had reason to believe that Plaintiff was not receiving medical treatment, Plaintiff's allegations that the named non-medical ...

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