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Hill v. Churney

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 11, 2014

FUQUAN Y. HILL, Plaintiff,
v.
C. O. CHURNEY, individually and in his official capacity, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER[1]

CYNTHIA REED EDDY, District Judge.

Presently pending is the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants, with brief in support (ECF Nos. 29 and 30), the brief in opposition filed by Plaintiff (ECF No. 35), and the Reply Brief filed by Defendants (ECF No. 37).[2] For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be granted.

Factual Background

Plaintiff, Fuquan Y. Hill, 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-Greene. Named as Defendants are the following Department of Corrections ("DOC") and/or SCI-Greene officials and employees: C.O. Churney, C.O. Hudock, F. Nunez, Hearing Examiner; Captain Haywood, Lorinda Winfield, Deputy Superintendent; CCPM Jeffrey Rogers; Swartz, Unit Manager; Tracy Shawley, Facility Grievance Coordinator; DSCS Robert Gilmore, Major David Grainey, David Yanak, Wallace Leggett, Major of Unit Management; Superintendent Louis Folino, John Wetzel, Deputy Wetzel, Jeffrey Witherite, Michael Smith, and Robin M. Lewis, Chief Hearing Examiner. All defendants are named in both their individual and official capacities. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

According to the Complaint, on November 12, 2012, while walking on the prison yard track with two other inmates, Plaintiff accidentally bumped into Defendant Corrections Officer Churney ("Churney"), who was walking with Defendant Corrections Hudock ("Hudock") along the same track but in the opposite direction. According to the Complaint, Plaintiff apologized and then continued walking on the track. The next time around the track, Plaintiff again accidentally bumped into Churney and Plaintiff again apologized.

After the second bump, Churney accused Plaintiff of assault, took his ID, and sent him back to his block. Churney wrote Plaintiff a misconduct for assault (Misconduct Number A830185) in which he described the bump as follows: "Inmate Hill GW3029 intentionally thrust his shoulder into my chest and stated, Can't you see I'm walking, you need to move'." (ECF No. 34-1). On November 19, 2012, Misconduct Number A830185 was dismissed without prejudice; the next day, on November 20, 2012, Churney filed a second Misconduct Report (Misconduct Number A354495), which was identical to the first misconduct report with the addition of the following two sentences: "I then notified my yard sergeant. Report delayed due to DWOP." Id. On November 26, 2012, Plaintiff was found guilty of Misconduct Number A354495 and sentenced to 30 days in disciplinary custody. Plaintiff alleges that the manner in which he was found guilty of the misconduct violated his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment because his inmate witness was not allowed to testify, he was not allowed to testify, the misconduct report by C.O. Churney was falsified, and the hearing examiner was prejudiced and biased against him. He also claims that the RHU's conditions of confinement violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

After Plaintiff had completed his time in disciplinary custody, at the recommendation of the Program Review Committee ("PRC"), he was placed in administrative custody (AC) status, rather than released to general population, because he was considered "a danger to himself or others." (ECF No. 29-2, at 6.) Plaintiff alleges that he was placed and kept on AC status in retaliation for continuing to protest his innocence of the assault and "because this Administration wants to cover up the fact that no assault ever occurred." (ECF No. 35-2 at 10.) Plaintiff remained in AC status through several reviews by the PRC, for a total of 90 days.

Plaintiff alleges through his Complaint that on February 1, 2013, while still on AC status, Defendant Hudock, who was walking with Churney on the prison yard track, approached Plaintiff and told him that there was no assault in contradiction to what Churney had alleged. Plaintiff filed two grievances, wrote requests to staff members, and wrote letters to various prison officials claiming that this newly discovered evidence proved that the misconduct contained false allegations, but he was afforded no relief.

Standard of Review

A. 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.").

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 Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 251 (3d Cir. 2007). "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).

Finally, a court must employ less stringent standard when considering pro se pleadings than when judging the work product of an attorney. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). 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. Dlunos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir. 2003). Notwithstanding this liberality, pro se litigants are not relieved of their obligation to allege sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal ...


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