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Whitehead v. Demarco

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

September 11, 2014

LISA WHITEHEAD, Plaintiff,
v.
DR. DEMARCO, et al, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

SUSAN PARADISE BAXTER, Magistrate Judge [1]

Plaintiff Lisa Whitehead brings suit alleging that Defendants violated her constitutional rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments in connection with medical treatment she received while at SCI Cambridge Springs in 2009 and 2010. Named as Defendants are Dr. DeMarco[2], Mr. Przybrowski, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, John Wetzel, Shirley Moore Smeal, and Joyce Wilkes.

Presently pending before this Court is the Department of Corrections Defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings. ECF No. 49. Plaintiff has filed a Response to Defendants’ motion in opposition, but has agreed to voluntarily dismiss the following claims: 1) all claims against Wetzel, Smeal, and Wilkes; 2) the claims against Przybrowski in his official capacity; and 3) the Fourteenth Amendment claims against all the Department of Corrections Defendants. ECF No. 51. The motion is fully briefed and is ripe for disposition by this Court.

Standard of Review

“The standard for deciding a motion for judgment on the pleadings filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) is not materially different from the standard for deciding a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).” Zion v. Nassan, 283 F.R.D. 247, 254 (W.D. Pa. 2012). Either motion may be used to seek the dismissal of a complaint based on a plaintiff's “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), (h)(2)(B). The only difference between the two motions is that a Rule 12(b) motion must be made before a “responsive pleading” is filed, whereas a Rule 12(c) motion can be made “[a]fter the pleadings are closed.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b), (c). A court presented with a motion for judgment on the pleadings must consider the plaintiff's complaint, the defendant's answer, and any written instruments or exhibits attached to the pleadings. Perelman v. Perelman, 919 F.Supp.2d 512, 521 (E.D. Pa. 2013). See also 2 James Wm. Moore et al., Moore's Federal Practice-Civil ¶ 12.38 (2010); Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus. Inc., 998 F.3d 1192, 1196-97 (3d Cir.1993) (court should consider the allegations in the pleadings, the attached exhibits, matters of public record, and “undisputedly authentic” documents if plaintiff's claims are based on such documents.).

A complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) if it does not allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570 (rejecting the traditional 12(b) (6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957)). The Court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004) citing Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Nor must the court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. Although the United States Supreme Court does “not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, [the Court does require] enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570.

In other words, at the motion to dismiss stage, a plaintiff is “required to make a ‘showing’ rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief.” Smith v. Sullivan, 2008 WL 482469, at *1 (D. Del.) quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008). “This ‘does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, ’ but instead ‘simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of’ the necessary element.” Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234, quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 n.3.

The Third Circuit has expounded on the Twombly/Iqbal line of cases:

To determine the sufficiency of a complaint under Twombly and Iqbal, we must take the following three steps:

First, the court must ‘tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.’ Second, the court should identify allegations that, ‘because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.’ Finally, ‘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.’

Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 221 (3d Cir. 2011) quoting Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010).

Eleventh Amendment Immunity

Plaintiff has named the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections as a defendant to this action.

The Department of Corrections cannot be sued under the Eleventh Amendment which proscribes actions in the federal courts against, inter alia, states and their agencies. Laskaris v. Thornburgh, 661 F.2d 23 (3d Cir. 1981) (Pennsylvania); Mt. Healthy Board of Education v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274 (1977) (state agencies). “Unless a State has waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity or Congress has overridden it ... a State cannot be sued directly in its own name regardless of the relief sought.” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 167 n.14 (1985) citing Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781 (1978). It is well-settled that the DOC[3], which administers all state correctional institutions, is an agency or arm of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Thus, the Department of ...


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