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Grant v. Varano

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 15, 2014

DAVID VARANO, ET AL., Defendants


RICHARD P. CONABOY, District Judge.


Braheem Grant, an inmate presently confined at the State Correctional Institution, Coal Township, Pennsylvania (SCI-Coal Twp.), initiated this pro se civil rights action. Service of the Complaint was previously ordered.

Named as Defendants are the following SCI-Coal Twp. Officials: Superintendent David Varano; Captain L. Morris; Lieutenant C. Symons; Correctional Officers (CO) W. Lynn and T. Kinney; as well as Hearing Examiner L. S. Kerns-Barr. Plaintiff states that on July 21, 2011 after he being escorted back to his Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) cell from the SCI-Coal Twp. mini-law library he was subjected to a strip search by CO Lynn. During this search, Lynn allegedly referred to the prisoner by his real name thereby jeopardizing Grant's safety and ignored Plaintiff's request to refrain from calling him by his actual name.

Following the search, Plaintiff contends that he was denied his dinner tray because he had been falsely accused of verbal abuse.[1] As a result of those events, Grant filed an institutional grievance. In retaliation for doing so, Grant was purportedly issued a false disciplinary charge by Lynn charging the inmate with threatening an employee with bodily harm and use of abusive or obscene language to an employee.

It is next alleged that the following day Lynn taunted Plaintiff and placed him on restricted movement. This designation which precluded Grant from showering, shaving, recreation, and movement outside of his cell. See Doc. 1, ¶ 16. Later that same day, Lynn allegedly subjected Grant to further verbal threats. Grant responded by initiating a second grievance.

On July 26, 2011, Plaintiff had a teleconference regarding the misconduct charge before Defendant Kerns-Barr. Grant states that Kerns-Barr denied his requests for a staff representative, witnesses, and review of video footage. Plaintiff again appeared before the Hearing Examiner on August 2, 2011 and was informed that there was either no video footage or that any footage that was available was inconclusive. See id. at ¶ 20. However, because of deficiencies with the misconduct charge which were pointed out by the Plaintiff, the misconduct charge was dismissed without prejudice by the Hearing Examiner.

Later that same day, Defendants Lynn and Symons allegedly tried to coerce Plaintiff into withdrawing his two grievances in exchange for the misconduct not being rewritten and for the return of magazines to the inmate. Symons' coercion effort included the use of a racial slur. Grant indicates that he initiated another grievance regarding those attempts. Three days later, Lynn again tried unsuccessfully to get Plaintiff to withdraw the grievances. Shortly thereafter. Grant refused to exit his cell after being told that Lieutenant Symons wanted to see him. See id. at ¶ 34. Plaintiff then received a written denial of his grievance and Lynn's rewritten misconduct charge.

On August 9, 2011, Grant had a hearing before Kerns-Barr on the rewritten misconduct charge. The Plaintiff's request for witnesses was denied, he was found guilty of the charge and was sanctioned to a ninety (90) day term of disciplinary custody.

The Complaint's final contention is that Defendant Kinney gave Grant a dinner tray on September 15, 2011 which contained a metal object (razor blade) which caused lacerations to Plaintiff's mouth. It is also alleged that there was a post-incident delay in medical treatment for Grant's injury. The Complaint seeks injunctive and declaratory relief as well as punitive and compensatory damages.

Defendants have responded to the Complaint by filing a motion to dismiss. See Doc. 16. The opposed motion is ripe for consideration.


Defendants claim entitlement to entry of dismissal on the grounds that: (1) Plaintiff's claims against Defendants in their official capacities are barred by the Eleventh Amendment; (2) a portion of the Complaint is barred by the statute of limitations; (3) the allegations of verbal harassment are insufficient; (4) Plaintiff has not adequately alleged personal involvement by the Defendants Varano and Morris; (5) any claims relating to Grant's disciplinary placement and misconduct proceedings cannot proceed; and (6) the Complaint fails to adequately allege personal involvement by any Defendant with respect to the food tampering claim.

Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must "accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Kanter v. Barella , 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher , 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)). A plaintiff must present facts that, if true, demonstrate a plausible right to relief. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a) (stating that the complaint should include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief"); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). This requirement "calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" the necessary elements of the plaintiff's cause of action. Id. at 556.

A complaint must contain "more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678. Legal conclusions must be supported by factual allegations and the complaint must state a plausible claim for relief. See id. at 679.

"Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Twombly, at 555. The reviewing court must determine whether the complaint "contain[s] either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory." Id. at 562; see also Phillips v. County of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (in order to survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must allege in his complaint "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal ...

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