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Cash v. Wetzel

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

September 30, 2014

JOHN WETZEL, et al., Defendants.




A. Relevant Procedural History

Plaintiff Omar Sherieff Cash, a prisoner formerly incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Albion, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Albion")[2] initiated this action by filing a pro se civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, on December 17, 2012 [ECF No. 3]. Plaintiff subsequently filed an amended complaint on August 23, 2013 [ECF No. 32], which superseded the original complaint and is the operative pleading in this case. Named as Defendants are: John Wetzel ("Wetzel"), Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC"); Dorina Varner ("Varner"), Chief Grievance Officer for the DOC; Michael Harlow ("Harlow"), former superintendent at SCI-Albion; Ronald Bryant ("Bryant"), former deputy superintendent at SCI-Albion; Captain M. Edmunds ("Edmunds"), Lieutenant Knepper ("Knepper"), and Sergeant Morgan ("Morgan"), corrections officers at SCI-Albion; and Dana Arrington ("Arrington"), Grievance Coordinator at SCI-Albion.

In his amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he was placed in administrative segregation at SCI-Albion on February 15, 2011, after he was charged with a capital offense in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. (ECF No. 32, Amended Complaint, at ¶¶ 12, 16-17). On May 30, 2012, Plaintiff's direct appeal of his original state court conviction in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, was exhausted ( Id. at ¶ 19). On July 20, 2012, Plaintiff received an intercom transmission in his cell notifying him that a box of legal materials had arrived, addressed to him ( Id. at ¶ 13). On July 22, 2012, Plaintiff submitted a request slip to Defendant Knepper indicating that he never received the box of legal materials after he was notified of its arrival ( Id. at ¶ 14). Defendant Knepper responded to Plaintiff's request slip on July 29, 2012, indicating that Defendant Morgan stated that "he looked in the box more closely [and] it was another inmate's documents, but the box it was in was recycled and had had [Plaintiff's] name on it, so he [wrongly] assumed it was [Plaintiff's]" ( Id. at ¶ 15).

Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff raises claims under the first, sixth, eighth, and fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution. In particular, Plaintiff alleges: (i) a denial of access to courts claim against Defendant Morgan; (ii) failure to intervene/deliberate indifference claims against Defendants Knepper, Arrington, Edmunds, Harlow, Varner, and Bryant; (iii) a conspiracy claim against Defendants Knepper, Morgan, Edmunds, Bryant, Harlow, Varner, and Arrington; (iv) a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim against Defendant Bryant; (v) a Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim against Defendants Bryant and Wetzel; (vi) a First Amendment denial of counsel claim against Defendant Bryant; and (vii) supervisory liability claims against Defendants Knepper, Bryant, Harlow, and Wetzel. As relief for his claims, Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, and compensatory and punitive damages.

On September 3, 2013, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss [ECF No. 37], asserting, inter alia, that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Plaintiff has since filed a motion and brief in opposition to Defendants' motion, essentially re-asserting the allegations of the amended complaint. [ECF Nos. 46, 47]. This matter is now ripe for consideration.

B. Standards of Review

1. Motion to Dismiss

A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and all the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true. Erickson v. Pardus , 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007). 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." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)(rejecting the traditional 12 (b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41 (1957)). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (specifically applying Twombly analysis beyond the context of the Sherman Act).

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." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555. 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. February 19, 2008) 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.

The Third Circuit Court has prescribed the following three-step approach to determine the sufficiency of a complaint under Twombly and Iqbal:

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), citing Santiago v. Warminster Twp. , 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1947, 1950); see also Great Western Mining & Min. ...

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