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Hagan v. Dolphin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 15, 2014

DAMONT HAGAN, Plaintiff,
v.
QUENTIN DOLPHIN, et al., Defendants

MEMORANDUM OPINION

MARTIN C. CARLSON, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

The plaintiff in this action, Damont Hagan, is an inmate in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, (DOC) currently housed at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon. He is also a frequent litigant in federal court. In this case, Hagan has sued five individuals, all of whom are contracted with or employed by the DOC, alleging that the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to modify his health diagnosis and discontinue his prescription medications in order to keep him hidden from certain Department of Justice officials who were intending to tour the facility and interview inmates as part of an investigation.[1] Hagan also alleges that the defendants took these actions to retaliate against him for filing grievances and other litigation against prison staff. Additionally, Hagan alleges that the defendants prolonged his detention in segregated housing, and exhibited deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Hagan initiated this action by filing a complaint on November 11, 2013. (Doc. 1.) On December 10, 2013, the District Court ordered the plaintiff to file an amended complaint by December 30, 2013. (Doc. 8.) Hagan complied with this order, filing an amended complaint on December 26, 2013. (Doc. 9.) Thereafter, the defendants moved to dismiss the amended complaint. (Docs. 20, 22.) In response, Hagan filed a brief opposing the motions (Doc. 26.), but then filed a second amended complaint on June 9, 2014. (Doc. 28.) Hagan filed this second amended complaint without having first sought leave of court to do so.

Hagan's second amended complaint inspired the defendants to file new motions to dismiss as well as a motion to strike the pleading. (Docs. 29, 30.) The case was subsequently referred to the undersigned following the parties' consent to proceed before the Magistrate Judge. (Doc. 41.) Upon receiving this referral, we entered an order granting the plaintiff leave to file the second amended complaint, denying the then-pending motions to dismiss the first amended complaint as moot, and denying the defendants' motion to strike the second amended complaint. (Doc. 42.) In the same order, Hagan was ordered to respond to the defendants' motions to dismiss. (Id.)

On September 3, 2014, the corrections defendants filed a separate motion to dismiss the second amended complaint. (Doc. 44.) Hagan responded to this motion and to defendant Dolphin's earlier motion with briefs filed on September 15 and September 18, 2014. (Docs. 46, 47.) Defendant Dolphin filed a reply brief in further support of his motion on September 29, 2014. The motions are now fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Rule 12(b)(6): Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is designed to test the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Thus, Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated, Hedges v. United States , 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005), and dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting all of the facts alleged in the complaint as true, the plaintiff has failed to plead "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) (abrogating "no set of facts" language found in Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). The facts alleged must be sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555. This requirement "calls for enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence" of necessary elements of the plaintiff's cause of action. Id. at 556. Furthermore, in order to satisfy federal pleading requirements, the plaintiff must "provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief, " which "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Phillips v. County of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (brackets and quotation marks omitted) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555). Thus, "[a]t the motion to dismiss stage, we accept as true all factual assertions, but we disregard threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, legal conclusions, and conclusory statements. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79, 129 S.Ct. 1937; Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555-57, 127 S.Ct. 1955; Burtch , 662 F.3d at 220-21." James v. City of Wilkes-Barre , 700 F.3d 675, 681 (3d Cir. 2012).

As the court of appeals has observed: "The Supreme Court in Twombly set forth the plausibility' standard for overcoming a motion to dismiss and refined this approach in Iqbal. The plausibility standard requires the complaint to allege enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955. A complaint satisfies the plausibility standard when the factual pleadings allow[ ] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.' Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955). This standard requires showing more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.' Id . A complaint which pleads facts merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, [ ] stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of "entitlement of relief."'" Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc. , 662 F.3d 212, 220-21 (3d Cir. 2011) cert. denied, 132 S.Ct. 1861 , 182 L.Ed.2d 644 (U.S. 2012).

Thus, in assessing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) the court engages in a three-step analysis: "First, the court must tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.' Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1947. Second, the court should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.' Id. at 1950. 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.' Id." Santiago v. Warminster Tp. , 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010).

In undertaking this task, the court generally relies only on the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record. Sands v. McCormick , 502 F.3d 263, 268 (3d Cir. 2007). The court may also consider "undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attached as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the [attached] documents." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus. , 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Moreover, "documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading, may be considered." Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n , 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002); see also, U.S. Express Lines, Ltd. v. Higgins , 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002) (instructing that "[a]lthough a district court may not consider matters extraneous to the pleadings, a document integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint may be considered without converting the motion to dismiss in one for summary judgment.") (original emphasis removed). However, the court may not rely on other parts of the record in determining a motion to dismiss. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien &Frankel , 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).

B. Eighth Amendment Deliberate Indifference

With our review cabined and confined solely to the well-pleaded facts in the complaint, we note that Hagan alleges a conspiracy among the defendants to alter his medical diagnoses and to restrict his access to prescription medication, all in an effort either to retaliate against him for his exercise of First Amendment activity, or to ensure that Hagan was not seen by officials with the Department of Justice who were conducting an investigation into the treatment of prisoners at SCI-Huntingdon. Hagan has framed these alleged actions in part as ...


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