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Whitney v. Wetzel

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 13, 2015

JOHN E. WETZEL, ET AL., Defendants.


RICHARD P. CONABOY, District Judge.


Charles Whitney, an inmate presently confined at the Benner State Correctional Institution, Bellefonte, Pennsylvania (SCI-Benner), initiated this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Service of the Complaint was previously ordered.

Thirty-one (31) Defendants are identified by name in the Complaint including Secretary John Wetzel, Assistant Counsel Ronald Chadwell, and Deputy Secretary Murray of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC).[1] The Plaintiff is also proceeding against the following employees of the Rockview State Correctional Institution, Bellefonte, Pennsylvania (SCI-Rockview): Superintendent M. Lamas; Majors (3) Ted Robinson, Snedeker, and McMahon; Horton; Miller; Captains (2) Eton, Dyke; J. Rackovan; Sergeants (3) T. Rogers, Powell, and Knight; Deputy Boyles; Lieutenants (3) Hoover, Bailey and Hardy; Mr. Dougherty; Hearing Examiner D. A. Kuhn; Unit Manager Fed. Fiebsome; and Correctional Officers (9) Poiters, Osborne, Nemihood, Cepreshu, Sutton, Taylor, Anneski; Jedrzejik; and Sullivan.[2]

The Complaint is set forth in a lengthy, rambling and at times repetitive fashion. Plaintiff states that after being transferred to SCI-Rockview he was initially placed in the prison's Restricted Housing Unit (RHU). On June 4, 2012, Plaintiff was released from the RHU and placed in general population. On June 22, 2012, M. Anthony became the Plaintiff's correctional counselor per a directive from Major Robinson.

Thereafter, Plaintiff was allegedly subjected to a "conspiracy of retaliation" for previously filing a lawsuit against Major Ted Robinson and for initiating institutional grievances at SCI-Rockview.[3] Doc. 1, p. 5. The alleged retaliation included use of excessive force, discrimination, defamation, falsified misconduct charges, cell transfers, and destruction of personal property.[4] Whitney also contends that his institutional job assignment was changed to being a kitchen worker so that he could be harassed, given false work performance reports, and issued falsified misconduct charges by Defendants Anneski and Jedrzejik. See id. at p. 9.

The Complaint next contends that Plaintiff was subjected to multiple pat down searches at mealtime for filing a grievance regarding his inability to exercise his religious beliefs.[5] When he attempted to initiate a grievance regarding that conduct, Defendant Rogers purportedly refused to provide him with the needed form. Whitney further asserts that after receiving another falsified misconduct charge he was sanctioned to a thirty (30) day period of confinement in an RHU cell which was cold and he was denied an extra blanket and his requests for the heat to be turned on were ignored. Plaintiff adds that a grievance he filed regarding the conditions of his RHU cell was not processed by Defendant Rackovan. It is next alleged that Plaintiff was given a retaliatory transfer to SCI-Benner which was approved by numerous Defendants including Lamas and Murray.

Plaintiff further maintains that he was subjected to unwarranted excessive force on June 4, 2013 and denied medical attention for his resulting injuries. See id. at pp. 19-20. He was also allegedly issued additional falsified misconduct charges. Plaintiff's Complaint additionally raises pendent state law tort claims. The Complaint seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint.[6] See Doc. 10. A review of the docket shows that an opposing brief has not been submitted.


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 evidence of the necessary element[s]" of a particular cause of action). Additionally, pro se pleadings are to be construed liberally, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).

Grievance Procedure

Defendants' initial argument for dismissal asserts that they cannot be held liable based upon their denial of Whitney's inmate grievances and appeals. See Doc. 11, p. 3. Accordingly, they conclude that dismissal should be entered in favor of Defendants Rackovan, Rogers, and Osborne. See id. at p. 6.

Inmates also do not have a constitutional right to a prison grievance system. See Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners Labor Union, 433 U.S. 119, 137-138 (1977); Speight v. Sims, No. 08-2038, 2008 WL 2600723 at *1 (3d. Cir. Jun 30, 2008)(citing Massey v. Helman, 259 F.3d 641, 647 (7th Cir. 2001)("[T]he existence of a prison grievance procedure confers no liberty interest on a prisoner.") Consequently, any attempt by Plaintiff to establish liability against any of the Defendants solely based upon the substance or lack of response to his institutional grievances does not by itself support a constitutional due process claim. See also Alexander v. Gennarini, 144 Fed.Appx. 924, 925 (3d Cir. 2005)(involvement in post-incident grievance process not a basis for § 1983 liability); Pryor-El v. Kelly, 892 F.Supp. 261, 275 (D. D.C. 1995) (because prison grievance procedure does not confer any substantive constitutional rights upon prison inmates, the prison officials' failure to comply with grievance procedure is not actionable).

A review of the Complaint shows that Plaintiff is attempting in part to establish liability against some of the Defendants based upon their involvement in the handling of his administrative grievances and appeals. Pursuant to the above discussion, such an approach is insufficient for the purpose of establishing liability under § 1983.

This Court agrees that since the claims against Defendant Rackovan are all premised on his handling of Plaintiff's grievances, he is entitled to entry of dismissal. However, since the Complaint includes other allegations including claims that Rogers vandalized Plaintiff's personal property (Doc. 1, p. 14) and Osborne was responsible for Whitney being issued a false misconduct (Id. at p. 15) outright entry of dismissal in favor of those two officials is not appropriate.

Personal Involvement

Among the named Defendants are supervisory officials including Secretary Wetzel and former Deputy Secretary Murray of the DOC as well as Superintendent Lamas, Deputy Superintendents Boyles, Horton and Miller of SCI-Rockview. The second argument for dismissal contends that the Complaint fails to allege any facts showing that those individuals were personally ...

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