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Mobley v. Wetzel

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 10, 2015

GERRY MOBLEY JR., Plaintiff,
JOHN WETZEL, et al., Defendants.


SUSAN E. SCHWAB, Magistrate Judge.

This pro se prisoner lawsuit, filed by the plaintiff, Gerry Mobley ("Mobley"), is proceeding via an amended complaint consisting of 626 handwritten paragraphs. Mobley's 30 claims against 37 defendants stem from his imprisonment at SCI Huntingdon and cover a period from June 18, 2010 to May 17, 2013. Presently before the Court are five ripe motions to dismiss. Our recommendations follow.

I. Background and Relevant Procedural History.

On January 10, 2014, Mobley filed a handwritten 303-page complaint consisting of 1, 788 paragraphs and a 20-page exhibit. Doc. 1. Along with his complaint, Mobley filed a motion to proceed in forma pauperis, Doc. 2, which we granted and simultaneously ordered the United States Marshal's Service to serve the defendants. Doc. 8. After some of the defendants named in the original complaint had been served by the Marshal's Service, they filed motions to dismiss, respectively. See, e.g., Doc. 20. Before we were able to address those dispositive motions, Mobley sought leave to amend his complaint. Doc. 57. On May 6, 2014, we granted Mobley's request for leave to amend, Doc. 59, and, thereafter, Mobley filed an amended complaint. Doc. 60.

In Mobley's amended complaint, which is 94-pages long, consisting of 626 paragraphs and 30 counts, he names the following 37 defendants: (1) John Wetzel ("Wetzel"), the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC"); (2) Tabb Bickell ("Bickell"), the Superintendent at SCI Huntingdon; (3) Christopher Oppman ("Oppman"), the DOC's Director of Health Care Services; (4) Traci Parkes ("Parkes"), a contract vendor with the DOC; (5) FNU Garman, the Deputy Superintendent of Centralized Services at SCI Huntingdon; (6) FNU Eckard, the Deputy Superintendent of Facilities Management at SCI Huntingdon; (7) Philip Shoaf ("Shoaf"), a doctor at SCI Huntingdon; (8) Luis Araneda ("Araneda"), a doctor at SCI Huntingdon; (9) Joseph Migliore ("Migliore"), a doctor at SCI Huntingdon; (10) Joseph Tavares ("Tavares"), a doctor at SCI Huntingdon; (11) Conrado Agra ("Agra"), a doctor at SCI Huntingdon; (12) Ronald Long ("Long"), a doctor at SCI Huntingdon; (13) Marty Cole ("Cole"), a doctor at SCI Huntingdon; (14) Kathe Kozak ("Kozak"), a dentist at SCI Huntingdon; (15) Dana Keith ("Keith"), a phlebotomist at SCI Huntingdon; (16) May Lou Showalter ("Showalter"), a correctional health care administrator at SCI Huntingdon; (17) Paula Price ("Price"), a correctional health care administrator at SCI Huntingdon; (18) Ann Hoffmaster ("Hoffmaster"), a registered nurse ("RN") at SCI Huntingdon; (19) Michelle Harker ("Harker"), an RN at SCI Huntingdon; (20) Kennie Williams ("Williams"), an RN at SCI Huntingdon; (21) Michael Feathers ("Feathers"), an RN at SCI Huntingdon; (22) Shawn McCorkle ("McCorkle"), an RN at SCI Huntingdon; (23) Melanie Wegman ("Wegman"), an RN at SCI Huntingdon; (24) Christa Rescigno ("Rescigno"), a physician's assistant ("PA") at SCI Huntingdon; (25) Jennifer Trimai ("Trimai"), a PA at SCI Huntingdon; (26) Angela Dively ("Dively"), a PA at SCI Huntingdon; (27) Tanya Chew ("Chew"), a PA at SCI Huntingdon; (28) Michael Gomez ("Gomez"), a PA at SCI Huntingdon; (29) John Roth ("Roth"), a medical care provider at J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital ("J.C. Blair"); (30) Thomas Shower ("Shower"), a medical care provider at J.C. Blair; (31) FNU Williams, a medical care provider at J.C. Blair; (32) FNU Hriebe, a medical care provider at J.C. Blair; (33) Gregory Jabbour ("Jabbour"), a Cardiologist at Altoona Regional Healthcare; (34) Heather Weidel ("Weidel"), a "CCMP" at SCI Huntingdon; (35) Dorina Varner ("Varner"), the Chief Secretary of Inmate Grievances and Appeals; (36) Patti Stover ("Stover"), a special assistant to Wetzel; and (37) Jane Doe, a neurosurgeon or neurologist.

To summarize, Mobley's claims stem from his imprisonment at SCI Huntington from June 18, 2010 to May 17, 2013. His allegations, drafted in a diary-like manner, generally provide a day-by-day account of his physical condition, the conditions of the prison at SCI Huntingdon, the medical treatments and prescriptions he received, the varying medical opinions he received about his condition, his interactions with medical personnel at the prison and at private hospitals, his interactions with employees at the prison, and the various grievances he filed. Because of the manner in which the amended complaint is drafted, Mobley's claims often blend together. Nevertheless, we understand Mobley to be attempting to raise claims that he was denied adequate medical care, subjected to inhumane conditions of confinement, subjected to retaliatory acts, and denied access to courts in violation of the Eighth and First Amendments to the United States Constitution, respectively. Mobley also raises state-law claims. For relief, Mobley requests compensatory and punitive damages, along with declaratory and injunctive relief.

Pending before the Court are motions to dismiss filed by the following defendants: Keith, Trimai, Bickell, Eckard, Feathers, Garman, Harker, Hoffmaster, Kozak, McCorkle, Oppman, Price, Showalter, Stover, Varner, Wagman, Weidel, Wetzel, Williams, Roth, Hriebe, Jabbour, Dively, Gomez, Long, and Parkes. Docs. 65, 67, 68, 92, & 103.[1] These motions are presently ripe for review.[2]

II. Legal Standard.

Pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a pleading must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). As the Supreme Court held in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), the pleading standard announced in Rule 8 does not require "detailed factual allegations." A pleading that offers "labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do, " however. Id. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders "naked assertion[s]" devoid of "further factual enhancement." Id. at 557. Rather, to comply with Rule 8(a)(2) and withstand Rule 12(b)(6), the mechanism through which a party may move to dismiss a pleading for failing to state a claim, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570.

A claim has factual plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Id. at 556. In other words, this standard "asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 679 (citation omitted).

Under this plausibility test, a court may not dismiss a complaint merely because it appears unlikely or improbably that a plaintiff can prove the facts alleged or will ultimately prevail on the merits. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 563 n. 8. The test, instead, essentially requires a federal court to ask whether the facts alleged raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary elements. Id. at 563 n. 8. Accordingly, a complaint that provides adequate facts to show "how, when, where, and why" will generally survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203 (3d Cir. 2009); Guirguis v. Movers Specialty Services, Inc., 346 F.Appx. 774, (2009).

"In keeping with these principles a court considering a [complaint under Rule 12(b)(6)] can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Thereafter, "[if] well-pleaded factual allegations [are identified], a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id.

Last, in a case such as this, a complaint filed by a pro se litigant is to be liberally construed and held to a less stringent standard than formal complaints drafted by a lawyer. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). Nevertheless, " pro se litigants still must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim." Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 10-4710, 2013 WL 57895 at *4 (3d Cir. Jan. 7, 2013).

III. Discussion.

Mindful of the aforementioned legal standard, we begin by addressing the unnecessary length of Mobley's amended complaint, as do Trimai and Keith. Doc. 66 at 4-6. To that end, we reiterate that Rule 8(a)(2) mandates that a complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim, " and detailed factual allegations are not required. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Otherwise, no rules of court exist regarding the proper length of a pleading. It has been observed, however, that "the proper length... for a pleading... is largely a matter for the discretion of the trial court." 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1217.

Even though the length of complaints tends to be a matter of discretion for the trial courts, some Circuit Courts have held that the length of a pleading alone does not normally serve as a basis for dismissal, for a violation of Rule 8. See Hearns v. San Bernardino Police Dept., 530 F.3d 1124, 1131-31 (9th Cir. 2008)(collecting cases). A lengthy complaint, however, can generally be dismissed for violating Rule 8 if it is also so rambling, unclear, or complicated so as to defy response. See, e.g., In re Westinghouse Sec. Litig., 90 F.3d 696, 703 (3d Cir. 1996)("The second amended complaint is unnecessarily complicated and verbose .")(Emphasis added). In other words, if a lengthy complaint is drafted in a manner that makes it impossible to "separate the wheat from the chaff, " it may generally be dismissed for a Rule 8 violation. See Mann v. Boatwright, 477 F.3d 1140, 1148 (10th Cir. 2007)(affirming Rule 8 dismissal when it was impossible to "separate the wheat from the chaff" in the complaint and because "[i]t was not the district court's job to stitch together cognizable claims for relief from the wholly deficient pleading."); see also Lindell v. Houser, 442 F.3d 1033, 1035 (7th Cir. 2006)("District courts should not have to read and decipher tomes disguised as pleadings."); Cody v. Leon, 468 F.Appx. 644, 645 (8th Cir. 2012)(holding that a lengthy complaint was properly dismissed under Rule 8 where the claims were either unrelated or overlapping, and most were based on incidents which occurred over several years); 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1281 ("Unnecessary prolixity in a pleading places an unjustified burden on the court and the party who must respond to it because they are forced to select the relevant material from a mass of verbiage."). Where a court chooses to dismiss a lengthy complaint for violating Rule 8, it shall normally grant the plaintiff an opportunity to file an amended pleading that conforms to the pleading requirements. See 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1281; 2A Moore's Federal Practice ¶ 8.13, at 8-81 to 8-82 n. 38.

Here, while Mobley's amended complaint is much shorter than the original, there is no question that Mobley's amended complaint is still vast in breadth and scope. In addition to its unnecessary length, Mobley's amended pleading meanders back and forth across overlapping yet distinct sets of named defendants. As a whole, the allegations appear to concern Mobley's medical condition and treatments; though, the allegations also bring into play a variety of topics while spanning the course of Mobley's imprisonment at SCI Huntingdon for nearly three years. Further, given the hyper-detailed, day-by-day account for the same three-year period, it is at times difficult to sift through the amended complaint and stitch together the relevant allegations in relation to the 30 enumerated counts. Consequently, based upon the contents of Mobley's amended pleading, we have expended an inordinate amount of time and judicial resources to review the filing for purposes of evaluating whether Mobley has sufficiently stated a claim for relief. As such, we do not waiver in agreeing with Trimai and Keith, and recommend the dismissal of Mobley's amended complaint, in its entirety, for violating Rule 8.[3]

In making this recommendation, we remain cognizant of Mobley's status as a pro se litigant and our obligation to liberally construe pro se pleadings. That Mobley is a pro se litigant, however, does not excuse him from complying with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or this Court's Local Rules. As such, just as he must comply with ...

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