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Stokes v. Riskus

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

March 24, 2015

MAURICE STOKES, Plaintiff
v.
CAPTAIN RISKUS, et al., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER[1]

Susan Paradise Baxter, United States Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

A. Relevant Procedural and Factual History

Plaintiff Maurice Stokes, a prisoner formerly incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Forest in Marienville, Pennsylvania (“SCI Forest”), [2] instituted this pro se civil rights action on February 28, 2014, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Named as Defendants are Captain Riskus (“Riskus”), Lieutenant Settnik (incorrectly identified as “Setnek”) (“Settnik”), and Sergeant Freeman (“Freeman”), all of whom are corrections officers at SCI-Forest; Michael Overmyer (“Overmyer”), Superintendent at SCI-Forest; and John Wetzel (“Wetzel”), Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”). Plaintiff also includes an unnamed Defendant identified as “Sergeant John Doe, ” who has not been further identified or served with the complaint in this matter.

Plaintiff alleges that, upon his transfer to SCI-Forest on June 25, 2013, he requested to be placed in protective custody because he had recently testified against a co-defendant in his criminal case. Despite this request, Plaintiff was processed into the Restricted Housing Unit (“RHU”) and was placed by Sergeant John Doe in a cell with an historically violent inmate, who subsequently assaulted Plaintiff. Plaintiff alleges that he informed Defendants Freeman and Settnik of the assault the next morning, but they allegedly “claimed nothing could be done.” Nonetheless, they placed Plaintiff in a single cell, and allegedly told him to keep his mouth shut or he would lose the accommodation and they would tell everyone he was a “snitch.” Hours later, Plaintiff alleges that other inmates started calling him a “rat” and a “snitch, ” and they banged on his cell walls all night so he could not sleep. Days later, unnamed guards allegedly set him up by placing him in a cell next to an inmate who openly threatened him, and by allowing other inmates to throw urine and feces on him, with no consequence. Plaintiff alleges that he wrote request slips explaining his circumstances to Defendants Settnik, Riskus, and Overmyer, among others, but “they all refused to help.” Finally, Plaintiff claims that Defendant Wetzel has neglected to write any policies or procedures to protect inmates in protective custody from being assaulted. (ECF No. 3, Complaint, at Section IV.C).

Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated his rights under eighth amendment to the United States Constitution. In particular, Plaintiff claims that: (1) unnamed Defendant Sergeant John Doe failed to protect him when he was placed in a cell with a violent inmate; (2) Defendants Freeman and Settnik failed to protect him when they placed him in a single cell while threatening to tell everyone he was a snitch if he failed to keep his mouth shut; (3) unknown guards failed to protect him by placing him in a cell next to a threatening inmate and allowing other inmates to throw urine and feces at him; (4) Defendants Settnik, Riskus, and Overmyer failed to protect him by ignoring his requests for help; and (5) Defendant Wetzel failed to protect him by failing to implement policies and procedures to protect inmates in protective custody from assault. (For ease of reference, the foregoing claims will be referred to as claims 1 through 5, respectively). As relief for his claims Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief.

On August 29, 2014, Defendants filed a partial motion to dismiss [ECF No. 14], seeking dismissal of all claims against Defendant Wetzel, and dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims against all named Defendants to the extent they arise from the alleged conduct of unidentified Defendant Sergeant John Doe (claim 1) and other unnamed guards (claim 3). Despite being granted ample time to do so, Plaintiff has failed to file a response to Defendants’ motion. 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) ...


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