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Beenick v. LeFebvre

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 14, 2015

MICHAEL BEENICK, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL LeFEBVRE, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

Matthew W. Brann United States District Judge

On August 8, 2014, Plaintiff Michael Beenick, Jr. filed a complaint with this Court, alleging violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. On September 15, 2014, Defendants collectively filed a Motion to Dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). On October 14, 2014, Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Blewitt considered the case on its merits and filed a Report and Recommendation recommending that: (1) Count I for violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth amendments through state created danger be dismissed as against Defendants Mandichak-McConnell, Weavering, Dittsworth, and Fagan; (2) Count II for violations of the Eighth Amendment through deliberate indifference to imminent harm and failure to protect be dismissed as against Defendants Weavering, Dittsworth, and Fagan; (3) Count IV failure to supervise be dismissed as against all named defendants; and (4) Defendants motion be denied in all other respects. Moreover, Magistrate Judge Blewitt, on his own initiative, recommended dismissal of Plaintiff’s claim for monetary damages to the extent he is seeking them against Defendants acting in their official capacities, and Plaintiff’s request for declaratory judgment.

Plaintiff has filed an objection to the Report and Recommendation, albeit only objecting to certain findings of the magistrate judge. When objections are filed to the report and recommendation of a magistrate judge, the district court makes “a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objections are made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); United States v Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 674-75; 100 S.Ct. 2406; 65 L.Ed.2d 424 (1980). The court may accept, reject or modify, in whole or in part, the magistrate judge’s findings or recommendations. Id. Although the standard of review is de novo, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) permits whatever reliance the district court, in the exercise of sound discretion, chooses to place on a magistrate judge’s proposed findings and recommendations. Raddatz, 447 U.S. at 675; see also Mathews v Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 275 (1976); Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 7 (3d Cir. 1984). With regard to those portions of the R&R to which neither party objects, this Court will review the R&R for abuse of discretion. Cf. Henderson v. Carlson, 812 F.2d 874, 878 (3d Cir. 1987) (although the court is not required to review magistrate judge’s report absent objections, “the better practice is for the district judge to afford some level of review to dispositive legal issues raised by the report”).

In conformity with the following reasoning, Magistrate Judge Blewitt’s Report and Recommendation is adopted in part and rejected in part. Defendants’ motion to dismiss is denied with respect to Counts I, II, III and IV. Defendants’ defense of qualified immunity is denied at this stage of the proceedings, although Defendants may reassert the defense at a later stage. Moreover, Plaintiff’s request for declaratory relief is dismissed without prejudice, with leave to amend in accordance with the following reasoning.

I. BACKGROUND

The Court does adopt the facts as alleged by Plaintiff in his complaint and recited by Magistrate Judge Blewitt, and they are as follows. On July 13, 2013, while confined at SCI Benner Twp., Plaintiff worked in the kitchen under the direction of Defendant LeFebvre, where he was ordered to slice a watermelon using an electric meat slicer and meat pusher without protective gear or a blade guard. Moreover, Defendant LeFebvre gave Plaintiff no instruction on how to operate the meat slicer and he did not attempt to teach Plaintiff how to use it. Though Plaintiff initially tried to obey Defendant LeFebvre’s order, he had difficulty doing so because the melon was too heavy and slippery. He explained to Defendant LeFebvre that he could not safely cut the watermelon with the meat slicer; nevertheless, Defendant LeFebvre ordered him to continue trying to do so. Unfortunately, while complying with that order, the watermelon slipped and Plaintiff cut off two fingers on his hand. Plaintiff required emergency hospital treatment and surgery for this injury, although he ultimately lost part of his hand permanently.

At the time of the incident, Defendant Mandichak-McConnell was present and was aware that Defendant LeFebvre had ordered Plaintiff to cut the watermelon in a way that was dangerous to his health and safety, but nevertheless failed to intervene on Plaintiff’s behalf. Defendants Dittsworth, Weavering and Fagan failed to make available protective gear even though they were required to do so. Moreover, these Defendants had knowledge that inmates were routinely ordered to operate the meat slicer in a dangerous way, but allowed the practice to continue in a deliberately indifferent manner.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

When considering a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must view all allegations stated in the complaint as true and construe all inferences in the light most favorable to plaintiff. See Hishon v. King & Spaulding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); see also Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). However, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the [factual] allegations contained in the complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal citations omitted). In ruling on such a motion, the court primarily considers the allegations of the pleading, but is not required to consider legal conclusions alleged in the complaint. Kost, 1 F.3d at 183. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. At the motion to dismiss stage, the court considers whether plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence to support the allegations in the complaint. See Maio v. Aetna, Inc., 221 F.3d 472, 482 (3d Cir. 2000).

A complaint should only be dismissed if, accepting as true all of the allegations in the amended complaint, plaintiff has not pled enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 561 (2007). “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663-664.

“In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, we must be mindful that federal courts require notice pleading, as opposed to the heightened standard of fact pleading.” Hellmann v. Kercher, No. 07-1373, 2008 WL 1969311 at * 3 (W.D. Pa. May 5, 2008) (Lancaster, J.). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 "requires only a ‘short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the…claim is and the grounds on which it rests.'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 554 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). However, even under this lower notice pleading standard, a plaintiff must do more than recite the elements of a cause of action, and then make a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief. See Hellmann, 2008 WL 1969311 at *3. Instead, a plaintiff must make a factual showing of his entitlement to relief by alleging sufficient facts that, when taken as true, suggest the required elements of a particular legal theory. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 561. “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - - but it has not “shown” - - “that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)).

The failure-to-state-a-claim standard of Rule 12(b)(6) “streamlines litigation by dispensing with needless discovery and factfinding.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-27 (1989). A court may dismiss a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) where there is a “dispositive issue of law.” Id. at 326. If it is beyond a doubt that the non-moving party can prove no set of facts in support of its allegations, then a claim must be dismissed “without regard to whether it is based on an outlandish legal theory or on a close but ultimately unavailing one.” Id. at 327.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Count IV Failure to Supervise

Magistrate Judge Blewitt recommended that this Court dismiss Count IV failure to supervise as against Defendants Weavering, Dittsworth, and Fagan on the basis that the allegations in Plaintiff’s complaint failed to sufficiently show that they were personally involved in the incident at issue and were deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff’s safety. Rather, he elaborates, Plaintiff’s allegations against these three defendants amount to nothing more than liability predicated on a theory of respondeat superior, which is not an adequate basis of liability in a ...


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