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Pisciotta v. Szelewski

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 22, 2015

GIACOMO PISCIOTTA, Plaintiff
v.
COIV SZELEWSKI, et al., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER [1]

SUSAN PARADISE BAXTER, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

A. Relevant Procedural and Factual History

On June 20, 2014, Plaintiff Giacomo Pisciotta, an inmate formerly incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Albion, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Albion")[2], filed this pro se civil rights action pursuant 42 U.S.C. §1983. Named as Defendants are four correctional officers at SCI-Albion: COIV Szelewski ("Szelewski"), COIII Gilbert ("Gilbert"), COI Sullivan ("Sullivan"), and COI Lindsey ("Lindsey"); Mrs. Adams, Grievance Coordinator at SCI-Albion ("Adams"); and Ms. D. Bunner, Hearing Examiner at SCI-Albion ("Bunner").

Plaintiff alleges that, on January 29, 2013, Defendant Szelewski ordered an investigative search of Plaintiff's cell, claiming that he received a "tip" that Plaintiff was in possession of contraband (ECF No. 3, Complaint, at ¶ 12). During the search, Defendants Sullivan and Lindsey claimed to have found a small package containing an unknown powdery substance (Id. at ¶ 13). Defendant Gilbert of SCI-Albion's security department subsequently issued a misconduct against Plaintiff on February 22, 2013, for being in possession of contraband, consisting of a small package containing nine smaller individually wrapped packages of an unknown powdery substance that was found in Plaintiff's coat pocket (Id. at ¶ 14). Plaintiff claims that the misconduct report contradicted the earlier confiscated items receipt that was issued after the investigative cell search, which makes no mention of nine smaller packages being found in the package that was confiscated from his coat pocket (Id. at ¶¶ 15-16). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Bunner falsely stated in her disciplinary hearing report that Plaintiff changed his plea to guilty, after initially pleading not guilty, and then found him guilty of the misconduct on March 1, 2013.

Based on the foregoing facts, Plaintiff claims that Defendant retaliated against him by issuing a false disciplinary charge, and that Defendant Bunner violated his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause by finding him guilty.

On October 15, 2014, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss [ECF No. 13] seeking dismissal of: (i) Plaintiff's official capacity claims based upon Eleventh Amendment immunity; (ii) Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Adams, because of his failure to allege her personal involvement in the complained of misconduct; and (iii) Plaintiff's due process claim against Defendant Bunner, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Plaintiff has since filed a brief in opposition to Defendants' motion [ECF No. 16]. 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 ...

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