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Fields v. Doe

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 4, 2015

JOHN DOE #1, et al., Defendants.


Stengel, J.

I. Background[1]

Pro se plaintiff Verron Fields is currently incarcerated in the State Correctional Institution at Graterford, PA. He brings a host of claims against John Wetzel, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC), for what he calls “systematic degeneration, enslavement and predatory practices.” He alleges a range of statutory and constitutional violations.

First, Mr. Fields alleges that the defendant violates federal antitrust law because the PA DOC has a monopoly over the goods and services consumed by the inmates. Fields claims that the PA DOC unfairly uses its monopoly power by regularly increasing prices and selling expired goods. Inmates allegedly are provided food “packages” which must be pre-paid for by the inmate or an outside party. According to the plaintiff, the PA DOC reduces the size of some of the items purchased after receiving payment for a larger size, “and the PA DOC keeps the difference in price.” Fields also claims that his due process rights have been violated. According to the plaintiff, the PA DOC has a contract with ‘J-Pay’ to receive all inmate funds sent by friends and families of inmates. Money orders sent to J-Pay must be made payable to J-Pay, thereby transferring ownership of the funds to J-Pay. Funds are placed in an interest bearing account and interest payments are divided by J Pay and the PA DOC. Allegedly, inmates and their families do not receive interest from these funds. He claims this taking of interest is “theft and fraud…in violation of [his and other inmates’] property and due process rights and federal banking laws.”

Fields claims his equal protection and due process rights as a musician have been violated as well. Fields has requested permission to create and record music, form a fundraising organization, create an arts and music therapy program, and sell his music. Pointing to PA DOC policy that permits prisoners to sell artwork they have created, Fields claims that musicians should also be permitted to sell music. The prison has denied his requests because of “current policy.” This policy is not clearly stated. The plaintiff also states that PA DOC policy does not allow certain inmates to sell their art work for “a price no less than $5.00.”

Next, Mr. Fields asserts a theft/embezzlement claim. In 2009, the prison mistakenly debited Fields’s account for sixty dollars. Fields’s claims this money was never returned and was “illegally embezzled” from his account.

Lastly, Fields asserts claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Fields has a mental health condition which he treats with medication.[2] He also has a history of drug addiction. He claims that Wetzel and the PA DOC violate Title II of the ADA “by failing to provide adequate banking procedures to the mentally ill, by failing to employ fair business practices for the mentally ill, and by failing to provide programs, activities and services for the mentally ill, amounting to cruel and unusual punishment of the mentally ill.” The defendant’s denial of his requests for music therapy, inter alia, support these allegations. Fields also claims the grievance procedure’s time-bar of 15 days is unreasonable given his mental illness and, therefore, violates the ADA. He filed a grievance regarding the 2009 mistaken debit after the fifteen-day grievance window expired. It was denied due to the time-bar.

Mr. Fields is seeking declaratory judgments that: 1) “there is a clear conflict of interest” for the PA DOC to have total control of inmates’ business affairs; and 2) that the defendants have violated his rights under the ADA, 13th Amendment, and the 14thAmendment’s equal protection and due process clauses. He also seeks the following injunctive relief: 1) that an independent agent be appointed to handle the inmates’ business affairs; 2) that the defendant should “create opportunities for musicians to create and sell their work as other artists are allowed;” and 3) that the defendants “create an organization that represents the mentally ill and drug addicted offenders.” The plaintiff also asks for any other relief the court deems appropriate.

On July 31, 2014, Mr. Fields filed this complaint against Wetzel and numerous other defendants.[3] Claims against all defendants except Wetzel were dismissed without prejudice on September 18, 2014.[4] On October 9, 2014, the defendant executed a waiver of service.[5] On November 4, 2015, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint.[6] The defendants move to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6).[7]

II. Legal Standard

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted examines the legal sufficiency of the complaint.[8] Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). The factual allegations must be sufficient to make the claim for relief more than just speculative. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). In determining whether to grant a motion to dismiss, a federal court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Id.; see also D.P. Enters. v. Bucks County Cmty. Coll., 725 F.2d 943, 944 (3d Cir. 1984).

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a plaintiff to plead in detail all of the facts upon which she bases her claim. Conley, 355 U.S. at 47. Rather, the Rules require a “short and plain statement” of the claim that will give the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff’s claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Id. The “complaint must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 564. Neither “bald assertions” nor “vague and conclusory allegations” are accepted as true. See Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997); Sterling v. Se. Pa. Transp. Auth., 897 F.Supp. 893 (E.D. Pa. 1995). The claim must contain enough factual matters to suggest the required elements of the claim or to “raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of” those elements. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

A court “may dismiss a complaint only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations.” Brown v. Card Serv. Ctr., 464 F.3d 450, 456 (3d Cir. 2006)(quoting Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984)).

When a plaintiff proceeds pro se, the complaint should be construed liberally. Johnson v. United States, 469 Fed.Appx. 79, 80 (3d Cir. 2012)(citing Este ...

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