United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
NICHOLAS T. KRUGE, Plaintiff,
MICHAEL JOHNSTON, Warden, and MARC MASUCCI, Deputy Warden, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
CYNTHIA REED EDDY, Magistrate Judge.
Presently pending is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, with brief in support (ECF Nos. 12 and 13), and Plaintiff's brief in opposition (ECF No. 15 and 17). For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be granted.
At the time Plaintiff, Nicholas T. Kruge, initiated this lawsuit he was incarcerated in the Blair County Prison, serving an 11-1/2-23 month sentence for a probation violation. On March 25, 2015, Kruge filed a Notice of Change Address and notified the Court that he was no longer incarcerated.
Kruge initiated this action on September 8, 2014, with the filing of a motion to proceed in forma pauperis and an accompanying complaint. (ECF No. 1.) The motion to proceed in forma pauperis was granted (ECF No. 3), and the complaint was filed. (ECF No. 4.) The original complaint remains the operative complaint. Kruge alleges that on August 14, 2014, while he was incarcerated in the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU) at the Blair County Prison, Corrections Officer Fox refused to feed him "as a way of discipline in retaliation of misconduct" which he had received. Kruge further alleges that Officer Fox refused to check on him or answer him for a period of five hours.
Named as defendants are Michael Johnston and Marc Masucci, Warden and Deputy Warden, respectively, of the Blair County Prison. Kruge alleges that Defendants "allow this treatment in [their] prison." Additionally, Kruge alleges that Defendants refused to return grievances or request slips that Plaintiff had sent them.
The Complaint states that "violation of Human rights, cruel and unusual punishment, violation of inmate rights" is the federal law that was violated. Plaintiff does not specifically mention the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in his Complaint, but nevertheless the Complaint appears to seek vindication of Plaintiff's federal constitutional rights. Because Plaintiff does not have a cause of action directly under the Constitution, the Court will construe the Complaint as one invoking the Court's jurisdiction pursuant to Section 1983. Kaucher v. Cnty of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 145 n.3 (1979)).
Standard Of Review
1. Pro Se Litigants
Pro se pleadings, "however inartfully pleaded, " must be held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-521 (1972). If the court can reasonably read pleadings to state a valid claim on which the litigant could prevail, it should do so despite failure to cite proper legal authority, confusion of legal theories, poor syntax and sentence construction, or the litigant's unfamiliarity with pleading requirements. Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364 (1982); United States ex rel. Montgomery v. Bierley, 141 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir.1969) (petition prepared by a prisoner may be inartfully drawn and should be read "with a measure of tolerance").
In a § 1983 action, the court must liberally construe the pro se litigant's pleadings and "apply the applicable law, irrespective of whether a pro se litigant has mentioned it by name." Higgins v. Beyer, 293 F.3d 683, 688 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Holley v. Dep't of Veteran Affairs, 165 F.3d 244, 247-48 (3d Cir. 1999)). See also Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996) ("Since this is a § 1983 action, the [pro se] plaintiffs are entitled to relief if their complaint sufficiently alleges deprivation of any right secured by the Constitution.") (quoting Higgins, 293 F.3d at 688). Under our liberal pleading rules, during the initial stages of litigation, a district court should construe all allegations in a complaint in favor of the complainant. Gibbs v. Roman, 116 F.3d 83 (3d Cir. 1997). See, e.g., Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir.1996) (discussing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) standard); Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990) (same). Notwithstanding this liberality, pro se litigants are not relieved of their obligation to allege sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal claim. See, e.g., Taylor v. Books A Million, Inc., 296 F.3d 376, 378, (5th Cir. 2002).
2. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) - The Legal Standard
A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiently of the complaint. When reviewing a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all well-pleaded facts and allegations, and must draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the plaintiff. Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 62 F.3d 212, 220 (3d Cir. 2011), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 1861 (2012) (citing In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010)). However, as the Supreme Court of the United States made clear in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, such "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (holding that, while the Complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must contain more than a "formulaic recitation of the elements" of a constitutional claim and must state a claim that is plausible on its face) (quoting Twombly, and providing further guidance on the standard set forth therein).
To determine the legal sufficiency of a complaint after Twombly and Iqbal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit instructs that a district court must conduct a three-step analysis when considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 n.7 (3d Cir. 2010) (noting that although Iqbal describes the process as a "two-pronged approach, " it views the case as outlining three steps) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675). First, "the court must tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.'" Id. at 130 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675) (alteration in original). Second, the court "should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.'" Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). ...