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Dillard v. Talamantes

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 29, 2016



          Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge.

         On March 12, 2015, plaintiff Bruce Anthony Dillard ("Dillard"), an inmate formerly housed at the Federal Correctional Institution, Schuylkill, Pennsylvania, ("FCI-Schuylkill"), commenced this Bivens[1] action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1). The action was transferred to this court on April 15, 2015. (Doc. 6). Dillard's complaint (Doc. 7) names the following defendants: Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") Northeast Regional Director Joseph L. Norwood; counselor G. Talamantes; unit manager George Nye III; former lieutenant D. Lentini; captain Hepner; case manager Brad Haupt; former associate warden C. Entzel; former warden Jeff Krueger; warden Russell A. Purdue; and lieutenant R. Raup. Presently ripe for disposition is defendants' motion (Doc. 22) to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(b). For the reasons set forth below, the court will grant the motion to dismiss, and grant Dillard the opportunity to file an amended complaint.

         I. Standard of Review

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008). In addition to reviewing the facts contained in the complaint, the court may also consider "matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case." Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994); Pension Ben. Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993).

         Federal notice and pleading rules require the complaint to provide "the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To test the sufficiency of the complaint, the court must conduct a three-step inquiry. See Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130-31 (3d Cir. 2010). In the first step, "the court must 'tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.' " Id. at 130 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal 556 U.S. 662, 675 (2009)). Next, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated; well-pleaded facts must be accepted as true, while mere legal conclusions may be disregarded. Id. at 131; see also Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Once the court isolates the well-pleaded factual allegations, it must determine whether they are sufficient to show a "plausible claim for relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (requiring plaintiffs to allege facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level"). A claim "has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal 556 U.S. at 678.

         Courts should grant leave to amend before dismissing a curable pleading in civil rights actions. See Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 251 (3d Cir. 2007); Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002). Courts need not grant leave to amend sua sponte in dismissing non-civil rights claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Fletcher-Harlee Corp., 482 F.3d at 251, but leave is broadly encouraged "when justice so requires." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2).

         II. Allegations of the Complaint

         The allegations of the complaint stem from Dillard's incarceration at FCI-Schuylkill. (Doc. 7). Dillard alleges that his due process rights were violated when he was placed in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU"). (Id. at 4). He further alleges that he was placed in a cell that was "inadequate, inhumane and overcrowded, " and was subjected to retaliation for filing grievances. (Id.)

         According to Dillard, defendant Talamantes placed him in a ten-man cell on two occasions-July 9, 2012 and August 29, 2012-and he was housed in a ten-man cell for a total of approximately nine months. (Doc. 7 ¶¶ 2-3, 5). Dillard asserts that the cell was overcrowded, unsanitary, had inadequate cleaning supplies, and was not conducive to a good night's sleep. (Id. at ¶¶ 2, 5-7). He also asserts that in September 2012, Talamantes moved Dillard's legal property from a storage area in retaliation for filing a grievance. (Id. at 4).

         In 2013, Talamantes purportedly denied Dillard's request for a new cellmate or cell change, and told other inmates that Dillard wanted his cellmate to be moved, resulting in rumors that Dillard was "on snitch time." (Id. at ¶¶ 8-9). Dillard avers that he spoke to defendant Entzel about a cell change in January 2014, but Entzel failed to intervene in his request. (Id. ¶ 16).

         Dillard alleges that defendant Nye also told inmates that Dillard wanted his cellmate moved, again causing rumors that Dillard was "on snitch time." (Id. ¶ 9). Dillard further alleges that, on February 7, 2014, Nye ordered him to dismiss his grievance regarding a cell change and reassigned him to an eight-man cell. (Id.) According to Dillard, defendant Krueger ultimately responded to his grievance regarding placement in the ten-man cell, explaining that Dillard was placed in the cell for safety reasons. (Id. ¶ 18). Thereafter, Nye allegedly removed Dillard's personal property from the eight-man cell, stored it inside his office, and ignored Dillard's request for return of his property. (Id. at ¶ 10).

         On August 20, 2014, defendant Lentini allegedly ordered that Dillard be placed in the SHU. (Id. ¶ 11). Dillard suggests that his due process rights were violated because he was held in the SHU for 120 days. (Id.) Dillard asserts that defendant Kepner agreed to place him in the SHU as a supposed safety precaution. (Id. ¶ 12). Dillard claims that his safety was not at risk and that Kepner lied about the reasons for his placement in the SHU. (Id.) Dillard further claims that Entzel failed to respond to his concerns about his placement in the SHU, as well as his complaints regarding denial of writing paper and pencils. (Id. at ¶¶ 16-17).

         At approximately the same time, defendant Haupt allegedly threatened to issue a false disciplinary write-up against Dillard in the presence of other inmates. (Id. ¶ 14). Dillard alleges that Haupt failed to respond to his request for a copy of his trust fund account, denying him access to the courts. (Id.) Dillard also alleges that Haupt falsified his custody scorings sometime in 2013. (Id. at ¶ 15). He asserts that Haupt was fueled by retaliatory motives and intended to cause Dillard "tremendous hardship and pain." (Id.)

         In late 2014, Dillard twice requested documents from defendant Raup concerning his placement. (Id. ¶ 13). Dillard avers that Raup failed to respond to the requests and retaliated against him for filing grievances. (Id.) On October 20, 2014 and November 16, 2014, Dillard submitted two requests for administrative remedies to the regional office. (Id. ¶¶ 20-21). Dillard contends that Kepner denied him phone privileges and access to the courts on November 18, 2014, in alleged retaliation for filing grievances. (Id. at ¶ 13). On December 10, 2014, Dillard purportedly handed a request to defendant Purdue for placement back into general population. (Id. ¶ 19). Dillard claims that Purdue failed to respond to his request. (Id.) On December 22, 2014, defendant Norwood rejected Dillard's October and November requests for administrative remedies because they were not sensitive issues. (Id. ¶ 21).

         As a result of defendants' alleged actions, Dillard asserts that he suffered "mental, emotional and physical harm, " though he suffered "no medical injuries." (Id. at 4). For relief, in addition to an award of damages, costs, and fees, Dillard requests that defendants "be demoted in pay and rank" and that the "living conditions inside of FCI-Schuylkill's Ten-Man cells and Special Housing Unit. . . be scrutinized." (Id. at 5).

         III. Discussion

         A Bivens action is the federal counterpart to an action filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Paton v. LaPrade, 524 F.2d 82 (3d Cir. 1975); Farmer v. Carlson, 685 F.Supp. 1335, 1338 (M.D. Pa. 1988). Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code offers private citizens a cause of action for violations of federal law by state officials. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress. . . .

Id.; see also Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 284-85 (2002); Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996). "To state a claim under ยง 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting ...

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