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Smith v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 20, 2017

DAVID SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          SLOMSKY, J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff David Smith, proceeding pro se, brings this suit against Defendants for alleged violations of his constitutional rights stemming from his incarceration at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility ("CFCF") in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[1] The following Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss the claims against them under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6): the City of Philadelphia, Former Mayor Michael Nutter, Major F. Abello, Commissioner Louis Giorla, Warden Michele Farrell, Captain Murtha, Captain Vettar, Sergeant Molina, Correctional Officer Edwards, and Correctional Officer Ginyard (collectively, "Moving Defendants" or "Defendants"). (Doc. No. 36.) This Motion is presently before the Court for a decision.[2]

         In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants committed various constitutional violations, triggering civil liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (commonly referred to as "Section 1983"). (Doc. No. 27.) He alleges that Defendants violated his constitutional rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments in three ways. (IdL at 7.) First, Plaintiff brings a Section 1983 claim alleging that the City of Philadelphia violated his Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. (Id. at 6-7.) Second, Plaintiff also raises a Section 1983 claim alleging that certain individuals violated his Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. In these claims, Plaintiff contends that the Moving Defendants should be liable for their failure to train the Answering Defendants in "protect[ing] inmates' rights to person[al] safety." (Id. at 5.) Third, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Edwards and Ginyard violated his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to provide him with a meal. (Id.)

         II. BACKGROUND[3]

         David Smith alleges that he suffered federal civil rights violations during his incarceration at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility ("CFCF") in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 27.) While being housed in one of CFCF's units, [4] Smith was under the supervision of several correctional officers. Officers Edwards, Ginyard, Carter, Evans, Bradley, and Hammond were among those responsible for monitoring him.[5] (Id.) On September 23, 2013, Correctional Officers Edwards and Ginyard failed to give Plaintiff his dinner. (Id. at 3.) Smith asked the officers why he was being denied his meal. (Id.) As a result of his questioning, Correctional Officers Carter, Evans, Bradley and Hammond were called to the scene to assist Edwards and Ginyard. (Id.) Smith was told to put his hands behind his back to be handcuffed, and he complied. (Id.) "At no time did . . . Plaintiff resist[]." (Id.) After he was handcuffed, one of the officers sprayed pepper spray on Plaintiff's face. (Id.) The officers then picked Smith up and slammed him onto "the day-room floor with great force." (Id.) "After being slammed to the floor, [Plaintiff] was spray[ed] again and again . . . each defendant sprayed . . . [Plaintiff] with their . . . pepper spray cans as Plaintiff layed [sic] face down and handcuffed." (Doc. No. 49 at ¶ 2.)

         During this ordeal, Smith asked why he was being punished. (Doc. No. 27 at 4.) The officers responded that Smith was being punished for "questioning orders and seeking legal redress for the officer's [sic] action ... of not giving him his meal." (Id.) Plaintiff sustained injuries to his face, hands, ribs, arms, and back from this incident. (Doc. No. 49 at ¶¶ 4-5.) Plaintiff "sustained a right fractured rib and a left upper arm fracture." (Id. at ¶ 4.) Plaintiff alleges that he needed surgery to alleviate the injuries he sustained to his hands, but did not receive this medical care. (Doc. No. 27 at 4.) As a result, he "lost the use of his left middle finger." (Id.) He also is unable "to adequately lay on his right side." (Id.)

         On April 27, 2016, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed the Amended Complaint against Defendants. (Doc. No. 27.) On August 19, 2016, the Moving Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint.[6] (Doc. No. 36.) Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. No. 49.) The Motion is now ripe for a decision.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The motion to dismiss standard under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is set forth in Ashcroft v. Iqbal. 556 U.S. 662 (2009). After Iqbal it is clear that "threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice" to defeat a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Id. at 663; see also Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ethypharm S.A. France v. Abbott Labs., 707 F.3d 223, 232 n.14 (3d Cir. 2013) (citing Sheridan v. NGK Metals Corp., 609 F.3d 239, 262 n.27 (3d Cir. 2010)). "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." Id. Applying the principles of Iqbal and Twombly, the Third Circuit in Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121 (3d Cir. 2010), set forth a three-part analysis that a district court in this Circuit must conduct in evaluating whether allegations in a complaint survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss:

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 and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief."

Id. at 130 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675, 679). "This means that our inquiry is normally broken into three parts: (1) identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged." Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).

         When determining a motion to dismiss, the court must "accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist, 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006). Where, as here, the complaint is filed pro se, the "complaint, 'however inartfully pleaded' must be held to 'less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Fatone v. Latini, 780 F.3d 184, 193 (3d Cir. 2015) (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972)). It should be dismissed only if it appears "beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of [his] claim that would entitle [him] to relief." Olaniyi v. Alexa Cab Co.. 239 F App'x 698, 699 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing McDowell v. Del. State Police. 88 F.3d 188, 189 (3d Cir. 1996)).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), Defendants seek to dismiss the Amended Complaint. (Doc. No. 36.) The Court will address each of Plaintiff's claims in turn.

         A. Plaintiff Has Not Plausibly Alleged a Monell Claim for Failure to Train

         Plaintiff first alleges that the Moving Defendants failed to train the Answering Defendants in the proper procedures to protect inmates' safety. (Doc. No. 27 at 5.) In contrast, Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to identify a policy or custom of the City of Philadelphia which led to the constitutional violation. In the Motion to Dismiss, they also argue that the individual Defendants cannot be liable under a failure to train theory because Plaintiff has not alleged any personal involvement on the part of these Defendants in the wrongdoing.

         1. Plaintiff Has Not Plausibly Alleged a Claim of Failure to Train Against the City of Philadelphia Because He Has Not Identified a Policy or Custom Which Caused the Alleged Violation

         Plaintiff has alleged a Monell violation in the Amended Complaint. He contends that the City of Philadelphia failed to train its employees on the proper ways to protect inmates at CFCF. (Doc. No. 27 at 5-6.) Defendants argue to the contrary that Plaintiff has failed to identify a policy or custom that led to the constitutional violation. For this reason, according to Defendants, Plaintiff has not pled sufficient facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.

         A plaintiff seeking to hold a municipal entity liable under Section 1983 "must demonstrate that the violation of rights was caused by the municipality's policy or custom."[7]Thomas v. Cumberland Cty., 749 F.3d 217, 222 (3d Cir. 2014). The Third Circuit has explained that where the policy "concerns a failure to train or supervise municipal employees, liability under section 1983 requires a showing that the failure amounts to 'deliberate indifference' to the rights of persons with whom those employees will come into contact." Id. "The identified deficiency in a [municipal entity's] training program must be closely related to the ultimate injury;" or, in other words, "the deficiency in training [must have] actually caused" the constitutional violation. See City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 391 (1989) (holding that the municipality ...


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