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Cadet v. Owners of Berks County Jail

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

February 15, 2017



          GERALD J. PAPPERT, J.

         Plaintiff Jerry Cadet, a pro se inmate at Berks County Jail, sued Warden Janine Quigley, C. Deputy Smith, Captain Torres, Christian Leinbach, Kevin Barnhardt, Mark Scott and Sandy Graffius, claiming sleep deprivation and related injury from constant illumination of lights in his cell. Though he does not specify the authority under which he brings his claim, such allegations are analyzed under the Eighth Amendment. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The Court grants the motion in part and denies it in part.


         Cadet alleges that the jail keeps the lights on in his cell twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. (Pl.'s Compl., at 3, ECF No. 5.) According to Cadet, Warden Quigley, C. Deputy Smith and Captain Torres have the authority to order that the lights be turned off at night but refuse to do so. (Id.) As a result, Cadet alleges that he suffers a “light-induced suppression of melatonin” and is unable to rest at all. (Id.) He states that as of the May 28, 2016 signing of his complaint, the lights had been on since February 13, 2016 and that he was unable to sleep for several months. (Id.) He contends that he experienced severe migraine headaches and constant pain throughout his body due to a complete lack of sleep. (Id.)

         Cadet allegedly filed, to no avail, several grievances regarding the problem. (Id. at 4.) He states that “different levels of officers including the Warden” “answered some forms” but “the grievances were never answered.” (Id.) He also claims that “Captain Torres spoke to [him] once and denied [his] request to have the light off sometimes even as [he] sat before him in pain from the situation with the lights.” (Id.)

         Cadet filed his complaint on July 11, 2016, asserting claims against Quigley, Smith, Torres and “the owners of Berks County Jail.” (ECF No. 5.) On July 20 Cadet wrote a letter to the Clerk of the Court naming Leinbach, Barnhardt, Scott and Graffius as the jail's purported owners.[1] (ECF No. 8.) These individuals were substituted as defendants in the case on July 28. (ECF No. 9.) On September 8 Defendants filed their motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 20.) After receiving copies of the motion, Cadet wrote to the Court on October 12 stating that it was his understanding that his case had been dismissed and requesting to be reimbursed for the filing fee. (ECF No. 21.) On October 21 the Court issued an order clarifying that Cadet's case had not been dismissed and directing Cadet to file a response to the motion to dismiss by November 21. (ECF No. 22.)

         To date, Cadet has not filed any type of responsive pleading nor requested an extension of time in which to do so. The Court will nevertheless analyze the motion on the merits. See Jones v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. of Review, 381 F. App'x 187, 189 (3d Cir. 2010) (holding that a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) should not be granted without an analysis of the merits, notwithstanding local rules regarding unopposed motions, especially where the party is not represented); Ray v. Reed, 240 F. App'x 455, 456 (3d Cir. 2007) (same); see also Carter v. Harper, No. 2:14- 01260, 2015 WL 3485726, at *2-3 (W.D. Pa. June 2, 2015) (analyzing pro se complaint on the merits despite plaintiff's failure to file a response); Malcomb v. Beaver Cty. Pa. (Prothonotary), No. 2:13- 1772, 2014 WL 2195410, at *1 (W.D. Pa. May 27, 2014), aff'd sub nom. Malcomb v. Beaver Cty. Pa. (Prothonotary), 616 F. App'x 44 (3d Cir. 2015) (same).


         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a plaintiff must plead factual allegations sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level. . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The “mere possibility of misconduct” is not enough. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). The court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Connelly v. Lane Constr. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 790 (3d Cir. 2016) (citations omitted). However, a court need not accept as true inferences drawn by the plaintiff that are unsupported by facts. See Cal. Pub. Emps.' Ret. Sys. v. Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004).

         Because Cadet filed his complaint pro se, the Court “must liberally construe his pleadings.” Dluhos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir. 2003) (citation omitted); see also Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972) (holding that pro se pleadings, “however inartfully pleaded, ” must be held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers”). “Courts are to construe complaints so ‘as to do substantial justice, ' keeping in mind that pro se complaints in particular should be construed liberally.” Bush v. City of Philadelphia, 367 F.Supp.2d 722, 725 (E.D. Pa. 2005) (quoting Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 234 (3d Cir. 2004)). Moreover, in a § 1983 action, the Court must “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)).


         Although “the Constitution ‘does not mandate comfortable prisons, ' . . . neither does it permit inhumane ones, ” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 349 (1981)), and “the treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which he is confined are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment, ” id. (quoting Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993)). At minimum, “prison officials must ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, and must ‘take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates.'” Id. (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27 (1984)). The Eighth Amendment also “prohibits punishments which, although not physically barbarous, ‘involve the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.” Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 346 (quoting Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 173 (1976)). “Among ‘unnecessary and wanton' inflictions of pain are those that are ‘totally without penological justification.'” Id. (citing Gregg, 428 U.S. at 183; Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976)).

         Not all harms violate the Eighth Amendment, however. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. “[A] prison official violates the Eighth Amendment only when two requirements are met. First, the deprivation alleged must be, objectively, sufficiently serious, . . . [it] must result in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.” Id. (internal citations omitted). Proving that one has been deprived of the minimal civilized measures of life's necessities requires proof that one has been denied “basic human needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, medical care and personal safety.” Griffin v. Vaughn, 112 F.3d 703, 709 (3d Cir. 1997).

         Second, the “prison official must have a ‘sufficiently culpable state of mind.'” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834 (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 297 (1991)). “In prison-condition cases[, ] that state of mind is one of ‘deliberate indifference' to inmate health or safety.” Id. “[D]eliberate indifference entails something more than mere negligence . . . it is satisfied by something less than acts or omissions for the very purpose of causing harm or with knowledge that harm will result.” Id. “[A] prison official may be held liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying humane conditions of ...

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