United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
OPINION AND ORDER RE: ECF NOS. 72 AND 87
MAUREEN P. KELLY CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Stanton Story ("Plaintiff) is an inmate in the custody
of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
("DOC"), and is currently incarcerated at the State
Correctional Institution at Greene ("SCI Greene").
Plaintiff initiated this civil action against various DOC
officials and employees at SCI Greene ("the DOC
Defendants"), alleging that they violated his rights
provided by the United States Constitution by shackling him
to the wall of a "dry cell" for twenty-six hours
and by confiscating his legal and personal property.
Plaintiff has also has named Byunghak Jin, MD ("Dr.
Jin") as a defendant contending that Dr. Jin violated
his constitutional rights when he performed an anal probe on
Plaintiff and by failing to treat him for a skin condition
and facial and nose pain that Plaintiff was experiencing. ECF
the adjudication of Motions to Dismiss filed by the DOC
Defendants and Dr. Jin, ECF Nos. 49, 57, Defendants DOC
officials John E. Wetzel, Dorina Varner, Kerri Moore, Robin
M. Lewis, L.S. Kerns Barr, Robert Gilmore, Tracey Shawley,
Irma Vihlidal, Captain Armstrong, Captain Mitchell, Lt.
Silbaugh, Lt. Howells, Lt. A.J. Morris, and Lt. Grego were
dismissed from the action. ECF No. 70. In addition, all of
Plaintiff s claims except for his Eighth Amendment claim
brought at Count II against Defendants Lt. Kelly, CO.
Johnson-I, CO. Barnhart, CO. Schirra, and Sargent Plumley
stemming from being shackled to the wall of a dry cell and
his state law claim for conversion brought at Count VII
against Defendants Sargent Trout and CO. Johnson-II were
dismissed. Id Plaintiff, however, was granted leave to
file an Amended Complaint with respect to two claims: his
Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim brought
against Dr. Jin at Count IV of the Complaint and his First
Amendment access to the court claims brought at Count VI
against Defendants Sargent Trout and CO. Barnhart. Plaintiff
filed an Amended Complaint on December 9, 2016. ECF No. 71.
remaining DOC Defendants and Dr. Jin have now filed renewed
Motions to Dismiss arguing that Plaintiff has failed to cure
the defects cited in the Court's Opinion relative to
Counts IV and VI. ECF Nos. 72, 87. Plaintiff has filed
"Objections" to both Motions, ECF Nos. 100 and 109,
and Dr. Jin has filed a Reply to Plaintiffs Objections. ECF
No. 105. As such both Motions are ripe for review.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
assessing the sufficiency of the complaint pursuant to a
motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all material
allegations in the complaint and all reasonable factual
inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff. Odd v. Malone, 538 F.3d 202, 205 (3d Cir.
2008). The Court, however, need not accept bald assertions or
inferences drawn by the plaintiff if they are unsupported by
the facts set forth in the complaint. See Cal. Pub. Empl.
Ret. Svs. v. The Chubb Corp.. 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir.
2004), citing Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist. 132
F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Nor must the Court accept legal
conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).
Rather, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a
right to relief above the speculative level."
Id., citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S.
265, 286 (1986). Indeed, the United States Supreme Court has
held that a complaint is properly dismissed under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) where it does not allege "enough
facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face, " Id at 570, or where the factual content
does not allow the court "to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009). See Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d
224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (finding that, under
Twombly, "labels, conclusions, and a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action" do not
suffice but, rather, the complaint "must allege facts
suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct" and that are
sufficient "to raise a reasonable expectation that
discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s] of
addition, 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). In a civil rights
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). 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).
The DOC Defendants' Motion to Dismiss First Amendment
Claim (Count VI)
alleges at Count VI of the original Complaint that his right
of access to the courts provided by the First Amendment to
the Constitution was violated when his legal materials were
confiscated by DOC Defendants Trout and Barnhart. ECF No. 12
¶¶ 66-69, 106.
incarcerated prisoner, like any other citizen, has a
constitutionally protected right of access to the courts.
Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 346 (1996). The United
States Supreme Court has established that in order to have
standing to bring a claim for denial of access to the courts,
an inmate must establish that he suffered an "actual
injury" as a result of the alleged denial. Id., at 349.
See Dunbar v. Barone, 487 F.App'x 721, 724 (3d
Cir. 2012). "Actual injury occurs when a prisoner
demonstrates that a 'nonfrivolous' and
'arguable' claim was lost because of the denial of
access to the courts." Fortune v. Hamberger,
379 F.App'x 116, 120 (3d Cir. 2010), quoting
Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 415 (2002).
See Dunbar v. Barone, 487 F.App'x at 724;
Atwell v. Lavan, 557 F.Supp.2d 532, 558-59 (M.D. Pa.
2008), aff'd, 366 F.App'x 393 (3d Cir. 2010)
(proof of actual injury caused by virtue of absence of
records is required). Thus, in order to state a claim for
denial of access, the allegedly lost suit must have been
non-frivolous since losing the ability to litigate a
frivolous suit simply causes no injury. Christopher v.
Harbury, 536 U.S. at 415. It therefore follows that
"the underlying cause of action ... is an element that
must be described in the complaint, just as much as the
allegations must describe the official acts frustrating the
claim." Id. See Id. at 416
("[h]ence the need for care in requiring that the
predicate claim be described well enough to apply the
'nonfrivolous' test and to show that the
'arguable' nature of the underlying claim is more
case, the Court previously dismissed Plaintiffs First
Amendment claim finding that Plaintiffs general allegations
that he informed Defendant Trout that he had "open cases
in Federal and State Court, " and that the confiscation
of his legal documents caused him to miss important deadlines
which, in turn, caused "litigations in both state and
federal court to be denied, " was insufficient to
describe the underlying causes of action or demonstrate that
Plaintiff suffered an actual injury. ECF No. 70 at 15. The
Court also found that the documents that Plaintiff attached
to his original Complaint to support his claim did not
demonstrate that any filing deadlines were missed.
Id. at 15-16.
Amended Complaint, Plaintiff largely reiterates the same
factual allegations set forth in his original Complaint and
cites to the same documents that he attached thereto, which
this Court already determined were insufficient to support a
First Amendment access to the courts claim. ECF No. 71
¶¶ 33-48. Although Plaintiff specifically alleges
in the Amended Complaint, unlike in the original Complaint,
that his Petition for Allowance of Appeal to the Pennsylvania
Supreme Court was denied because the legal documents putting
forth his argument were amongst the documents confiscated by
Trout and Barnhart, Plaintiff does not set forth any facts
regarding the nature of the appeal, the underlying issues or
any facts to suggest his case had any merit. Plaintiff
therefore has failed to plead facts that would suggest he
suffered an actual injury as the result of his documents
being confiscated and thus has failed to cure the defects in
his original Complaint. As such, Plaintiff has failed to
state a First Amendment access to the courts claim against
Defendants Trout and Barnhart and Count VI of the Amended
Complaint is properly dismissed.
Dr. Jin's Motion to Dismiss Eighth ...