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Lawrence v. Nutter

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 20, 2017

LIONEL LAWRENCE, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL NUTTER, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          GERALD J. PAPPERT, J.

         Lionel Lawrence sued former Mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter, Philadelphia Prison System Commissioner Louis Giorla, and Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility Warden John Delaney alleging that they violated his constitutional rights by, inter alia, housing Lawrence in a three-person cell that was originally designed for two people. The Court grants Defendants' motion to dismiss because Lawrence has not alleged that any of the individual Defendants were personally involved in the alleged underlying constitutional violation. Lawrence may amend his complaint again, consistent with the attached Order.

         I.

         Lawrence's original action was one of approximately 700 overcrowding cases that were consolidated and where the sole defendant was the City of Philadelphia. See Lawrence v. Nutter, 655 F.App'x 129 (3d Cir. 2016). Lawrence was initially represented by counsel. In December 2013, the City reached an agreement with Plaintiffs' counsel. Lawrence rejected the settlement, his attorney withdrew from the case in April 2014 and Lawrence continued with this litigation pro se. Id. at 130.

         On July 15, 2014, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 12.) Lawrence did not file a response. Judge Shapiro instructed him to respond; when he failed to do so, she granted the Defendants' motion. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the district court abused its discretion by dismissing Lawrence's suit without addressing the factors set forth in Poulis v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Company, 747 F.2d 863, 868 (3d Cir. 1984). See Lawrence, 655 F.App'x at 131.

         Lawrence filed his Amended Complaint on July 25, 2017. (ECF No. 23.) Defendants filed a second motion to dismiss on July 27, 2016. (ECF No. 24.) On December 20, 2016, the case was reassigned to this Court. (ECF No. 28.) On January 27, 2017, the Court ordered Lawrence to file a response to the Defendants' motion. (ECF No. 30.) Lawrence responded on February 21, 2017.

         Lawrence's Amended Complaint alleges he is a pretrial detainee currently housed in Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. (Am. Compl. ¶ 7.)[1] Lawrence explains that while the unit he is housed in was originally constructed to hold 64 inmates, due to severe overcrowding, it now houses 96 inmates. (Id.) Prisoners are housed in three-person cells where one person sleeps on a plastic “boat, ” which is a plastic tray used as a bed. (Id. ¶ 8); see also Robinson v. Nutter, No. 13-538, 2017 WL 1330507, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 3, 2017). The boat is kept near the cell's toilet, which exposes it to urine and fecal matter. (Am. Compl. ¶ 8.) Lawrence also alleges the prison has subjected him to, inter alia, lockdowns, dangerous and unhealthy conditions and inadequate laundry practices. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 12, & 14.)

         II.

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must provide “more than labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citation omitted). “Factual allegations must be enough 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).” Id. (citation omitted). While a complaint need not include detailed facts, it must provide “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         Twombly and Iqbal require the Court to take three steps to determine whether the second amended complaint will survive Defendants' motion to dismiss. See Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016). First, it must “take note of the elements the plaintiff must plead to state a claim.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675). Next, it must identify the allegations that are no more than legal conclusions and thus “not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Finally, where the complaint includes well-pleaded factual allegations, the Court “should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

         This “presumption of truth attaches only to those allegations for which there is sufficient factual matter to render them plausible on their face.” Schuchardt v. President of the United States, 839 F.3d 336, 347 (3d Cir. 2016) (internal quotation and citation omitted). “Conclusory assertions of fact and legal conclusions are not entitled to the same presumption.” Id. This plausibility determination is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. (quoting Connelly, 809 F.3d at 786-87).

         This plausibility standard, however, “does not impose a heightened pleading requirement” and does not require a plaintiff to plead specific facts. Id. In other words, “courts cannot inject evidentiary issues into the plausibility determination.” Id. The Third Circuit has also made it clear that “at least for purposes of pleading sufficiency, a complaint need not establish a prima facie case in order to survive a motion to dismiss” because a “prima facie case is an evidentiary standard, not a pleading requirement and hence is not proper measure of whether a complaint fails to state a claim.” Connelly, 809 F.3d at 789 (internal quotations and citations omitted). Instead, a plaintiff should plead “enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary elements.” Id. (quoting Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008)).

         Finally, because Lawrence 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 (1972) (holding pro se complaints to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers”). “Liberal construction of pro se pleadings is merely an embellishment of the notice-pleading standard set forth in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” Castro v. United States, 540 U.S. 375, 386 (2003) (Scalia, J., concurring) (citation and quotation omitted). “Courts are to construe complaints so ‘as to do substantial justice, ' keeping in mind that pro se ...


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