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Lopez v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 5, 2017

JERRY LOPEZ, Plaintiff,
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al., Defendants.


          GERALD J. PAPPERT, J.

         Jerry Lopez, a pro se inmate, sued the City of Philadelphia, former Philadelphia Prison System Commissioner Louis Giorla, Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility Warden John Delaney, Deputy Warden Clyde Gainey, Deputy Warden Gerald May, Deputy Warden Frederick Abellos, and the Deputy Warden of Administration. He alleges the Defendants violated his constitutional rights by housing him in a three-person cell that was designed for two people. The Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Lopez's Amended Complaint. The Court denies the motion.


         Lopez was arrested in Philadelphia and placed in the custody of the Philadelphia Prison System on May 31, 2008. (Am. Compl. ¶ 17, ECF No. 6.) He remained at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility (“CFCF”) until November of 2012, when he was transferred to a commonwealth prison. (Id.) Through almost his entire time at CFCF, Lopez was housed in over-crowded cells. He was frequently housed with two other inmates in a cell designed for two people, an arrangement known as “triple-celling.” (Id.) In those cells, Lopez was forced to sleep on a “boat”-a plastic tray used as a bed-near the cell's toilet. (Id.) Lopez was also housed in a windowless multipurpose room with four other inmates for seven consecutive months of his stay at CFCF. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 25.) He was moved to non-overcrowded cells only “once-in-a-while, ” something he contends was done merely to create “the illusion of not being housed illegally.” (Id. 18.) Lopez was also “locked down” in his cell for weeks at a time due to understaffing at CFCF. (Id. ¶ 22.) Because of the chronic overcrowding at the prison, Lopez was unable to shower for up to a week at a time. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 34.) The combined effect of these conditions was to exacerbate Lopez's existing seizures and depression. (Id. ¶ 28.)

         The City, Giorla, Delaney, Gainey, May and Abellos moved to dismiss Lopez's claims on February 10, 2015. (ECF No. 10.) Lopez filed his response on March 11, 2015. (ECF No. 12.) The case was initially before Judge Shapiro, who referred Lopez to the Court's prisoner civil rights panel for possible appointment of counsel and placed the case in suspense pending the panel's decision. (ECF No. 13.) The case was then transferred twice: first to Judge Goldberg on August 1, 2016, (ECF No. 17), and again to this Court on December 12, 2016, (ECF No. 18). The case was removed from suspense on March 16, 2017. (ECF No. 19.)


         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 Lopez 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”). “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)).


         Lopez asserts claims under § 1983 for violations of the First, Fifth, Eighth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Am. Compl. ¶ 15.) To state a claim under § 1983, Lopez must allege that a person acting under color of law deprived him of a federal right. See Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 633 (3d Cir. 1995). He must also allege that the person acting under color of law “intentionally” violated his constitutional rights or acted “deliberately indifferent” to those rights. See, e.g., County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 843-44 (1998); Brower v. County of Inyo, 489 U.S. 593, 596 (1989) (citing Hill v. California, 401 U.S. 797, 802-05 (1971)); see also Berg v. County of Allegheny, 219 F.3d 261, 269 (3d Cir. 2000).

         The Defendants move to dismiss on two grounds. They argue that Lopez's municipal liability claim against the City merely restates the elements of Monell liability and therefore must be dismissed. They also contend that Lopez inadequately alleges ...

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