United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
William W. Caldwell United States District Judge
plaintiff, Ronald Stockton, an inmate currently confined at
the State Correctional Institution at Houtzdale
(SCI-Houtzdale), Pennsylvania, filed this civil-rights action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Presently before us are
Defendants' motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint and
motion to stay discovery pending our resolution of their
motion to dismiss. For the reasons that follow, the motion to
dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part, and the
motion to stay discovery granted.
motion to dismiss will be granted as to all claims except
Stockton's Eighth Amendment excessive-force claim and his
Eighth Amendment medical claims related to the events of
December 20, 2013. Defendants shall respond to Stockton's
outstanding discovery within thirty days.
Standard of Review
motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) authorizes the
dismissal of a complaint “for failure to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted.” Under Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6), the district court must “accept all factual
allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any
reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff is
entitled to relief.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside,
578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v.
Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008)).
The court may also rely on exhibits attached to the complaint
and matters of public record. Sands v. McCormick,
502 F.3d 263, 268 (3d Cir. 2007).
to Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a), a complaint need only “include a
short and plain statement of the claim showing that the
pleader is entitled to relief, in order to give the defendant
fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which
it rests.” “[T]he factual allegations of a
complaint ‘must be enough to raise a right to relief
above the speculative level' and the complaining party
must offer ‘more than labels and conclusions' or
‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action.'” W. Run Student Hous. Assocs., LLC. v.
Huntingdon Nat'l Bank, 712 F.3d 165, 169 (3d Cir.
2013) (quoting Bell Atl. Copr. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)).
Legal conclusions are “not entitled to the assumption
of truth.” Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352, 365
(3d Cir. 2012)(citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)).
“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not
suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. at
1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at
1964). Courts “disregard such legal conclusions.”
In re Horizon Healthcare Servs. Inc. Data Breach
Litig., 846 F.3d 625, 633 (3d Cir. 2017)(citing
Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 128 (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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 678, 129 S.Ct. at 1949.
pro se pleadings must be liberally construed and “held
‘to less stringent standards than formal pleadings
drafted by lawyers.'” Fantone v. Latini,
780 F.3d 184 (3d Cir. 2015) (citing Haines v.
Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 - 21, 92 S.Ct. 594, 596, 30
L.Ed.2d 652 (1972)); see also Erickson v. Pardus,
551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081
(2007); Giles v. Kearney, 571 F.3d 318, 322 (3d Cir.
2009). Pro se litigants are to be granted leave to file a
curative amended complaint even when a plaintiff does not
seek leave to amend, unless such an amendment would be
inequitable of futile. See Estate v. Lagano v. Bergen
Cnty. Prosecutor's Office, 769 F.3d 850, 861 (3d
Cir. 2014). A complaint that sets forth facts which
affirmatively demonstrate that the plaintiff has no right to
recover is properly dismissed without leave to amend.
Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 106
(3d Cir. 2002).
this standard in mind, the following is the background to
this litigation, as Stockton alleges it.
Allegations of the Amended Complaint
Stockton, a state prisoner in the custody of the Pennsylvania
Department of Corrections (DOC), is currently confined at
SCI-Houtzdale. The events giving rise to this lawsuit
occurred while he was housed in SCI-Smithfield's
Restricted Housing Unit (RHU). Named as defendants are the
following DOC employees: Secretary Wetzel; Superintendent
Fisher; Deputy Oliver; Major Myers; Corrections
Classification Program Manager (CCPM) Biser; Deputy Whitesal;
Lt. Allison; Lt. Bard; Sgt. Miller; Corrections Officer (CO)
Willinsky; CO Harper; CO Wilson; CO Barndt; Nurse Melissa
Houck; Hearing Examiner (Himes) Amy Himes; and CO Parks. (ECF
No. 33, Am. Compl.)
alleges Defendants retaliated against him because of his
legal activities. The retaliation occurred over a three-month
period, the last day of September through December 2013.
Defendants also conspired to violate his First and Eighth
Amendment rights by either assaulting him, failing to protect
him from assault, or failing to provide him with medical
care. Stockton additionally claims HEX Himes violated his due
process rights in connection with two misconduct hearings.
avers that on September 30, 2013, a day before he was to
testify in a matter against the DOC, CO Kanagy
(non-defendant) “opened [his] cell door from the bubble
at 2:34 to 2:36 p.m. and told [him] from the bubble window to
come out of [his] cell so that he can ‘kick [his]
ass'” before the hearing. (Id., p. 3 and
ECF No. 33-1, p. 1). Stockton wrote to Deputy Whitesal,
advising him of the incident and requesting that an
allegation of abuse complaint be filed with the DOC. (ECF No.
33-1, p. 1). Deputy Whitesal forwarded Stockton's
allegations to Captain Goss (non-defendant) of the Security
Office for review as well as Deputy Oliver and Major Myers.
(Id.) Stockton does not assert he was physically
assaulted or approached by CO Kanagy.
November 15, 2013, while housed in the RHU Psychiatric
Observation Cell (POC), Stockton was placed in pre-hearing
confinement following his receipt of two misconducts: B602771
(use of abusive language toward an employee or their family)
and B602772 (threatening an employee, use of abusive language
toward employee or their family, refusing to obey an order,
and presence in an unauthorized area). (ECF No. 33-1, pp. 7 -
8). The original misconducts were dismissed without prejudice
by HEX Himes who allowed the reporting staff member
“the opportunity to determine if they wished to
resubmit the misconduct for consideration.”
misconducts were re-written and re-issued on December 3,
2013. (Id.) Stockton was served with both
misconducts the day before he was released from the POC. At
his December 11, 2013, misconduct hearing, Stockton submitted
a written version of the events for consideration.
(Id.) Stockton was found guilty of both misconducts
and received a thirty-day disciplinary sanction on each
offense. HEX Himes directed Stockton's disciplinary
sanctions be served concurrently with an effective date of
December 11, 2013. (Id.)
appealed the result of both misconduct hearings to the
Program Review Committee (PRC). (Id.) The PRC
consisted of CCPM Biser, Unit Manager Morder (non-defendant),
and Deputy Whitesal. (Id.) Stockton claimed both
misconducts were originally dismissed because HEX Himes did
not hold the hearings within the time frame established by
DOC policy and thus they could not be re-written or
re-issued. (ECF No. 33, p. 3). Additionally, he claimed that
HEX Himes, who is not a Notary, was not qualified to perform
the duties of a Hearing Examiner. (Id., p. 4; ECF
No. 33-1, pp. 5-6).
December 17, 2013, the PRC issued a decision noting that HEX
Himes followed DOC policy when she allowed the two
misconducts to be dismissed, re-written and re-issued. (ECF
No. 33-1, p. 7). The PRC found “no violation of law or
procedure as it relate[d] to the service and hearing of the
misconduct.” (Id.) However, the PRC agreed
with Stockton that his disciplinary sentence should have been
retroactively applied to the date he was placed in
pre-hearing confinement for the misconducts, November 15,
2013. The PRC adjusted his sanction accordingly.
(Id.) Stockton alleges Deputy Oliver, Deputy
Whitesal, Major Myers and CCPM Biser conspired to leave him
in the RHU following the decision of the PRC that his
disciplinary sentence expired on December 15, 2013.
(Id., p. 9).
December 20, 2013, after Stockton alerted Sgt. Miller and Lt.
Bard that he was being held in the RHU past his disciplinary
sentence, they directed his cell door to be opened and he was
then assaulted by Defendants CO Willinsky, CO Barndt, CO
Wilson and CO Harpster. (Id., p. 7; ECF No. 33-1,
pp. 5, 9-16). CO Parks opened Stockton's cell door from
the bubble. (ECF No. 33, p. 5). Defendants later told
Stockton his door was opened by accident. Regardless, once
the cell door opened, Plaintiff fled to avoid a confrontation
with the officers. (Id., p. 6). He exited the cell
and refused orders to return to it. (ECF No. 33-1, pp. 9-16).
The officers used force to secure Stockton. (Id.)
The following individuals were involved in this event: Lt.
Bard, CO Willinsky, CO Barndt, CO Wilson, CO Park, CO
Harpster, Sgt. Miller. Defendants CO Barndt, CO Wilson, CO
Harpster and CO Willinsky were injured during this
altercation. (Id., p. 7; ECF No. 33-1, pp. 20- 21
and 25-26). A portion of the encounter was captured on video.
(Id., pp. 27-28).
Mellissa Houck denied Stockton any medical treatment for his
facial injures and wounds following the assault. (ECF No. 33,
p. 7). Lt. Allison contacted PSP Huntingdon and reported that
Stockton had attacked the four officers after refusing to
return to his cell. (ECF No. 33-1, pp. 29-30). Robert
Fennell, a fellow RHU inmate, wrote to the local district
attorney and volunteered to testify that Wilson and Harpster
conspired with him to assault Stockton when their doors were
unlocked. (Id., p. 24). However, when Fennel's
cell door was opened he froze and relocked his celldoor
avoiding the encounter. (Id. ...