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Bracey v. Huntingdon County

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 22, 2017

HUNTINGDON COUNTY, et al. Defendants

          Carlson Magistrate Judge


          William W. Caldwell United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction and Procedural History

         This case is here on remand from the Third Circuit. The pro se plaintiff, Corey Bracey, is currently an inmate at SCI-Greene, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, but was formerly housed at SCI-Smithfield when the events giving rise to the action arose. Plaintiff was ordered in a state-court civil proceeding to undergo testing for HIV and Hepatitis, which he alleges resulted in the forceable extraction of a blood sample. He filed this civil-rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 making federal and state-law claims challenging the legality of the proceedings. In an amended complaint, he named as defendants Huntingdon County and Stewart L. Kurtz, a judge on the Court of Common Pleas of Huntingdon County. He also named “the DOC Defendants”: the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC); Adam Park, a Smithfield correctional officer; and Travis S. Anderson, an attorney who represented the DOC and Park in the civil proceedings.

         On July 7, 2015, upon the magistrate judge's report and recommendation, we dismissed the claims against Judge Kurtz and Huntingdon County. In the meantime, the DOC Defendants filed a motion to dismiss raising two issues: (1) the statute of limitations; and (2) collateral estoppel, also known as issue preclusion. On July 13, 2015, the magistrate judge filed a report (Doc. 31) asserting that the following grounds, which he raised sua sponte, justified dismissal: (1) the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, see Gary v. Braddock Cemetery, 517 F.3d 195, 200 (3d Cir. 2008), deprived the court of jurisdiction to entertain the case; (2) the court should abstain from granting any injunctive relief under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971); (3) the individual defendants are entitled to qualified immunity; and (4) the DOC is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. The magistrate judge also agreed with the DOC Defendants that the case was barred by collateral estoppel but thought it was unnecessary to consider the statute-of-limitations defense since “multiple alternate grounds” justified dismissal of the amended complaint. (Doc. 31, magistrate judge's report at p. 24 n.3).

         Plaintiff filed objections to reliance on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, Younger abstention, qualified immunity, and to collateral estoppel. He filed no objections to the conclusion that the DOC was entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity.

         On August 6, 2015, we dismissed the claims against the DOC Defendants. We did so on the sole ground that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine barred the case. We did not look at the other grounds the magistrate judge discussed.

         Plaintiff appealed, but only the order dismissing the claims against the DOC Defendants. The Third Circuit stated that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine did not apply and remanded the case so that we could consider the magistrate judge's alternate grounds for dismissal. See Bracey v. Huntingdon County, ___ F.App'x ___, ___, 2017 WL 2787619, at *3 (3d Cir. 2017)(nonprecedential). Since the order dismissing Huntingdon County and Judge Kurtz was not appealed, as the Third Circuit recognized, the case now proceeds only against the DOC, Park and Anderson. Id. at ___ n.2, 2017 WL 2787619, at *2 n.1.

         II. Standard of Review

         We are reviewing the magistrate judge's July 13, 2015, report to see if any of the remaining grounds require dismissal of the action. In reviewing a magistrate judge's report, the court must conduct a de novo review of those portions to which objections are made. Snyder v. Bender, 548 F.App'x 767, 770 (3d Cir. 2013) (nonprecedential)(citing Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 7 (3d Cir. 1984); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)). Where no party has objected, the court needs only review those portions of the report for clear error or manifest injustice. See Smith v. Lindsey, No. 13-CV-2914, 2015 WL 136639, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 7, 2015)(Caldwell, J.). Nonetheless, even where no objections are made, the court can sua sponte conduct a de novo review of any portion of a magistrate judge's report. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 154, 106 S.Ct. 466, 474, 88 L.Ed.2d 435 (1985)(explaining that while 28 U.S.C. § 636 “does not require the judge to review an issue de novo if no objections are filed, it does not preclude further review by the district judge, sua sponte or at the request of a party, under a de novo or any other standard”).

         The DOC Defendants' filed a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In considering a motion to dismiss, “[w]e ‘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 may be entitled to relief.'” Byers v. Intuit, Inc., 600 F.3d 286, 291 (3d Cir. 2010)(quoted case omitted). A complaint has to plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007).

         III. Background

         In pertinent part, the Amended Complaint alleges as follows. On November 17, 2012, while he was incarcerated at SCI-Smithfield, Plaintiff had a physical confrontation with correctional officers, one of whom was Defendant Park. (Doc. 5, Am. Compl. ¶¶ 8 and 9). Plaintiff received lacerations to his hands and wrists while he was being handcuffed. (Id. ¶ 9). Park claimed that he suffered an open puncture wound to his hand. (Id. ¶ 10). On November 19, 2012, Smithfield medical personnel asked Plaintiff to consent to HIV and Hepatitis testing, but were evasive and vague about why they wanted the tests. (Id. ¶ 11). Plaintiff refused. (Id.).

         Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff was served with a civil complaint initiated in the Court of Common Pleas of Huntingdon County by the DOC and Park. (Id. ¶ 13). The complaint sought blood testing for HIV and Hepatitis under the Confidentiality of HIV-Related Information Act (the HIV Act), 35 Pa. Stat. Ann. §§ 7601-7612, and the release of test results. (Id.). The complaint alleged that during ...

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