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Burgos v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 10, 2017

DAVID BURGOS, Plaintiff,
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al., Defendants.


          Rufe, J.

         In his Second Amended Complaint, pro se Plaintiff David Burgos alleges that Defendants violated his constitutional rights by holding him in a filthy and overcrowded cell at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility (“CFCF”).[1] Most Defendants have moved to dismiss, and Plaintiff now seeks leave to file a Third Amended Complaint. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff will be granted leave to file the Third Amended Complaint, and Defendants' motion to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint will be dismissed as moot.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff's allegations stem from his incarceration as a pre-trial detainee at CFCF in 2013.[2] Due to overcrowding, Plaintiff was subjected to a practice known as “triple-celling”- housing three or four inmates in cells designed only for two. As a result, Plaintiff was forced to sleep on unsterilized mattresses placed on cell floors where he was exposed to bodily waste, staph bacteria, and vermin. These living conditions aggravated Plaintiff's pre-existing spinal injury (a herniated disc) and caused him to contract scabies, which spread to cover much of his body. Plaintiff filed seven grievances; all were ignored.

         At times, Plaintiff was briefly transferred out of three-person cells into two-person cells, but he claims that he was ultimately returned to three-person cells in retaliation for filing grievances. At one point, Plaintiff was transferred to Cumberland County Prison for about a month, and was ordered to place his personal belongings-family photographs, toothpaste, soap, and food-into storage prior to the transfer. When Plaintiff returned to CFCF, all of his items had been lost or stolen.

         As is relevant here, Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint asserting violations of his Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights under § 1983 against the following Defendants: (1) the City of Philadelphia; (2) former Mayor Michael Nutter; (3) Louis Giorla (the Commissioner of the Philadelphia Prison System); (4) John Delaney (the Warden of CFCF); (5) Michele Farrell (the Deputy Warden and Grievance Coordinator at CFCF); and (6) Corizon Prison Health Services.[3] Defendants moved to dismiss, and Plaintiff sought leave to file a Third Amended Complaint that adds additional allegations, a claim for First Amendment retaliation, and a state-law claim for conversion based on the loss of his personal property.


         Dismissal for failure to state a claim is appropriate if the complaint fails to allege facts sufficient to establish a plausible entitlement to relief.[4] In evaluating Defendants' motion, the Court “take[s] as true all the factual allegations of the [complaint] and the reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them, ” but “disregard[s] legal conclusions and recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements.”[5] Instead, to prevent dismissal, a complaint must “set out sufficient factual matter to show that the claim is facially plausible.”[6]“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.”[7]

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2), leave to amend the complaint should be “freely give[n] when justice so requires.” Amendment may be denied as futile when “the complaint, as amended, would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, ” and is “assessed using the same standard applied in the face of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).”[8]

         III. ANALYSIS

         Defendants oppose Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend solely on the ground of futility. Because the Court concludes that amendment would not be futile, Plaintiff will be granted leave to file the Third Amended Complaint, with some limitations set forth below, and Defendants' motion to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint will be dismissed as moot.

         A. Section 1983 Claims

         Plaintiff asserts two types of Fourteenth Amendment Due Process claims under § 1983: a “triple-celling” claim that challenges his conditions of confinement at CFCF, and an inadequate medical care claim. The Court begins with the general framework governing § 1983 claims and then proceeds to a discussion of each type of Due Process claim.

         “[Section] 1983 provides remedies for deprivations of rights established in the Constitution or federal laws, ” but “does not, by its own terms, create substantive rights.”[9]“Under [§] 1983, [g]overnment officials may not be held liable for the unconstitutional conduct of their subordinates under a theory of respondeat superior.”[10] “There are two ways that a supervisor may be held liable under [§] 1983 for acts committed by his or her subordinates. A supervisor may be liable if they [act] with deliberate indifference to the consequences, established and maintained a policy, practice, or custom which directly caused [the] constitutional harm. A supervisor may be liable also if he or she participated in violating the plaintiff's rights, directed others to violate them, or, as the person in charge, had knowledge of and acquiesced in the subordinate's unconstitutional conduct.”[11]

         “To establish that supervisors are liable under § 1983 for deliberate indifference to an unconstitutional policy or practice, ‘[t]he plaintiff must (1) identify the specific supervisory practice or procedure that the supervisor failed to employ, and show that (2) the existing custom and practice without the identified, absent custom or procedure created an unreasonable risk of the ultimate injury, (3) the supervisor was aware that this unreasonable risk existed, (4) the supervisor was indifferent to the risk; and (5) the underlying violation resulted from the supervisor's failure to employ that supervisory practice or procedure.'”[12] “[I]t is not enough for a plaintiff to argue that the constitutionally cognizable injury would not have occurred if the supervisor had done more than he or she did.”[13] “A plaintiff must specifically identify the acts or omissions of the supervisors that show deliberate indifference, and suggest a relationship between the ‘identified deficiency' of a policy or custom and the injury suffered.”[14]

         1. Triple-Celling Claim

         Defendants focus primarily on Plaintiff's triple-celling claim. Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claim is deficient as pleaded in both the Second Amended Complaint and the proposed Third Amended Complaint because: (1) Plaintiff fails to allege an underlying constitutional violation; (2) Plaintiff fails to allege individual-capacity claims against the individual Defendants; and (3) Plaintiff fails to allege a Monell claim against the City of Philadelphia.

         a. Constitutional Violation

         Defendants first argue that Plaintiff fails to make the threshold showing of a constitutional violation. Claims by pre-trial detainees challenging their conditions of confinement are analyzed under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.[15] A condition of confinement is unconstitutional if it is either “the result of an express intent to punish” or “if it is not rationally related to a legitimate government purpose.”[16] In triple-celling cases, the Court “must look to the ‘totality of the conditions' of the specific prison at issue to determine whether triple celling is rationally related to the legitimate government purpose of managing an overcrowded prison.”[17]

         Plaintiff alleges that he was forced to sleep on an unsterilized mattress in an overcrowded cell and exposed to filth and vermin on a daily basis-a situation made worse by Defendants' failure to respond to his grievances or enforce a routine cleaning schedule. As a result, Plaintiff contracted scabies and his existing back injuries were aggravated. Taken as true, these allegations plausibly suggest that CFCF's policies “were not rationally related to the legitimate governmental interest of managing an overcrowded prison.”[18] Thus, Plaintiff has alleged a violation of his Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights.

         b. Supervisory Liability Claim Against Delaney, Farrell, Giorla, and Nutter

         The individual Defendants (Delaney, Farrell, Giorla, and Nutter) argue that Plaintiff fails to state a claim for supervisory liability. That is true as to Nutter, against whom Plaintiff offers only conclusory allegations consisting of little more than a cursory description of his former responsibilities as mayor.[19]

         However, Plaintiff has adequately alleged that Delaney, Farrell, and Giorla were deliberately indifferent to violations of his constitutional rights because they implemented a triple-celling policy at CFCF despite knowledge of its dangers and failed to adopt common-sense remedial measures such as routine cleaning schedules. Plaintiff has also alleged that Delaney and Giorla were aware of his unsanitary and dangerous living conditions based on his multiple grievances and inspections that they were required to sign-off on, and that Farrell provided non-responsive answers to his complaints of bodily ailments. That is enough to state a triple-celling claim under § 1983, as other courts in this District have found.[20]

         c. Municipal Liability Claim Against the City of Philadelphia

         The proposed Third Amended Complaint mentions the City of Philadelphia in its caption, but otherwise includes no express claims against the City. However, Plaintiff has asserted claims against Delaney, Farrell, Giorla, and Nutter in their official capacities, and such claims “generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.”[21] Thus, regardless of whether the City is named as a Defendant, the Court must determine whether Plaintiff has ...

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