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Hart v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 20, 2017



          SCHMEHL, J.

         Pro se plaintiff John Hart brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §1983. He alleges violations of his constitutional rights during an approximately four year period of incarceration within the Philadelphia Prison System (“PPS”). In his Second Amended Complaint, plaintiff generally complains about, inter alia, conditions he experienced during his incarceration at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility (“CFCF”) and at the Philadelphia Industrial Correction Center (“PICC”), retaliation by corrections officers, false misconducts issued against him and baseless findings of fact made by disciplinary hearing examiners. (ECF 52, ¶ 90.) Named as defendants are the City of Philadelphia, and a number of individuals in their official and individual capacities, who plaintiff alleges are employees of the PPS, including Louis Giorla, the Commissioner of PPS, John Delaney, the Warden of CFCF, Michele Farrell, the Warden of CFCF, William Lawton, the Warden of the PICC, Karen Bryant, the Warden of PICC, Christopher Thomas, the Director of Records at CFCF, Bruce Herdman, Chief of Medical Operations of PPS, Sergeants Annceleste Gangemi and Sohail Akhtar of CFCF, CFCF Correctional Officers Jheovannie Williams, Natalia Baptiste, Ronald Eure, Ramel Young, Deidra Thornton, PICC Directo of Security Gerald May, PICC Correctional Officer Joseph Murray, Correctional Officer Charles Harmer, a hearing examiner for PPS, Correctional Officer John Doe #1, a hearing examiner for PPS, Correctional Officer John Doe #2, a hearing examiner for PPS and Correctional Officer John Doe #3, a mail officer for PPS (collectively, the “City of Philadelphia defendants”). Also named as defendants are Sheila Bedford, the Bail Commissioner of the City of Philadelphia, Aramark Correctional Service, Inc., Corizon, the health care provider for the Philadelphia Prison System and James Arnone, a doctor involved in plaintiff's medical care at CFCF. Defendants Bedford, Arnone and Aramark were dismissed by prior Orders (ECF 69, 85, 88) Presently before the Court is the motion of the City of Philadelphia defendants motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted.

         A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim tests the sufficiency of a complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the court must view factual allegations in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, drawing all reasonable inferences therefrom. Buck v. Hamilton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2002).

         The United States Supreme Court has established a two-part test to determine whether to grant a motion to dismiss. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). First, the court must ascertain whether the complaint is supported by well-pleaded factual allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. In turn, these factual allegations must be sufficient to provide a defendant the type of notice contemplated in Rule 8. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) (requiring a short and plain statement of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief); see also Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008).

         Taking the well-pleaded facts as true, the court must then determine whether the plaintiff is “plausibly” entitled to relief. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). That is, the pleadings must contain enough factual content to allow a court to make “a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. In short, a complaint must not only allege entitlement to relief, but must also demonstrate such entitlement with sufficient facts to push the claim “across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Id. at 683; accord Holmes v. Gates, 403 F. App'x 670, 673 (3d Cir. 2010).

         Defendant the City of Philadelphia moves to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint against it on the basis that plaintiff has failed to adequately plead a Monell claim.

         Local governments and political subdivisions are not immune from damages liability for claims brought under § 1983. Owen v. City of Independence, 445 U.S. 622, 657 (1980). However, a local government is only subject to § 1983 liability where the local government tself causes a constitutional violation. Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). That is, a local government cannot be held liable under § 1983 simply because of the actions of one of its employees. Id. (expressly rejecting municipal § 1983 liability based on a respondeat superior theory).

         A municipality can be held liable under § 1983 only when the implementation of an officially adopted policy or an informally adopted custom causes the alleged constitutional violation. Mulholland v. Gov't Cty. of Berks, Pa., 706 F.3d 227, 237 (3d Cir. 2013). In the absence of an official policy, a course of conduct can be considered a custom when municipal officials' practices are “so permanent and well settled as to virtually constitute law.” Andrews v. City of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469, 1480 (3d Cir. 1990). In either instance, “a plaintiff must show that an official who has the power to make policy is responsible for either the affirmative proclamation of a policy or acquiescence in a well-settled custom.” Bielevicz, v. Dubinon, 915 F.2d 845, 850 (3d Cir. 1990).;see also Andrews, 895 F.2d at 1480.

         In his Second Amended Complaint, plaintiff alleges, in conclusory fashion, that the City of Philadelphia has a custom, policy or practice of:

a. assigning public defenders to represent defendants at bail hearings who don't qualify for, nor request, such representation;
b. raising or revoking defendants' bail without due process of law;
c. subjecting inmates to dangerous, severely overcrowded, degrading, cruel, and unsanitary conditions, both in the holding cells of the police districts and within the jails of the Philadelphia Prison System, in violation of the First, Eighth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution;
d. failing to employ the requisite amount of correctional officers in the Philadelphia prisons;
e. failing to provide various inmate services and programs in the Philadelphia Prison System, including, but not limited to, social worker access, law library access, religious services, family visits, telephones, and ...

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