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Rosa-Diaz v. Harry

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 26, 2018

LAUREL HARRY, et al., Defendants.

          Judge, Rambo



         I. Introduction

         This is a pro se civil rights case filed by the plaintiff, Gabriel Rosa-Diaz, a state prisoner who is currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution, Smithfield, in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. In this case, Rosa-Diaz asserts claims against various Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”) officials (the “DOC Defendants”) and medical staff at the State Correctional Institution, Camp Hill (“SCI-Camp Hill”), where he was housed from April 2016 through June 2017. (Doc. 13, ¶¶ 5-27; Doc. 38.)

         In his initial 37-page, 208-paragraph complaint, filed on November 14, 2016, Rosa-Diaz alleged a variety of federal civil rights and state law claims against approximately 20 Defendants on behalf of both himself and another inmate. (Doc. 1.) Upon an initial screening review, this court recommended that the complaint be dismissed but that Rosa-Diaz be permitted to file an amended complaint asserting only the claims brought on his own behalf. (Doc. 7.) The District Court adopted this Report and Recommendation, and Rosa-Diaz filed the instant amended complaint on January 27, 2017. (Doc. 13.) In our second screening review of Rosa-Diaz's pleadings, we determined that his supervisory liability and certain Eighth Amendment conditions of confinement claims should be dismissed but that the remaining Defendants should be served with the surviving claims in Rosa-Diaz's amended complaint. (Doc. 17.) The District Court adopted this second Report and Recommendation (Docs. 22 and 23), and counsel for the remaining Defendants waived service and entered their appearance in this matter. (Docs. 29 and 32.)

         Now pending before the court are two motions to dismiss the surviving claims in Rosa-Diaz's amended complaint. (Docs. 40 and 43.) On June 29, 2017, the first motion to dismiss was filed on behalf of the remaining DOC Defendants: corrections officers (“COs”) Alianiello, Dempsey, Johnson, McBeth, Rost, and Walsh; corrections counselor Arnold; registered nurse psychologist Iachini; unit manager Digby; and business manager Gimble. (Doc. 40.) On July 6, 2017, the lone additional remaining Defendant, psychiatric certified registered nurse practitioner (“PCRNP”) A. Woods, also filed the other motion to dismiss. (Doc. 43.) For the reasons set forth below, we recommend that, with the narrow exception noted below, the motions to dismiss be granted.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         The plaintiff, Gabriel Rosa-Diaz, is a state inmate who was housed at SCI-Camp Hill from April 2016 through June 2017. (Doc. 13, ¶¶ 5-27; Doc. 38.) During that time period, Rosa-Diaz alleges that he was subjected to mistreatment and a variety of harsh conditions at the hands of prison staff and medical contractors. (Doc. 13.) The issues complained of in Rosa-Diaz's initial complaint have been narrowed by the filing of his amended complaint and this court's two prior screening reviews. Nonetheless, Rosa-Diaz continues to assert a wide array of claims.

         A. The Plaintiff's Mail Handling and Property Confiscation Claims

         At the outset, Rosa-Diaz advances various claims pertaining to the alleged confiscation of his property, as well as the improper handling of his mail and legal materials. According to Rosa-Diaz on two occasions in April and May of 2016, CO Alianiello confiscated legal declarations drafted by other inmates that were sent to Rosa-Diaz and in his possession while Rosa-Diaz was housed in the Special Management Unit (“SMU”) program at SCI-Camp Hill. (Doc. 13, ¶¶ 27-30.) Alianiello provided Rosa-Diaz with a confiscated property receipt and sent the two declarations to the security staff for review. (Doc. 13, ¶ 30.) Around this same time, Rosa-Diaz claims that Alianiello also confiscated numerous publications from him, including several swimsuit and lingerie magazines. (Doc. 13, ¶ 31.) Rosa-Diaz notes that, although he submitted grievances to complain about the seizure of these swimsuit and lingerie magazines, [1] they were not returned to him. (Doc. 13, ¶¶ 31-101.)

         Furthermore, Rosa-Diaz states that in May of 2016, CO Dempsey confiscated his incoming mail and a publication. (Doc. 13, ¶ 112.) Rosa-Diaz claims that he attempted to grieve the seizure of these materials, but Dempsey and CO Rost allegedly threw his grievance forms in the trash. (Doc. 13, ¶¶ 113-14.)

         A few months later, in July of 2016, Rosa-Diaz complained that he was also denied carbon paper by business manager Gimble pursuant to a change in DOC policy, which forced Rosa-Diaz to spend money on photocopies and thus diverted resources from his litigation efforts. (Doc. 13, ¶¶ 102-10.) Rosa-Diaz grieved this change in policy but his grievances were unavailing. (Doc. 13, ¶¶ 102-10.)

         B. Housing Condition Complaints

         Next, Rosa-Diaz complains that in late July of 2016, he was housed under unsanitary conditions. It is important to note that Rosa-Diaz's claims in this regard do not relate to the conditions of his confinement, in the sense that Rosa-Diaz is not alleging that his cell was left in an unsanitary or dangerous state. Instead, Rosa-Diaz seems to be complaining about ambient housing conditions on his cellblock because he was placed on the same cell block as a mentally ill inmate who urinated on the floor in his cell and threw feces and blood, thus causing a disgusting odor to spread throughout the cell block. (Doc. 13, ¶ 152.) This odor was so revolting that Rosa-Diaz opted to stay inside his cell for meals and vomited several times, while the cell block became infested with fleas. (Doc. 13, ¶ 152.) In addition to the foul odor, the mentally ill inmate also screamed through the night, depriving Rosa-Diaz of the ability to sleep. (Doc. 13, ¶ 152.) Rosa-Diaz alleges that Defendants Arnold, Digby, Iachini, Johnson, McBeth, Walsh, and Woods each were made aware of the mentally ill inmate, but refused to move the inmate or take any steps to remedy the situation. (Doc. 13, ¶¶ 152-53.)

         C. Psychiatric Evaluation Claims

         As a final matter, Rosa-Diaz complains of an incident on August 30, 2016, where he was taken to an appointment with a prison psychiatrist. (Doc. 13, ¶ 141.) Because he had been placed on camera restriction by unit manager Digby at the time of this appointment, Rosa-Diaz was filmed throughout the psychiatric evaluation. (Doc. 13, ¶¶ 142-43.) The psychiatrist treating Rosa-Diaz confronted CO Walsh and told him that neither COs nor cameras were allowed inside her office during Rosa-Diaz's evaluation. (Doc. 13, ¶ 144.) Walsh insisted that Rosa-Diaz needed to be filmed continuously, however, and the psychiatrist ultimately relented in allowing Walsh to leave the camera in the office after Walsh misrepresented that the camera did not record audio. (Doc. 13, ¶¶ 145-46.) After grieving this incident, the DOC agreed to no longer record Rosa-Diaz's visits to the psychiatrist but maintained that Walsh did nothing wrong. (Doc. 13, ¶¶ 147-51.)

         As a result of these alleged constitutional infractions, Rosa-Diaz seeks wide-ranging injunctive relief, along with compensatory and punitive damages. (Doc. 13.) Notably, Rosa-Diaz demands injunctive relief from several Defendants at SCI-Camp Hill even though he acknowledges that he is no longer housed at that facility.

         Both the DOC Defendants and PCRNP Woods have filed briefs in support of their respective motions to dismiss, arguing that Rosa-Diaz fails to establish a violation of a constitutional right. (Docs. 41 and 44.) Rosa-Diaz filed an omnibus brief in opposition to the two motions to dismiss on August 1, 2017, and also attached several exhibits. (Docs. 47 and 47-1.) The DOC Defendants then filed a reply brief on August 15, 2017, and Rosa-Diaz submitted a sur reply thereafter. (Docs. 50 and 52.) Having been fully briefed, these motions to dismiss are now ripe for resolution.

         III. Discussion

         A. Rule 12(b)(6) - Standard of Review

         Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint should be dismissed for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). With respect to this benchmark standard for legal sufficiency of a complaint, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has aptly noted the evolving standards governing pleading practice in federal court, stating that:

Standards of pleading have been in the forefront of jurisprudence in recent years. Beginning with the Supreme Court's opinion in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) continuing with our opinion in Phillips [v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 230 (3d Cir. 2008)]and culminating recently with the Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal ___U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) pleading standards have seemingly shifted from simple notice pleading to a more heightened form of pleading, requiring a plaintiff to plead more than the possibility of relief to survive a motion to dismiss.

Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 209-10 (3d Cir. 2009).

         In considering whether a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, the Court must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom are to be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jordan v. Fox Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, Inc., 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). However, a court “need not credit a complaint's bald assertions or legal conclusions when deciding a motion to dismiss.” Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Additionally, a court need not "assume that a . . . plaintiff can prove facts that the . . . plaintiff has not alleged." Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). As the Supreme Court of the United States held in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), in order to state a valid cause of action a plaintiff must provide some factual grounds for relief, which “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of actions will not do.” Id. at 555. Furthermore, “factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id.

         In keeping with the principles of Twombly, the Supreme Court has underscored that a trial court must assess whether a complaint states facts upon which relief can be granted when ruling on a motion to dismiss. In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the Supreme Court held that, when considering a motion to dismiss, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. at 678. Rather, in conducting a review of the adequacy of complaint, the Supreme Court has advised trial courts that they must:

[B]egin by identifying pleadings that because they are no more than conclusions are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

Id. at 679.

         Thus, following Twombly and Iqbal, a well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere legal labels and conclusions. Rather, a complaint must recite factual allegations sufficient to raise the plaintiff's claimed right to relief beyond the level of mere speculation. As the Third Circuit has stated:

[A]fter Iqbal, when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, district courts should conduct a two-part analysis. First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The District Court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Second, a District Court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a “plausible claim for relief.” In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to “show” such an entitlement with its facts.

Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210-11.

         Two years after Fowler, the Third Circuit ...

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