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Patterson v. Quigley

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 30, 2018



          Juan R. Sánchez, J.

         Pro se Plaintiff Floyd E. Patterson, Jr., an inmate in the State Correctional Institute at Somerset brings claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Warden Janine L. Quigley, Lieutenant Miguel Castro, and Correctional Officers Cunningham, Dew, and Gurry for constitutional violations that occurred while he was incarcerated at Berks County Jail.[1] Warden Quigley and Lieutenant Castro (Administrative Defendants) and Correctional Officers Cunningham, Dew, and Gurry (Correctional Officer Defendants) move separately to dismiss Patterson's Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, both Administrative Defendants' and Correctional Officer Defendants' motions to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part.

         BACKGROUND [2]

         Patterson asserts various constitutional violations that occurred while he was incarcerated at Berks County Jail (Berks) between February 14, 2014, and July 28, 2015.

         Patterson, a Muslim, alleges he was prevented from exercising his right to practice his religion. At Berks, Special Operations Group (SOG) personnel, including Officer Gurry, were present with firearms during religious Muslim services and prevented inmates from shaking hands or exchanging religious greetings. When Patterson brought a grievance challenging this limitation, Lieutenant Castro refused to entertain it. He informed Patterson that any talking during service must be within the context of the service, and SOG could threaten to remove inmates who talked outside the context of the service. Am. Compl. 4. On two or three occasions after he was removed from religious service, he was prevented from attending weekly prayer services for up to a month at a time. Additionally, when he signed up to attend services, he was prevented from going because his name was left off of a separate list-which documented the names of inmates who were allowed to leave the block-that was on one occasion controlled by Officer Dew. Id. at 5. Finally, the presence of guns during service prevented him from focusing on prayer.

         At Berks, Patterson was also subject to unnecessary strip searches on many occasions. Id. at 6. During these “various and plentiful strip searches, ” Officer Cunningham made “cruel jokes that end[ed] up leading to sexual and cruel request[s], ” including “being forced to jerk [Officer Cunningham] off.” Id. Officer Cunningham threatened to assault Patterson, or have him charged with assault, if he did not do as he was told. Officer Cunningham also told him about his “connections to other jails and state prisons so that [Patterson] would not speak out about the events that transpired.” Id. at 7. Patterson initially stayed quiet, but he later “secretively” sought treatment from the Medical/Psych Department in May 2014. Id. In June 2014, he reached out to Warden Quigley, who pushed his complaints and issues “under the rug.” Id.

         In addition, Patterson was subject to a variety of poor living conditions while he was at Berks. The living conditions were unsanitary because they were “totally infested” with black mold, to the point where some jail cells had three out of four walls covered with mold. Id. at 10. Patterson was forced to eat, sleep, and live within arm's reach of his toilet. Additionally, when he was sent to solitary confinement for fighting, he was forced to eat food loaf for a total of 20-25 days, even though the use of food loaf as punishment was generally reserved for inmates with a history of food-related problems.

         Patterson had a variety of physical injuries ignored or not taken seriously by Berks personnel. His medication was switched and canceled. He was required to fill out a “sick-call” slip, even when he was experiencing a medical emergency, such as chest pain or an anxiety attack. He was not given proper medical treatment after he injured his hand and ankle during recreation hour, and he was unable to review the x-ray results of his hand. Id. at 9, 12.

         Pursuant to the policy of Lietenant Castro's Administrative Department, he was also subject to “unit-actions, ” disciplinary actions taken for violations of “living unit rules.” These disciplinary actions took place without a hearing to determine guilt or innocence.

         Patterson made numerous complaints to jail officials. Because he filed these grievances, he was retaliated against. Specifically, at least one of his grievances was returned with male genitalia drawn on it; when he informed Warden Quigley about his vandalized grievance, she declined to take any action because of a lack of evidence. Through the month of July and August 2014, Officers Dew and Gurry searched his cell block eleven times, and on one occasion, they stole one of his books. Retaliation against him also included losing his job, being harassed and assaulted by Berks personnel, getting poor medical treatment, having his medical documents withheld, and generally being in danger.

         Based on the foregoing, Patterson filed the instant action on April 4, 2016, against the Administrative Defendants and several commissioners from Berks County. He then filed an Amended Complaint on June 6, 2017, dropping his claims against the commissioners[3], retaining his claims against the Administrative Defendants, and asserting new claims against the Correctional Officer Defendants.[4] In his Amended Complaint, Patterson alleges violations of his First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. He also alleges Defendants generally violated his civil rights by forcing him to live in unsafe conditions, subjecting him to sexual harassment, depriving him of proper medical attention, and retaliating against him for complaining about the violation of his rights. See Am. Compl. 3. Administrative Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on June 20, 2017, to which Patterson responded on August 10, 2017. Correctional Officer Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on August 15, 2017, to which Patterson failed to respond.


         To withstand dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when the facts pleaded “allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Where, as here, the plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court must construe the complaint liberally, accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations therein, and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See Pearson v. Sec'y Dep't of Corr., 775 F.3d 598, 604 (3d Cir. 2015).

         Patterson brings this action pursuant to § 1983, which “provides a cause of action against ‘every person who, ' under color of state law, ‘subjects, or causes to be subjected, ' another person to a deprivation of a federally protected right.” Barkes v. First Corr. Med., Inc., 766 F.3d 307, 316 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983), rev'd on other grounds sub nom. Taylor v. Barkes, 135 S.Ct. 2042 (2015). To be liable under § 1983, a defendant “must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs; liability cannot be predicated solely on the operation of respondeat superior.” Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). If a plaintiff seeks to hold a supervisor liable for acts undertaken by subordinates, liability may attach only if the supervisor (1) “‘participated in violating the plaintiff's rights, directed others to violate them, or, as the person in charge, had knowledge of and acquiesced' ...

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