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Doe v. Quinones

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

April 5, 2018

JOHN M. H. DOE and B. G. DOE, Plaintiffs,

          District Judge, David S. Cercone




         Plaintiffs John M.H. Doe (“M.H.”) and B.G. Doe (“B.G.”) bring this counseled civil rights action against 15 identified individuals and entities as well as 20 unnamed individuals, all associated with the Butler County Board of Commissioners, Butler County Prison (the “Prison”), or Trinity Services Group (“Trinity”), the Prison food service contractor. Plaintiffs' claims arise out of sexual harassment and assaults allegedly perpetrated by Luis Quinones, a former Trinity employee, while Plaintiffs were incarcerated in the Prison and assigned to work in the kitchen.

         Pending before the Court are a Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint filed by the Butler County Defendants, [1] ECF No. 28, and Motions for Partial Dismissal of Amended Complaint filed by Defendants Trinity Services Group and Pam Jewert, ECF Nos. 31 and 32, citing Plaintiffs' failure to plead facts sufficient to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

         For the reasons that follow, it is respectfully recommended that the Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint filed by the Butler County Defendants, ECF No. 28, be granted. It is further recommended that the Motions for Partial Dismissal filed by Trinity and Pam Jewert, ECF Nos. 31 and 32, be granted.[2] It is further recommended that Plaintiffs be granted one final opportunity to file an amended complaint as to all claims otherwise not dismissed with prejudice.

         II. REPORT


         M.H. and B.G. allege that during the period January 2016 through April 2016, each was incarcerated at the Prison and assigned to work in the kitchen. ECF No. 24 ¶ III-25. At that time, Trinity was retained by Butler County to provide food services to Prison inmates. Trinity employed Defendants Luis Quinones (“Quinones”) and his immediate supervisor, Pam Jewert (“Jewert”). ECF No. 25 ¶¶ 6, 7, 36. Plaintiffs allege that beginning in April 2016, Quinones verbally harassed each of them while they were alone in the kitchen's cooler, outside of the view of surveillance cameras. Id. ¶¶ 28-29. Plaintiffs allege that Quinones' conduct escalated to physical contact, including “attempted rape, oral sex, unwanted touching … unwanted exposure, ” and that he subjected Plaintiffs to “anal and/or other sexual intercourse and/or other types of contact.” Id. ¶ 32. Plaintiffs allege that they complained to Jewert, “who failed to offer or provide any recourse.” Id. ¶ 34.

         Plaintiffs further allege that Corrections Officers Reeves and Coyle “were on duty at such times and posted within the kitchen Plaintiffs were abused in.” Id. ¶ 38. In addition, Corrections Officers Wingrove and Russell are alleged to have made statements to Plaintiffs during routine strip searches that they “wouldn't subject him (sic) to the same treatment they experienced from Quinones.” Id. ¶ 39. Based upon these statements, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants Wingrove and Russell “were aware of the abuses, but did not attempt to report or stop the abuses from occurring.” Id. ¶ 40.

         Plaintiffs thereafter commenced this action with a Complaint filed on May 12, 2017. ECF No. 1. Plaintiffs' initial Complaint failed to differentiate claims asserted against any identified defendant, and alleged claims against all defendants for sexual assault, mental abuse, sexual harassment, failing to report known sexual assaults, failing to train and/or supervise the identified corrections officers, and in otherwise failing to protect Plaintiffs from Quinones. Plaintiffs further sought to allege state law causes of action against Trinity and Jewert for negligent hiring, training and supervision, as well as a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. ECF No. 1.

         The Butler County Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' original Complaint raising: (1) the impropriety of naming the Butler County Prison as a defendant; (2) the redundancy of official capacity claims against individual Butler County Commissioners, where Butler County is a named defendant and policymaking authority is vested in the Board of Commissioners; (3) the insufficiency of claims of verbal abuse as a matter of law; (4) the insufficiency of claims against any Butler County Defendant arising out of an alleged failure to furlough or transfer Plaintiffs to a different facility; (5) the insufficiency of claims for money damages arising under the Pennsylvania Constitution; and, (6) the general insufficiency of allegations as to each Butler County Defendant based upon Plaintiffs' failure to plead any facts connecting these Defendants to certain conduct alleged against all Defendants named in the Complaint. ECF No. 4.

         Trinity also filed a Motion for Partial Dismissal of Complaint on the grounds: that (1) Plaintiffs failed to state facts sufficient to establish Trinity's status as a “state actor” for purposes of liability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) Plaintiffs failed to plead facts establishing a cognizable constitutional claim arising out any Trinity policy, custom, or procedure; (3) Plaintiffs failed to allege facts to support a claim for punitive damages; and, (4) Plaintiffs failed to state a cognizable claim under the Pennsylvania Constitution. ECF Nos. 20 and 21.

         In response to the Motions to Dismiss, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint in which they have added three paragraphs to their 102-paragraph original Complaint: two new paragraphs with regard to the relationship of Trinity to Butler County and their alleged separate but coextensive obligations to supervise kitchen operations, ECF No. 25 ¶¶ 36 and 37, and one additional paragraph concerning the alleged apparent knowledge of Plaintiffs' abuse on the part of Corrections Officers Wingrove and Russell. Id. ¶ 40. In all other respects, the Amended Complaint and original Complaint are identical. Not surprisingly, Defendants' pending Motions to Dismiss are nearly identical to the Motions to Dismiss Plaintiffs' original Complaint, and set forth the same bases for relief.


         With specific reference to the pending motions, the Butler County Defendants seek dismissal of the Amended Complaint based upon, inter alia, Plaintiffs' failure to allege facts connecting each County Defendant to Plaintiffs' injuries. ECF No. 28. Counsel for Plaintiffs rejects an obligation to plead more as follows:

Currently, since discovery has not been able to be conducted, Plaintiff has brought the Complaint in the fashion they (sic) deem proper. Thus, the averments that are made against all parties are made against all parties and Plaintiff has the right under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to plead in the alternative. Defendants state the Defendants are lumped together but until discovery takes place, this is completely appropriate. Plaintiffs have currently made averments concerning Defendants; discovery then takes place; if cause of action (sic) does not have a factual bases (sic) to move forward after a records (sic) is created then Defendants can ask that cause of action to be withdrawn as to specific Defendant(s) - Plaintiffs would agree and if not the Defendants file a Motion for Summary Judgment. That is how the system is set up and that is what the Rules of Civil Procedure provide.

ECF No. 36 at 14-15. Plaintiffs argue that only “Notice Pleading” is required and, accordingly, any purported deficits amount to “nit picking” requiring the denial of Defendants' Motions to Dismiss. Id. at 2 n.1, 3.[3] Despite counsel's protestations to the contrary, the pending motions require the Court to determine the legal sufficiency of Plaintiffs' claims pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and as to each individual defendant.

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” This pleading standard “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). A pleading that asserts mere “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Rather, the defendant must be provided fair notice of what … the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.”[4] Id. “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “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.” Id. A complaint that pleads facts “merely consistent with a defendant's liability … stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.” Id. The plausibility determination is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 679.

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has formulated a three-step process to be followed in reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint against a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 221 n. 4 (3d Cir. 2011). First, the court must “‘tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.' Second, the court should identify allegations that, ‘because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.' Finally, ‘where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.'” Id., (quoting Santiago v. Warminster Twp, 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010)). This last step is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. With these principles as a guide and as more fully set forth below, it is apparent that Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint falls short in several important respects.

         C. DISCUSSION

         In Count I of the Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs allege Section 1983 claims against all Defendants for the alleged violation of Plaintiffs' rights arising under the United States and Pennsylvania constitutions. ECF No. 25 ¶ 44. The Butler County Defendants, Trinity, and Jewert seek dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims, raising Plaintiffs' failure to provide notice of specific claims asserted against each individual Defendant, and to otherwise plead facts sufficient to establish liability under certain apparent causes of action.

         Section 1983 provides an avenue of redress for those deprived of federal rights by persons acting under color of state law, and provides in relevant part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress….

42 U.S.C. § 1983. Therefore, to state a claim for relief under Section 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate both that the defendants were acting under color of law and that a constitutional violation was directly caused by their conduct. Kaucher v. County of Bucks,455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006). Defendants contend that Plaintiffs fail to meet these basic ...

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