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Johnakin v. Berks County Jail System

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 17, 2018

BERKS COUNTY JAIL SYSTEM, et al., Defendants.


          PETRESE B. TUCKER, J.

         Plaintiff William Johnakin, a pretrial detainee incarcerated at the Berks County Jail, brings this pro se civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in which he primarily challenges the constitutionality of the conditions at the Berks County Jail. In an Order entered on the docket April 11, 2018 (ECF No. 9), the Court granted Johnakin leave to proceed in forma pauperis, construed one of his filings as a motion to file an amended complaint, and granted that motion. Johnakin filed an Amended Complaint (ECF No. 11), which is currently before the Court. He also filed a statement indicating that he would like to add more claims to his Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 12.) For the following reasons, the Court will dismiss the claims raised in the Amended Complaint and additional statement pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), because Johnakin has failed to state a claim.

         I. FACTS

         The Amended Complaint names the following Defendants: (1) Berks County Jail System; (2) Warden of BCJS Janine Quigley (misspelled Janice Quigley); (3) Chief Deputy Warden of BCJS Smith; (4) Prime Care Medical; (5) the Berks County District Attorney's Office; (6) Berks County; and (7) City of Reading, P. A. A review of public dockets reflects that Johnakin is awaiting trial in the Berks County Court of Common Pleas on a charge of retail theft. See Commonwealth v. Johnakin, Docket No. CP-06-CR-0000322-2018. The docket reflects that he is represented by counsel from the Public Defender's Office. Johnakin's Amended Complaint sets forth a host of grievances related to his prosecution and the conditions in which he is confined.

         Johnakin in part challenges the manner in which he was charged in his criminal case. He indicates that prosecutors have used his misdemeanors in another state as a basis for charging him with a felony, which he believes constitutes a double jeopardy violation. He also suggests that the District Attorney's Office "use[d] the jail and its officers to steal key information from [his] cell pertaining to said/such case to learn [his] defense strategies and in turn make said trial unfair for [him] ...." (Am. Compl. ECF No. 11 at 7-8.)[1] The Amended Complaint also alludes to Johnakin's "right to examine/receive a copy of [his] criminal history." (Id. at 6.)

         The remainder of Johnakin's Amended Complaint challenges the conditions at the Berks County Jail. His pleading reflects his belief that the facility is not well run and that inmates receive no communication. He also raises more specific complaints about certain conditions at the jail.

         First, Johnakin alleges that he has the "right to be told why [he] can't work inside the jail when at the same time in 2017 [he] was allowed [to] work within the jail." (Id. at 6.) In that regard, Johnakin contends he was informed that to be a unit worker on the block, he would need medical clearance but was not told why. Johnakin alleges it could be months before he sees the doctor, as opposed to a nurse, because the medical provider, Prime Care, allegedly has only one doctor for seven county jails. Johnakin appears frustrated that the nurses cannot answer why he needs medical clearance and states that he "think[s] they are discriminating against [him]." (Id. at 11.)

         Second, Johnakin alleges that he has the "right to receive [his] mail in a timely fashion not when the jail deems it good for them to give it out." (Id. at 7.) In that regard, Johnakin alleges his family informed him that they sent mail but that he only received two letters. He also received notices that certain letters were returned, one "because the envelope had a stain on it" and one because "the sender didn't put [his] BCJS inmate numbers on it." (Id. at 12.)

         Third, Johnakin alleges that he has "the right to ask for soap to clean [his] body without being charged a fee" if he is indigent. (Id. at 7.) He does not allege that he was denied soap, or further elaborate on that allegation.

         Fourth, Johnakin alleges that he has "the right to eat [his] food in the day room provided and not [be] locked up in a cell if [he is] not in the box like [an] animal." (Id.) Along those lines, Johnakin contends that "they lock us up 21 hrs a day" and that he "would like to eat [his] food without having to look at a toilet that is sometimes filled with feces and urine cause some of the officers don't want to unlock it." (Id. at 16.) He adds that the jail can be locked down "for days at a time" without anyone telling the inmates. (Id. at 13.)

         Fifth, Johnakin contends that he has a "right to feel safe in [the Berks County Jail] or any institution without having to see officers carrying around shotguns and tazers [sic] in and out of inmate housing units." (Id. at 7.) That allegation appears to relate to his concern that some jail employees are permitted to carry Tasers at the jail. The Amended Complaint also implies that one of the officers stationed on the way to the medical unit has a shotgun. (Id. at 16.)

         Finally, Johnakin alleges that on April 12, 2018, Officer Drosdak, who is not a Defendant in this case, grabbed food out of his hand and put her finger in it, thereby contaminating the food. She ultimately threw the food away. The Amended Complaint suggests that the officer also threw away the food of six other inmates, only one of whom was white while the others were "either Spanish or [Johnakin] the only Black [African American] person." (Am. Compl. ECF No. 11, at 14.)

         Johnakin indicates that he named the Berks County Jail System as a Defendant because "most events happen[ed] within [the] Berks County Jail System." (Id. at 10.) He named the Warden and Deputy Warden because they "run and therefore have to have knowledge of all and everything that happens within Berks County Jail." (Id.) Johnakin claims that the Berks County District Attorney's Office's "actions cast unfavorable shadows on the City of Reading and Berks County, " and that the City and County "are condoning such [unspecified] actions by letting these actions continue to happen." (Id.)

         In the section of the form complaint used by Johnakin to file his Amended Complaint that asks about injuries, Johnakin wrote "-NA-". (Id. at 15.) He appears to be asking for injunctive relief including an order establishing that he gets to: (1) eat his food without having to look at the toilet or have an officer stick her fingers in it; (2) feel safe in the jail; (3) get soap if he doesn't have money to buy any; and (4) have a fair trial.

         A few weeks after having submitted his Amended Complaint, Johnakin submitted a second filing in which he indicates his desire to add more claims based on the conditions at the Berks County Jail. Although these claims are not contained in the Amended Complaint, the Court will address them at this time. First, he appears to be challenging a search on k-block that was conducted in a "rigorous way." (ECF No. 12 at 2.) Johnakin appears to be upset that, when he asked the reason for the search, he was told "you know why" even though he did not know of the reason for the search. (Id.) Second, Johnakin claims that he is missing one of three copies of his § 1983 complaint and questions whether the "jail makes a habit of stealing inmates legal work now." (Id. at 3.) Third, he alleges that an officer strip-searched him in his cell while the door was open so that other inmates could see the search. Fourth, he complains that inmates are not permitted to "give anyone any food item" and that doing so is treated as a punishable offense. (Id. at 4.) He also complains that "they even tell [inmates] what [they] can or cannot do with [their] commissary" and that inmates cannot "mix any of our commissary together." (Id.)


         As Johnakin is proceeding in forma pauperis, 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (e)(2)(B)(ii) applies, which requires the Court to dismiss the Amended Complaint if it fails to state a claim. Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), see Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999), which requires the Court to determine whether the complaint contains "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) (quotations omitted). Conclusory allegations do not suffice. Id. As Johnakin is proceeding pro se, the Court construes his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).


         "To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law." West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Here, Johnakin has not stated a constitutional claim for the following reasons. Here, Johnakin has not stated a constitutional claim for the following reasons.

         A. Claims Against the Berks County Jail System

         County jails and departments of county jails are not "persons" that are "subject to suit under federal civil rights laws." Regan v. Upper Darby Twp., No. CIV A 06-1686, 2009 WL 650384, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 11, 2009), aff'd, 363 Fed.Appx. 917 (3d Cir. 2010). Accordingly, the "Berks County Jail System" is not a proper party to this case. The Court will therefore dismiss Johnakin's claims against that Defendant.

         B. Claims Against the ...

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