United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
RICHARD P. CONABOY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
pro se complaint alleging civil rights and state
tort claims was filed in the Huntingdon County Court of
Common Pleas by Nicholas Mears regarding his confinement at
the State Correctional Institution, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania
(SCI-Huntingdon). Counsel for Defendant Jessica Cousins, PA-C
subsequently filed a notice of removal of Plaintiff's
action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441.
See Doc. 1, p. 1.
as Defendants are Chief Grievance Officer Dorina Varner of
the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC), and the
following SCI-Huntingdon officials: Superintendent Kevin
Kauffman; Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) Coordinator
Mandy Sipple;Lieutenant Daniel Wendle; and Psychologist
Christina Neri. Also named as Defendants are Chaplain Burks
and Psychiatrist Cousins, both of whom are described as being
independent contractors who work at the prison.
to the Complaint, Plaintiff was subjected to verbal
harassment by Chaplain Burks during a religious service in
the SCI-Huntingdon chapel on January 1, 2017. It is alleged
that Burks singled out the Plaintiff and another prisoner in
front of a large gathering of prisoners by insinuating that
there was homosexual activity between the two
inmates. Plaintiff contends that the degrading and
false verbal harassment by Burks violated his religious
freedom rights under the First Amendment as well as other
constitutional protections and caused him to suffer emotional
distress. Uon the conclusion of the service, Burks
purportedly apologized in private to the Plaintiff and
invited him back to attend services the following week. Mears
filed an institutional grievance against Burks four (4) days
arriving at the next religious service on January 8, 2017,
the Plaintiff and the other prisoner were immediately removed
from the chapel at the direction of Burks allegedly in
retaliation for the filing of a grievance regarding the prior
incident. After being removed, Lieutenant Wendle allegedly
told the Plaintiff that although the officer didn't know
what happened, he “suggested” that the Plaintiff
should either stop going to services conducted by Burks or to
attend without the other prisoner. Doc. 1, ¶ 17. The
Lieutenant purportedly added that if anything else occurred
with respect to the aforementioned events, Mears would be
placed in segregation. Plaintiff asserts that the conduct of
Defendant Wendle likewise violated his First Amendment
next alleged that Defendants Kauffman, Nerri, and Cousins,
failed to properly supervise and train Burks, implement
policies to prevent harassment and retaliation by staff, and
were deliberately indifferent to Burks' actions by
failing to take corrective measures. It is further asserted
that Chief Grievance Officer Varner and PREA Coordinator
Sipple likewise failed to take action in response to the
Plaintiff's grievance regarding Burks' conduct. The
Complaint also raises an allegation of conspiracy and state
law claims of invasion of privacy and negligence against the
pending is a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to
state a claim filed by the Corrections Defendants (Varner,
Kauffman, Sipple, Wendle, and Neri). See Doc. 7. The
opposed motion is ripe for consideration.
Defendants claim entitlement to dismissal on the grounds: (1)
the claims against Defendants Kauffman, Varner, Simple, Neri,
and Wendle should be dismissed for lack of personal
involvement; (2) a cognizable First or Eighth Amendment claim
is not alleged against Wendle; (3) a viable assertion of
retaliation against Wendle is not raised in the Complaint;
and (4) the verbal threat by Lieutenant Wendle does not rise
to level of a constitutional claim; (5) the allegation of
conspiracy is insufficient; (6) Plaintiff cannot recover
monetary damages for emotional injury; and (7) the state law
claims by Plaintiff are barreed from consideration.
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal
of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief
can be granted. A court in addressing a motion to dismiss
must “accept as true all factual allegations in the
complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn
therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff.” Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170,
177 (3d Cir. 2007)(quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423
F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)).
complaint must set forth facts that, if true, demonstrate a
plausible right to relief. See Fed.R.Civ.P.
8(a)(stating that the complaint should include “a short
and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is
entitled to relief”); Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). This requirement
“calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable
expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of” the
necessary elements of the plaintiff's cause of action.
Id. at 556. A complaint must contain “more
than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me
accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a
cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do
not suffice.” Id. Legal conclusions must be
supported by factual allegations and the complaint must state
a plausible claim for relief. See id. at
reviewing court must determine whether the complaint
“contain[s] either direct or inferential allegations
respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain
recovery under some viable legal theory.” Id.
at 562; see also Phillips v. County of Allegheny,
515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008)(in order to survive a motion
to dismiss, a plaintiff must allege in his complaint
“enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that
discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary
element[s]” of a particular cause of action). Finally,
it is noted that pro se pleadings must be afforded
liberal construction. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S.
519, 520 (1972).
Complaint asserts that Plaintiff has suffered emotional
distress for which he seeks to recover monetary damages.
See Doc. 2, p. 16. There is no allegation that Mears
has suffered any accompanying physical injury. Corrections
Defendants argue that Plaintiff is not entitled to recover
compensatory damages on his federal civil rights claims for
mental anguish or emotional injury. See Doc. 8, p.
U.S.C. § 1997e(e) provides that “[n]o federal
civil action may be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail,
prison or other correctional facility, for mental or
emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior
showing of physical injury." In Allah v.
Al-Hafeez, 226 F.3d 247, 250 (3d Cir. 2000), the United
States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recognized that
where a plaintiff fails to allege actual injury, Section
1997e(e) bars recovery of compensatory damages. However, the
Third Circuit Court of Appeals added that an inmate alleging
a violation of his constitutional rights may still pursue the
action to recover nominal and/or punitive damages even in the
absence of compensable harm.
the standards announced in Allah, this Court agrees
that Plaintiff's request for monetary relief to the
extent that it seeks compensatory damages for emotional and
psychological injuries for violation of his constitutional
rights is barred by Section 1997e(e).
Defendants' second argument contends that the Complaint
fails to allege personal involvement in constitutional
misconduct by Defendants Kauffman, Varner, Sipple, Neri, and
Wendle. See Doc. 8, p. 11.
plaintiff, in order to state an actionable civil rights
claim, must plead two essential elements: (1) that the
conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under
color of law, and (2) that said conduct deprived the
plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the
Constitution or laws of the United States. Groman v.
Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 638 (3d Cir. 1995);
Shaw by Strain v. Strackhouse, 920 F.2d 1135,
1141-42 (3d Cir. 1990).
rights claims brought cannot be premised on a theory of
respondeat superior. Rode v. Dellarciprete,
845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). Rather, each named
defendant must be shown, via the complaint's allegations,
to have been personally involved in the events or occurrences
which underlie a claim. See Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S.
362 (1976); Hampton v. Holmesburg Prison Officials,
546 F.2d 1077 (3d Cir. 1976). As explained in Rode:
A defendant in a civil rights action must have personal
involvement in the alleged wrongs. . . . [P]ersonal
involvement can be shown through allegations of personal
direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence.
Allegations of participation or actual knowledge and
acquiescence, however, must be made with appropriate
Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207.
Kauffman, Chief Grievance Officer Varner, Lieutenant Wendle,
and Coordinator Sipple were each clearly employed in
supervisory roles with either the DOC or SCI-Huntingdon.
There are no facts which clearly show that any Corrections
Defendant including Psychologist Neri directly supervised
Chaplain Burks or that Burks' alleged actions were
initiated pursuant to a directive from any of the Corrections
Defendants. Pursuant to the standards announced in
Rode, any claims against the Corrections Defendants
solely based upon their respective supervisory roles cannot
undisputed that Plaintiff filed an institutional grievance
and raised other complaints with members of the correctional
staff regarding the alleged mistreatment by Chaplain Burks.
Mears' pending action attempts to establish liability
against Defendants Kauffman, Varner, Neri, Sipple due to
their responses or non-response to his administrative
grievance and complaints. There is also no indication that