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Hall-Wadley v. Maintenance Department

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 27, 2019



          RUFE, J.

         Pro se Plaintiff Vincent Hall-Wadley filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Maintenance Department of the Chester County Prison, maintenance supervisor Jerry Thorton, and Chester County, asserting claims of negligence and unsafe conditions of his pretrial confinement. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint.[1] Upon consideration of their motion and Plaintiff's response thereto, the motion will be granted, Plaintiff's § 1983 claims will be dismissed without prejudice, and the Court will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims, which will be dismissed without prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         Plaintiff was a pretrial detainee at the Chester County Prison on December 26, 2018, when he slipped and fell coming out of the prison shower.[3] Although Plaintiff does not appear to have suffered any ongoing injuries from the incident, [4] he alleges that the conditions of the shower area had been deteriorating for an extensive period of time, which the maintenance staff and supervisor supposedly knew of but did not address.[5]

         According to Plaintiff, he slipped on chips of plaster that fell from the ceiling as a result of the hot water steam from the shower.[6] He also alleges that the shower drain was stopped up, the grip strips in the shower area were worn down, and there were mold spores on the glass block tiles.[7] Defendant Thorton was supposedly aware of these deteriorating conditions over the years, but failed to adequately fix them.[8] Although Plaintiff acknowledges that the maintenance employees, who were supervised by Thorton, had been working in the shower area “at least three times a week trying to fix the [drainage] problem, ” Plaintiff nonetheless alleges that Defendants failed to provide for his overall safety while being held in pretrial custody.[9]


         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is appropriate where a plaintiff's “plain statement” lacks enough substance to demonstrate that he is entitled to relief.[10] In determining whether a motion to dismiss should be granted, the court must consider only those facts alleged in the complaint, accepting the allegations as true and drawing all logical inferences in favor of the non-moving party.[11] As Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court “must liberally construe his pleadings.”[12]

         Courts are not, however, bound to accept as true legal conclusions framed as factual allegations.[13] Something more than a mere possibility of a claim must be alleged; a plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”[14] The complaint must set forth “direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory.”[15] Deciding a motion to dismiss, courts may consider “only allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim.”[16]


         A. Federal Claims Under § 1983

         Section 1983 is not a source of substantive rights, but merely a means of vindicating violations of federal constitutional and statutory rights committed by state actors.[17] A plaintiff cannot obtain redress under § 1983 without establishing an underlying violation of a federal constitutional or statutory right.[18]

         Although Plaintiff alleges in his Complaint that the conditions of confinement violate his Eighth Amendment rights, the Fourteenth Amendment governs his conditions of confinement claim because Plaintiff was a pretrial detainee at the relevant time, and not a convicted prisoner.[19] “[U]nder the Due Process Clause [of the Fourteenth Amendment], a detainee may not be punished prior to an adjudication of guilt in accordance with due process of law.”[20]Whether a pretrial detainee has been punished generally turns on whether the conditions have a purpose other than punishment, and whether the totality of the conditions are “excessive” such that they resulted in “genuine privations of hardship over an extended period of time.”[21]

         A pretrial detainee's protection from punishment under the Fourteenth Amendment has been distinguished from a convicted prisoner's protection from punishment that is “cruel and unusual” under the Eighth Amendment.[22] Although it remains somewhat unclear as to what level of protection is afforded to pretrial detainees under certain claims, [23] the Third Circuit has broadly held in the context of nonmedical conditions of confinement claims that pretrial detainees “are entitled to greater constitutional protection than that provided by the Eighth Amendment.”[24] Thus, cases that have analyzed convicted prisoners' constitutional deprivations under the Eighth Amendment are helpful, but only to the extent that they address the minimum level of constitutional protection required for pretrial detainees.[25]

         Plaintiff's alleged constitutional deprivations regarding his conditions of confinement may be grouped into two categories: (1) the shower area conditions resulting in his alleged slip-and-fall injuries; and (2) the unsanitary black mold located on the glass block tiles of the shower. Although Plaintiff asserts that many of these conditions existed for years, they nevertheless do not rise to the level of a constitutional violation.

         1. Shower Area Conditions Resulting in Slip-and-Fall Injuries

         Liberally construing his Complaint, Plaintiff appears to attribute his alleged slip-and-fall injuries to a stopped-up shower drain, plaster chippings from the ceiling which covered the floor on which he slipped, and worn-down grip strips in the shower area.

         In the context of the Eighth Amendment, various circuit and district courts have held that although potentially hazardous, slippery prison floors do not amount to objectively cruel and unusual punishment since they are “a daily risk faced by members of the public at large.”[26]Moreover, many of these courts, including the Third Circuit, have reasoned that slip-and-fall injuries stemming from slippery prison surfaces are more within the realm of ordinary negligence, and thus are not sufficient to state a claim for a deprivation of an Eighth Amendment right.[27]

         Although the Fourteenth Amendment provides greater protection than that of the Eighth Amendment in nonmedical conditions of confinement claims, the conditions relating to slip-and-fall injuries do not appear to rise to a Fourteenth Amendment violation either. “Section 1983 imposes liability for violations of rights protected by the Constitution, not for violations of duties of care arising out of tort law.”[28] The Supreme Court has explicitly held that “the Due Process Clause is simply not implicated by a negligent act of an official causing unintended loss of or injury to life, liberty, or property.”[29] The Third Circuit applied this principle to a case where a pretrial detainee claimed that correctional officers knew of flooding near the water dispensers but failed to replace them until after he was injured, which “suggested at most negligence, ” and not a constitutional violation.[30]

         Here, based on the totality of the shower area conditions, it is clear that the prison issues allegedly resulting in Plaintiff's slip-and-fall injuries stem from, at most, Defendants' lack of due care under tort law. The Fourteenth Amendment is not a “font of tort law” to be used to convert otherwise unremarkable state claims, such as negligence, into federal lawsuits.[31] Although in some cases the combined totality of conditions may rise to a level of a plausible constitutional claim, [32] it cannot be said here that the overall shower conditions are akin to punishment. Thus, Plaintiff has failed to raise a constitutional violation under the Fourteenth Amendment.[33]

         2. Black Mold in the Shower

         The presence of toxic mold in a prison may elicit a violation of the Eighth Amendment, but only if it has posed a substantial risk of serious harm.[34] Numerous courts in this Circuit have held that the presence of mold in the showers, without any allegations regarding harm, do not constitute an Eighth Amendment violation.[35]

         Because establishing punishment under the Fourteenth Amendment also inherently necessitates a degree of harm, [36] and since Plaintiff has failed to allege that he suffered any actual harm from the black mold in the shower, he has failed to state a Fourteenth Amendment violation for this claim. Plaintiff solely asserts that black mold exists in the shower, and suggests that it “has to be harmful.”[37] Without any allegation as to suffering actual physical harm from the mold, which is required to ...

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