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Valles v. Ebbert

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 31, 2019

JUAN C. VALLES, Plaintiff
WARDEN DAVID J. EBBERT, et al., Defendants



         I. BACKGROUND

         This case was initiated by the filing of a complaint pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), in Civil Action No. 18-716 by pro se Plaintiffs Camden Barlow, Christopher Alvarez, Justin Haynes, Darryl Taylor, Tabarus Holland, Terrell Wilson, Tony C. Knott, Agustin Argueta, Douglas Piggee, and Nathan A. Railey, all of whom were incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (“USP Lewisburg”) at that time. (Doc. No. 1.) In that complaint, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants had violated their rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, their First Amendment rights to access the courts, and their First Amendment rights regarding mail. Subsequently, Doreteo Garcia, Juan Carlos Valles (“Valles”), and David Jackson were added as Plaintiffs. Barlow v. Ebbert, Civ. A. No. 17-716 (M.D. Pa.) (Doc. No. 28). On July 24, 2018, the Court dismissed Plaintiffs' Equal Protection claim and their access to the courts claim and directed service of their First Amendment enhanced mail restriction claim. Id. (Doc. Nos. 38, 39). On October 10, 2018, the Court granted Plaintiff Railey's motion to sever and directed that each individual Plaintiff file an amended complaint under a separate civil action number by November 9, 2018. Id. (Doc. Nos. 89, 90).

         Valles did not file an amended complaint by that date. Accordingly, by Order entered on December 4, 2018, the Court directed Defendants to respond to the remaining First Amendment claim. (Doc. No. 8.) The Court subsequently received an amended complaint from Valles. (Doc. No. 9.) Defendants filed a motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 10), which the Court granted by Memorandum and Order entered on April 4, 2019 (Doc. Nos. 13, 14). The Court granted Valles leave to file a second amended complaint within thirty (30) days. (Doc. No. 14.)

         On April 30, 2019, Valles filed his second amended complaint, again naming Warden David J. Ebbert (“Ebbert”), SIS Officer Buebendorf (“Buebendorf”), and Officer/Counselor Tharp (“Tharp”) as Defendants. (Doc. No. 15.) Valles alleges that Defendants violated his First Amendment rights by mishandling his mail and either destroying or not forwarding 30-50 incoming and outgoing personal letters. (Id. at 1-2.) Valles further suggests that Defendants' actions violated his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Id.) He seeks declaratory relief as well as damages. (Id. at 2-3.)

         After receiving an extension of time to respond to the second amended complaint (Doc. Nos. 16, 17), Defendants filed a motion to dismiss and/or motion for summary judgment on June 13, 2019 (Doc. No. 18) and filed their supporting materials on June 27, 2019 (Doc. Nos. 19, 20). Valles did not file a brief in opposition to Defendants' motion within the twenty-one (21) day period provided for by Local Rule 7.6. Subsequently, in an Order entered on July 25, 2019, the Court noted that Defendants' motion asserts, inter alia, that Valles failed to properly exhaust his administrative remedies before filing this action. (Doc. No. 21.) Pursuant to Paladino v. Newsome, 885 F.3d 203 (3d Cir. 2018), the Court informed the parties that it would consider the exhaustion issue in the context of summary judgment, and by doing so, would consider matters outside the pleadings in its role as factfinder. (Id.) Accordingly, the Court directed Defendants to, within fourteen (14) days, file an amended or supplemental brief and statement of material facts “to further address the issue of whether Plaintiff has exhausted his administrative remedies and present any additional materials pertinent to the issue to the extent they have not already done so.” (Id.) The Court directed Valles to file a brief in opposition within twenty-one (21) days from the date that Defendants filed their amended or supplemental materials. (Id.) The Court directed Valles to “specifically address the issue of administrative exhaustion and submit materials and documents pertinent to the issue.” (Id.) The Court also directed him to “file a statement of material facts specifically responding to the numbered paragraphs in Defendants' statements.” (Id.)

         On July 26, 2019, Defendants filed a letter regarding the Court's July 25, 2019 Order. (Doc. No. 22.) In this letter, Defendants state that they “have reviewed their brief in support of their motion to dismiss and/or motion for summary judgment and their statement of facts previously filed.” (Id.) They “believe they have fully stated and supported their position on the exhaustion issue in those documents.” (Id.) Accordingly, “Defendants will not avail themselves of the opportunity to file a supplemental memorandum and statement of material facts but will instead rely on the papers previously filed.” (Id.)

         In light of Defendants' letter and decision to not file supplemental materials regarding the issue of exhaustion, there will be no supplemental materials to which Valles can respond. Moreover, to date, Valles has neither filed a response to Defendants' brief in support nor a motion for an extension of time to do so. Accordingly, the motion to dismiss and/or motion for summary judgment is ripe for resolution.


         Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss and/or motion for summary judgment, arguing that: (1) Valles failed to exhaust his administrative remedies; and (2) they are entitled to qualified immunity. (Doc. No. 20.)

         A. Motion to Dismiss, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

         When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010). The Court's inquiry is guided by the standards of Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). Under Twombly and Iqbal, pleading requirements have shifted to a “more heightened form of pleading.” See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). To prevent dismissal, all civil complaints must set out “sufficient factual matter” to show that the claim is facially plausible. Id. The plausibility standard requires more than a mere possibility that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. As the Supreme Court instructed in Iqbal, “where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not ‘show[n]' - ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         Accordingly, to determine the sufficiency of a complaint under Twombly and Iqbal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has identified the following steps a district court must take when determining the sufficiency of a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6): (1) identify the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim; (2) identify any conclusory allegations contained in the complaint “not entitled” to the assumption of truth; and (3) determine whether any “well-pleaded factual allegations” contained in the complaint “plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” See Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, “a court must consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents.” Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). A court may also consider “any ‘matters incorporated by reference or integral to the claim, items subject to judicial notice, matters of public record, orders, [and] items appearing in the record of the case.'” ...

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