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Molina v. Harry

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 22, 2019

LAURAL R. HARRY, et al., Defendants


          JUDGE JAMES M. MUNLEY United States District Court

         I. BACKGROUND

         Miguel Molina, a Pennsylvania state prisoner previously confined at Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution Camp Hill (“SCI Camp Hill”), filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint alleging that the conditions at SCI Camp Hill amount to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and that various individuals violated Molina's First Amendment rights by retaliating against him for filing grievances. (Doc. 1). Molina's Eighth Amendment claim centers around allegations that SCI Camp Hill's: shower drains contained larva and insects and emitted smells of sewage, and shower area was consistently dirty and stained with mildew; cells and ventilation system contained rust; and activity grounds were covered in goose feces that was not cleaned by prison staff. (Id. at 4-5, 12-13). As for Molina's First Amendment claim, he asserts that Defendants fired Molina from his prison job and transferred him to another unit within SCI Camp Hill in retaliation for filing grievances. (Id. at 5, 14).

         With leave of the Court, Molina filed a supplement to his complaint. (Doc. 21). Molina supplemented his Eighth Amendment claim to include allegations related to his time in the Special Housing Unit (“SHU”), where other inmates allegedly made loud, constant noise, and lighting was left on 24-hours per day. (Id. at 4). Molina also supplemented his First Amendment claim, alleging that Defendants continued to retaliate against him by unjustly confiscating his property, issuing fabricated misconduct reports, and sending him to the SHU. (Id. at 2-3).

         Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss in which they assert that the complaints should be dismissed because Molina seeks to improperly join disparate claims and, in any event, fails to state a claim for relief. (Docs. 23, 30). Molina has filed a brief in opposition to that motion (Docs. 32, 33), and the matter is now ripe for disposition.


         “In reviewing a dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), [this Court must] accept all factual allegations as true, [and] construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Warren Gen. Hosp. v. Amgen Inc., 643 F.3d 77, 84 (3d Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Under Rule 12(b)(6), a motion to dismiss may be granted only if, accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, a court finds that plaintiff's claims lack facial plausibility.” Id. “This requires a plaintiff to plead sufficient factual matter to show that the claim is facially plausible, thus enabling the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for misconduct alleged.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         A. Eighth Amendment Claim

         Turning first to the sufficiency of Molina's allegations, Molina alleges that his conditions of confinement at SCI Camp Hill violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. (Docs. 1, 21). The Eighth Amendment prohibits the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishments” and “applies to both an inmate's formal sentence and to ‘deprivations that were not specifically part of the sentence, but were suffered during imprisonment.'” Mammana v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, __ F.3d __, No. 18-2937, 2019 WL 3808506, at *2 (3d Cir. Aug. 14, 2019) (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 297 (1991)). “However, because that prohibition is directed only toward punishment, it applies only to deprivations that constitute an unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain, including those that are totally without penological justification.” Id. (footnotes and internal quotation marks omitted).

         “In challenges to prison conditions, such as the one here, ‘a prison official violates the Eighth Amendment only when two requirements are met.'” Id. at *3 (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994)). “First, ‘the deprivation alleged must be, objectively, sufficiently serious,' resulting in ‘the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.'” Id. (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834). “In a challenge to [prison] conditions, ‘the inmate must show that he is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm.'” Id. (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834). “Some conditions of confinement may establish an Eighth Amendment violation ‘in combination' when each would not do so alone, but only when they have a mutually enforcing effect that produces the deprivation of a single, identifiable human need.” Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 304 (1991) (emphasis deleted).

         “Second, ‘a prison official must have a sufficiently culpable state of mind.'” Id. (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834). “‘In prison-conditions cases that state of mind is one of deliberate indifference to inmate health or safety.'” Id. (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834 (ellipsis omitted)). “In that context . . . ‘the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.'” Id. (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837).

         Although the conditions of Molina's confinement at SCI Camp Hill were undoubtedly unpleasant, the complaint and supplemental complaint fail to state an Eighth Amendment claim for two reasons. First, there is no allegation that any Defendants are personally responsible for-or have any control over-cell conditions are SCI Camp Hill.[1] In the absence of such allegations, Defendants may not be held liable.[2] See Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 210 (3d Cir. 2007) (“A defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs to be liable and cannot be held responsible for a constitutional violation which he or she neither participated in nor approved” (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)).

         Second, the conditions in general population as outlined by Molina are insufficient to state an Eighth Amendment claim. As to SCI Camp Hill's showers, Molina complains that the shower drains had worms and other insects, and that the showers were dirty and had mildew and occasionally smelled of sewage. (Doc. 1 at 4). The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reviewed similar conditions in Shrader v. White, 761 F.2d 975 (4th Cir. 1985). There, the prison's shower area contained mold and mildew, dripping shower heads, rust stains, and the occasional loss of cold water. Id. at 984. Because the prison attempted to clean the showers and there was no evidence of disease resulting from the mold, the Fourth Circuit found no constitutional violation. Id. Similarly, absent additional information regarding the frequency, duration, or health risks associated with the conditions at SCI Camp Hill's showers, the alleged conditions cannot be said to pose a “substantial risk of serious harm” to inmates. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834; cf. J.P. v. Taft, 439 F.Supp.2d 793, 810 (S.D. Ohio 2006) (cold showers and worms “coming out of the [shower] drain” insufficient to establish Eighth Amendment violation).

         As to Molina's claim that there is rust in the cells and ventilation systems, the mere presence of rust, absent an allegation “that any . . . health problems were caused by . . . [the] rust” is insufficient to state a claim under the Eighth Amendment. Kates v. Bledsoe, No. 3;11-CV-0391, 2013 WL 4417656, at *7 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 14, 2013), aff'd sub nom. Kates v. USP Lewisburg Warden, 547 Fed.Appx. 93 (3d Cir. 2013). Cf. Lisle v. Welborn, __ F.3d __, No. 18-1595, 2019 WL 3492163, at *11 (7th Cir. Aug. 1, 2019) (holding “rust on the ...

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