United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge United States District
Court Middle District of Pennsylvania
Basheem Smalls (“Smalls”), an inmate who, at all
relevant times, was housed at the Federal Correctional
Institution, Allenwood, Pennsylvania
(“FCI-Allenwood”), commenced this
Bivens action on December 6, 2017. (Doc. 1).
Named as defendants are A. Sassaman, J. Brown, K. Weaver, H.
Reed, P. Yost, F. Martin, J. Lyons, and S. Spaulding.
(Id.) Before the court is defendants' partial
motion (Doc. 20) to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) and for summary judgment pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons set forth
below, the motion to dismiss will be granted and the motion
for summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in
Allegations of the Complaint
August 23, 2016, when Smalls was housed in the Special
Housing Unit (“SHU”), defendant Sassaman
allegedly ordered him to accept a cellmate. (Doc. 1, ¶
6). Smalls informed defendants Sassaman and Brown that he did
not feel safe with the particular inmate they were placing in
his cell. (Id. at ¶¶ 7-8). Defendant
Sassaman then ordered Smalls out of the cell, handcuffed him,
and placed him in the SHU holding cell. (Id. at
Brown asked Smalls if he was refusing a cellmate.
(Id. at ¶ 11). Smalls informed defendant Brown
that was not refusing a cellmate, but he did not want to be
housed with an inmate who would attack him. (Id.)
Defendant Brown then allegedly stated to Smalls,
“Don't come at me, I'll knock your teeth out of
your mouth”, and “I don't give a damn if
you're handcuffed. I'll throw you on the
ground.” (Id. at ¶ 12-13).
Smalls was in the holding cell, defendant Sassaman searched
his cell. (Id. at ¶ 14). Smalls was escorted
back to his cell, noticed that his personal property was in a
clear plastic bag, and informed defendant Sassaman that the
items in the bag were his personal property. (Id. at
¶ 15). Smalls alleges that defendant Sassaman then
pushed him down the wall near the stairwell, threw him on the
stairs, and used excessive force to press down on Smalls'
handcuffed hands while exerting force on his back.
(Id. at ¶¶ 16-17). Other officers arrived,
lifted Smalls, carried him to a different cell, and stripped
him of his clothes. (Id. at ¶¶ 18-19).
Smalls alleges that defendant Sassaman used excessive force
when trying to put paper underwear on him, causing him to rip
the paper underwear and touch Smalls inappropriately in his
genital and anal areas, and caused bruising to Smalls'
legs. (Id. at ¶ 20).
officers then placed Smalls in hand and leg restraints and
escorted him to another cell. (Id. at ¶¶
21-22). Defendants Brown, Sassaman, and Weaver returned to
Smalls' cell. (Id. at ¶ 23). Defendant
Brown allegedly told Smalls, “he was lucky that it was
not him because the Plaintiff wouldn't have any
teeth.” (Id.) Defendant Sassaman allegedly
stated, “You know how you made me look. You should have
taken a celly. Now look how you have to be.”
(Id. at ¶ 24).
remained in the cell for the night and was intermittently
checked by a lieutenant and medical staff member.
(Id. at ¶¶ 25-26). At one point during the
night, Smalls informed the medical staff member that he was
experiencing back pain. (Id. at ¶ 26). The
staff member advised Smalls that it was normal for the
restraints to cause pain. (Id. at ¶ 27).
Reed checked Smalls' hands and legs while he was in
restraints and told Smalls he would remove the restraints
after the 10:00 a.m. rounds by executive staff. (Id.
at ¶ 29). Defendants Reed and Yost took the restraints
off of Smalls. (Id. at ¶ 30).
was then escorted to the SHU's lieutenant's office
and was handed two incident reports issued by defendant
Sassaman. (Id. at ¶¶ 31-32). The incident
reports were subsequently withdrawn. (Id. at ¶
August 25, 2016, Smalls spoke with defendant Martin and
requested treatment with the psychology department due to the
alleged inappropriate touching that occurred during the
incident. (Id. at ¶ 33). Smalls was escorted to
the SHU holding cell and interviewed by defendant Lyons.
(Id. at ¶ 34). Defendant Lyons allegedly told
Smalls he could not leave until Smalls spoke to him about the
incident. (Id. at ¶ 36). Smalls told defendant
Lyons about the incident and was escorted back to his cell.
(Id. at ¶ 38).
dinner, defendant Martin gave Smalls his food on a tray
without utensils in alleged retaliation for talking to
defendant Lyons about being inappropriately touched.
(Id. at ¶ 40). Defendant Martin allegedly told
Smalls to eat with his fingers. (Id. at ¶ 41).
Smalls complained that he did not receive his entire meal,
and defendant Martin allegedly told Smalls that “what
he received was all that he was getting for that day.”
(Id. at ¶ 42).
alleges that he spoke with defendant Spaulding about there
being “no restraints put on these officers”, but
he allegedly ignored Smalls' complaints. (Id. at
Motion to Dismiss
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for
the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 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
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)). Although the court is
generally limited in its review to the facts contained in the
complaint, it “may also consider matters of public
record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items
appearing in the record of the case.” Oshiver v.
Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384
n. 2 (3d Cir. 1994); see also In re Burlington Coat
Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997).
notice and pleading rules require the complaint to provide
“the defendant notice of what the . . . claim is and
the grounds upon which it rests.” Phillips v. Cty.
of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555
(2007)). To test the sufficiency of the complaint in the face
of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must conduct a
three-step inquiry. See Santiago v. Warminster
Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130-31 (3d Cir. 2010). In the first
step, “the court must ‘tak[e] note of the
elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.'”
Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 675 (2009)). Next, the factual and legal elements of a
claim should be separated; well-pleaded facts must be
accepted as true, while mere legal conclusions may be
disregarded. Id.; see also Fowler v. UPMC
Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Once the
well-pleaded factual allegations have been isolated, the
court must determine whether they are sufficient to show a
“plausible claim for relief.” Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 679 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556);
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (requiring plaintiffs to
allege facts sufficient to “raise a right to relief
above the speculative level”). A claim “has
facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content
that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that
the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
Lack of Personal Involvement of defendants Brown, Weaver,
Reed, Yost, Lyons, and Spaulding
Brown, Weaver, Reed, Yost, Lyons, and Spaulding argue that
Smalls fails to state a claim against them because they lack
personal involvement in the alleged wrongs. (Doc. 23, at
liability can be imposed under section 1983 only if the state
actor played an “affirmative part” in the alleged
misconduct and “cannot be predicated solely on the
operation of respondeat superior.” Evancho v.
Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 353 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting
Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir.
1998)). “A defendant in a civil rights action must have
personal involvement in the alleged wrongs. . . . Personal
involvement can be shown through allegations of personal
direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence.”
Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207-08; see also Rizzo v.
Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976); Atkinson v. Taylor,
316 F.3d 257 (3d Cir. 2003). Such allegations, however, must
be made with appropriate particularity in that a complaint
must allege the particulars of conduct, time, place, and
person responsible. Evancho, 423 F.3d at 354;
Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207-08. Alleging a mere
hypothesis that an individual defendant had personal
knowledge or involvement in depriving the plaintiff of his
rights is insufficient to establish personal involvement.
Rode, 845 F.2d at 1208.
alleges only that defendant Brown made verbal threats to him,
that defendant Reid appeared at Smalls' cell when he was
in restraints, that defendants Reid and Yost assisted in
taking the restraints off of Smalls, that defendant Lyons
interviewed him concerning his allegations of staff
misconduct, and that defendant Spaulding ignored his comment
that corrections officers have no restraints on them.
(See Doc. 1). Clearly, the complaint is devoid of
any factual allegations that these defendants violated
Smalls' constitutional rights. To the contrary, the
complaint fails to articulate any particular acts or
omissions that would rise to the level of a constitutional
violation. Moreover, with respect to Smalls' claim that
defendant Brown made threatening statements to him, it is