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Martin v. Wetzel

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

September 14, 2019

JOHN WETZEL, et al., Defendant




         Nine individual defendants who are employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC Defendants”) have moved to dismiss all claims of Plaintiff's Complaint against defendant John Wetzel and defendant Michael Overmyer, and the claims against all DOC Defendants to the extent those claims are asserted against them in their official capacities. ECF No. 39. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the DOC Defendants' motion.[1]

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff Tyrone Martin, an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Forest (“SCI-Forest”), commenced this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by filing a Complaint alleging that the DOC Defendants violated his civil rights during and after an incident on May 29, 2018. ECF No. 5, pp 2-5. On December 18, 2018, the DOC Defendants moved pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to dismiss (1) Plaintiff's claims against DOC Secretary John Wetzel and SCI-Forest Superintendent Michael Overmyer on the grounds that Plaintiff's Complaint fails to allege facts to show personal involvement of these Defendants in the actionable conduct alleged in the Complaint, and (2) all claims against the DOC Defendants in their official capacities as barred by Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. ECF. No. 40. Plaintiff responded to the motion on January 17, 2019. ECF No. 47. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

         II. Factual Allegations

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that on May 29, 2018, he experienced a “mental breakdown” and he asked Defendant Mrozek to “speak with someone from psychology.” ECF No. 5, p. 2. He alleges that his pleas for help were ignored by both Defendant Mrozek and Defendant Kopp. Id. Instead of providing assistance, Defendant Kopp requested a “use of force team, ” which sprayed Plaintiff with one can of OC spray. Id. at pp. 2-3. After being sprayed, Plaintiff was treated by “Jane Doe (nurse)” who “acted with neglect as she only clean Plaintiff (sic) eyes and ignored Plaintiffs (sic) pleas.” Id. at p. 3. Plaintiff was then threatened, handcuffed, and placed on the floor while naked for an anal cavity search. Id. Plaintiff was then returned to his cell with no shoes despite the floor being wet, where he was again “hit” and “touch[ed]” by the “use of force team.” Id.

         Plaintiff additionally alleges that Defendants Mason, Mrozek, and Jopp removed his legal materials and personal property from his cell, failed to provide him with a “153 Form, ” and sprayed his penis with OC spray. Id. at 3-4. Plaintiff was not allowed to decontaminate his body following the spray. Id. at 4. He was given a paper smock and returned to his cell, but was not provided with shoes, a blanket, a mattress, or clothes from May 29, 2018 to June 5, 2018. Id. Plaintiff's feet became infected until he received “foot cream” on June 5, 2018. Id.

         Plaintiff further alleges that “Superintendent sign off on the removal of Plaintiff clothes property and use a blind eye while viewing handheld video. Refusing to discipline underlings and worked together with all mention of a rogue body.” Id. at 4. (errors in original). He also stated that various defendants “along with Superintendent threw away Plaintiffs property and legal work as a retaliatory tactic and then acted as if it occurred by mistake.” Id. (errors in original). Finally, he stated that “John Wetzel although through plan channels directs his underlings to use any means of action and allows them to falsify document and then acts as if his knowledge is limited. However this listed defendant sent Plaintiff to what he called an SMU program as retaliation for Plaintiff filing cv-2060.” Id. at 5. (errors in original).

         III. Standards of Review

         1. Pro se Litigants

         Pro se pleadings, “however inartfully pleaded, ” must be held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-521 (1972). If the court can reasonably read pleadings to state a valid claim on which the litigant could prevail, it should do so despite failure to cite proper legal authority, confusion of legal theories, poor syntax and sentence construction, or litigant's unfamiliarity with pleading requirements. Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364 (1982); United States ex rel. Montgomery v. Bierley, 141 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir. 1969) (petition prepared by a prisoner may be inartfully drawn and should be read “with a measure of tolerance”); Smith v. U.S. District Court, 956 F.2d 295 (D.C. Cir. 1992); Freeman v. Dep't of Corrections, 949 F.2d 360 (10th Cir. 1991). Under our liberal pleading rules, during the initial stages of litigation, a district court should construe all allegations in a complaint in favor of the complainant. Gibbs v. Roman, 116 F.3d 83 (3d Cir. 1997). See, e.g., Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996) (discussing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) standard); Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990) (same).

         2. Motion to dismiss

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). In deciding a motion to dismiss, the court is not opining on whether the plaintiff will be likely to prevail on the merits; rather, the plaintiff must only present factual allegations sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007) (citing 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, pp. 235-236 (3d ed. 2004)). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009)). A complaint should only be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12 (b)(6) if it fails to allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570 (rejecting the traditional 12 (b)(6) standard established in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957)). In making this determination, the court must accept as true all well-pled factual allegations in the complaint and views them in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. U.S. Express Lines Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002).

         While a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must provide more than labels and conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. A “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). Moreover, a court need not accept inferences drawn by a plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997)). Nor must the Court accept legal conclusions disguised as factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. See also McTernan v. City of York, Pennsylvania, 577 F.3d 521, 531 (3d Cir. 2009) (“The tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.”).

         Expounding on the Twombly/Iqbal line of cases, the Third Circuit has articulated ...

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