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Johnakin v. Berks County Jail System

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 25, 2019

BERKS COUNTY JAIL SYSTEM, et al, Defendants.


          PETRESE B. TUCKEK, J.

         Pro se Plaintiff William Johnakin, a pretrial detainee confined at the Berks County Jail System, has lodged a Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging constitutional claims. He has also filed a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. Because it appears that Johnakin is unable to afford to pay the filing fee, the Court will grant him leave to proceed in forma pauperis. For the following reasons, certain claims in the Complaint will be dismissed with prejudice, and the balance of the Complaint will be dismissed without prejudice. Johnakin will be granted leave to file an amended complaint to attempt to cure the defects noted by the Court concerning the claims dismissed without prejudice.

         I. FACTS

         Johnakin alleges that he has been confined as a pretrial detainee in the Berks County Jail since July 2019. On July 1, he was moved from a quarantine cell to K-Block. (ECF No. 3 at 8.) He contends that there was mold on the walls and around the toilet and sink. (Id) He filed two grievances about the mold asking for cleaning supplies and for someone to inspect his cell. (Id.) He never received a response to his grievances, nor did he receive cleaning supplies. (Id.) He asserts that an officer looked at the mold but said he did not know what mold looks like. (Id.)

         Johnakin further asserts that his toiled started to leak, requiring that he squeegee odorous water two or three times each day. (Id.) He wrote to Defendant Warden Quigley about his toilet and never received an answer. (Id.) However, a sergeant inspected the toilet and acknowledged the leak. (Id.) He was finally moved to another cell on August 9, 2019. (Id.) He complained about having to breathe in mold and dust. (Id. at 9.) Johnakin alleges that he has asthma and is HIV positive and "an environment like this is definitely detrimental to my health." (Id.) He speculates that the Warden kept him in the cell due to his numerous other complaints and civil suits. (Id.)

         Named as Defendants are the Berks County Jail System, Berks County, Warden Quigley and Chief Deputy Warden Smith. All Defendants are sued in their official and individual capacities. Johnakin seeks the remediation of mold in the jail, proper inspections, and money damages.


         The Court will grant Johnakin leave to proceed in forma pauperis because it appears that he is incapable of paying the fees to commence this civil action.[1] Accordingly, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) requires the Court to dismiss the Complaint if, among other things, it fails to state a claim. Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), see Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999), which requires the Court to determine whether the complaint contains "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quotations omitted). Conclusory allegations do not suffice. Id. As Johnakin is proceeding pro se, the Court construes his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).


         Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code provides in part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. "To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law." West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         A. Official Capacity and Municipal Liability Claims

         Johnakin has sued Defendants Quigley and Smith in their official as well as individual capacities.[2] Official capacity claims are indistinguishable from claims against the entity that employs the officials. See Kentucky v. Graham,473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985) (''Official-capacity suits . .. 'generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.'") (quoting Monell v. N. Y.C. Dept. of Soc. Servs.,436 U.S. 658, 690, n. 55 (1978)). "[A]n official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against ...

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