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Stevens v. Dickey

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

September 30, 2019

DOUGLAS DICKEY, et al., Defendant




         Plaintiff Maurice Stevens ("Plaintiff), an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Forest ("SCI-Forest"), commenced this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on August 22, 2018, by filing a Complaint alleging that six employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC") violated his constitutional rights.[1] Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on February 2, 2019. ECF No. 24. Presently pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs Amended Complaint [ECF No. 25] pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion will be granted.[2]

         I. Factual Background

         Plaintiffs Amended Complaint alleges that on May 21, 2018, security personnel at SCI-Forest seized and searched his personal property while he was confined in the prison's Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) and that three days later, during an inventory of his properly, Plaintiff discovered that "legal documents" and certain family photographs and items he had purchased from the prison commissary were missing. ECF No. 43, pp. 3-4. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Douglas Dickey, a correctional officer, "took, lost, destroyed" his personal property and legal documents. Id. He also alleges generally that Defendant Charles Carter, a security captain, somehow participated in the loss or destruction of the missing items. Id. at 3. After Plaintiff told the correctional officers working in inventory about the missing items, they advised him that all of the items "sent from the security dept" were present. Id. at 4. Plaintiff further alleges that because he was without the aid of his legal documents, he was forced to file a defective petition in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Id. at 5.

         Plaintiff then utilized the prison grievance procedure to grieve the missing items. Id. at 6. He alleges that grievance officers Lisa Leeher and Keri Moore and SCI-Forest Superintendent Michael Overmeyer colluded and "gave him the runaround" when they failed to "acknowledge" Defendant Carter and Dickey's "destruction of his personal property." Id. at 3-4. Plaintiff also named DOC Secretary John Wetzel as a defendant, but his Amended Complaint includes no allegations against him.

         Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiffs Amended Complaint on February 12, 2019. ECF No. 25. Plaintiff responded twice to the motion on March 18 and 20, 2019. ECF Nos. 28, 30. This matter is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

         II. Standards of Review

         A. 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).

         B. 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, it 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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