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Ortiz v. Medina

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 10, 2019

MISAEL ORTIZ, Plaintiff,
LIEUTENANT MEDINA, et al., Defendants.


          JUAN R. SANCHEZ, C.J.

         Plaintiff Misael Ortiz, a pretrial detainee incarcerated at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility (CFCF) brings this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging due process violations, excessive force, and supervisory liability. Ortiz seeks leave to proceed in forma pauperis. For the following reasons, the Court will grant Ortiz leave to proceed in forma pauperis and dismiss his Complaint with the exception of his claims for excessive force against Officers Sullivan and Boone in their individual capacities and supervisory liability against Lieutenant Medina in her individual capacity.

         I. FACTS

         The Complaint lodged by Ortiz raises constitutional claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Lieutenant Medina, Officer Mooney, Officer Sullivan, and Officer Boone in their official and individual capacities. Ortiz alleges that at the time of the incidents giving rise to his Complaint, Medina was a prison lieutenant, while Mooney, Sullivan, and Boone were correctional officers at CFCF. (ECF No. 2 at 2.)[1]

         Ortiz avers that on September 1, 2019, Mooney "intentionally and maliciously deprived [him] of his required lunch tray without legal justification. (Id. at 4.) Ortiz alleges that in an attempt to obtain assistance from one of Mooney's supervisors regarding the delivery of his lunch tray, Ortiz began to flood his cell. (Id.) Ortiz contends that Mooney, Boone, and Sullivan opened his cell door without supervisory assistance and entered while Ortiz was not in any mechanical restraints. (Id.) Upon entering the cell, Boone began to punch Ortiz in the face and stomach, and Sullivan swung his "issued can of pepper spray at [Ortiz]... which connected with [Ortiz's] right side of his face, above his eye." (Id.) Ortiz further avers that while he "was on the cell floor with blood over his entire face, and in excruciating pain ... Boone began to apply unnecessary and excessive pressure with his prison boots to the right side of [Ortiz's] face." (Id.) Once Ortiz was handcuffed with his arms behind his back, "Boone and Sullivan... dragged him through toilet water on his face until he was out of his cell." (Id.) Boone then threw Ortiz forward causing him to fall into a clothes bin resulting in additional pain and suffering. (Id.) As a result of this alleged excessive use of force, Ortiz avers that he suffered "a gash to his head and facial areas; scratches to his back; and a black and swollen eye." (Id. at 5.)

         Ortiz contends that although Medina was notified of the incident, viewed photographs of his injuries, and reviewed video surveillance footage, she failed to correct the wrongful conduct of her subordinate officers. (Id.) Ortiz further asserts that Medina has knowledge, through prison protocol and procedure, of when and how excessive force is to be pursued, and knows that unless exigent circumstances exist, an officer has a duty to first contact his or her supervisor before opening any cell door. (Id.) Ortiz avers that Medina acquiesced and approved the wrongful conduct of her subordinate officers, and never reached out to him when conducting her investigation, thereby intending to cover-up the wrongful acts of Boone, Sullivan, and Mooney. (Id.) Ortiz seeks an amount in excess of $250, 000.00 against Boone, Sullivan, Mooney, and Medina for violating his due process rights, and for excessive use of force and supervisory liability. (Id. at 6.)


         The Court will grant Ortiz leave to proceed in forma pauperis because it appears that he is incapable of paying the fees to commence this civil action.[2] Accordingly, 28 U.$.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) applies, which requires the Court to dismiss the Complaint if 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 Ortiz is proceeding pro se, the Court construes his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).


         "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 Claims Against All Defendants

         Ortiz's claims against all Defendants in their official capacity fail. Claims against City officials named in their official capacity are indistinguishable from claims against the City. 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. Dep 't of Soc. Servs. o/N. Y., 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 the entity." Id.

         As Ortiz has not pled a basis for municipal liability, his official capacity claims fail. To plead a basis for municipal liability under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that the municipality's policy or custom caused the violation of his constitutional rights. See Monell, 436 U.S. at 694. "To satisfy the pleading standard, [the plaintiff] must... specify what exactly that custom or policy was." McTernan v. City of York, PA, 564 F.3d 636, 658 (3d Cir. 2009). "'Policy is made when a decisionmaker possess[ingj final authority to establish municipal policy with respect to the action issues an official proclamation, policy, or edict.'" Estate of Roman v. City of Newark, 914 F.3d 789, 798 (3d Cir. 2019) (quoting Andrews v. City of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469, 1480 (3d Cir. 1990)). '"Custom, on the other hand, can be proven by showing that a given course of conduct, although not specifically endorsed or authorized by law, is so well-settled and permanent as virtually to constitute law."' Id. (quoting Bielevicz v. Dubinon, 915 F.2d 845, 850 (3d Cir. 1990)). A plaintiff illustrates that a custom was the proximate cause of his injuries by demonstrating that the Defendant "had knowledge of similar unlawful conduct in the past, failed to take precautions against future violations, and that its failure, at least in part, led to his injury." Id. (internal quotations and alterations omitted).

         A plaintiff may also state a basis for municipal liability by "alleging failure-to-supervise, train, or discipline ... [and alleging facts showing] that said failure amounts to deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of those affected." Forrest v. Parry, No. 16-4351, 2019 WL 2998601, at *8 (3d Cir. July 10, 2019). "This consists of a showing as to whether (1) municipal policymakers know that employees will confront a particular situation, (2) the situation involves a difficult choice or a history of ...

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