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Saunders v. George W. Hill Correctional Facility

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 22, 2019



          GENE E.K. PRATTER, J.

         This matter comes before the Court by way of a Complaint (ECF No. 2), lodged by Plaintiff Richard Saunders, proceeding pro se. Also before the Court is Mr. Saunders's Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauper is (ECF No. 1). Because it appears that Mr. Saunders is unable to afford to pay the filing fee, the Court will grant him leave to proceed in forma pauperis. For the following reasons, the Complaint will be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and (ii).

         I. FACTS[1]

         Mr. Saunders, a prisoner currently incarcerated at George W. Hill Correctional Facility ("GWHCF"), brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his rights under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. (ECF No. 2 at 1, 3-5.) Mr. Saunders's allegations arise from prison conditions that resulted during a ten-day lockdown of Unit 7A of GWHCF from August 5, 2019 through August 15, 2019. (Id. at 3-4.) Specifically, Mr. Saunders alleges that on August 5, 2019 an unnamed Sergeant at GWHCF was assaulted by an unnamed inmate. (Id. at 3.) Mr. Saunders contends that this assault prompted Defendants Warden David Byrne, Deputy Warden Mario Colucci, Superintendent John A. Reilly, and Lieutenant Moore to institute an "emergency response" wherein Defendants and a dozen unnamed correctional officers locked down the unit and handcuffed the inmate responsible for the assault. (Id.)

         Mr. Saunders alleges that for the first four days of the lockdown, the inmates on Unit 7 A were: (1) not given the opportunity to shower;[2] (2) were not provided with "cleaning supplies[;]"[3] and (3) were denied phone and visiting privileges. (Id. at 3-4.) Mr. Saunders also asserts that there was no air ventilation for the first four days of the lockdown. (Id. at 3.) Subsequently, on or about Friday, August 9, 2019 - approximately the fifth day of lockdown, Mr. Saunders alleges that inmates were not "allowed to [Jumu'ah] [in order] to practice [their] religious belief[s.]"[4] (Id. at 4.) On or about Monday, August 12, 2019 - approximately the eighth day of lockdown, Mr. Saunders asserts that inmates were not "allowed to go to the law library[.]" (Id.) Finally, Mr. Saunders alleges that no mail was distributed to the inmates for the entirety of the ten-day lockdown, but that by August 15, 2019, "Unit 7A was returned to normal activities[.]" (Id. at 5.) Based on the conditions of confinement he encountered during the lockdown, Mr. Saunders now seeks to bring the following: (1) a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim; (2) an Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim; (3) a First Amendment claim regarding free exercise of religion; and (4) a First Amendment claim for access to the courts.[5] (Id.)


         The Court will grant Mr. Saunders leave to proceed in forma pauperis because it appears that he is incapable of paying the fees to commence this civil action.[6] Accordingly, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) requires the Court to dismiss the Complaint if, among other things, it is frivolous or fails to state a claim. A complaint is subject to dismissal under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) as frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact," Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989), and is legally baseless if it is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory." Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1085 (3d Cir. 1995). 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 Mr. Saunders is proceeding pro se, the Court construes his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).

         Mr. Saunders's Complaint alleges claims for violation of his civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the vehicle by which federal constitutional claims may be brought in federal court. "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 defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs." See Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). Furthermore, "[b]ecause vicarious liability is inapplicable to ... § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676.

         With respect to claims challenging conditions of confinement, the Eighth Amendment governs claims brought by convicted inmates, while the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment governs claims brought by pretrial detainees. Hubbard v. Taylor, 399 F.3d 150, 166 (3d Cir. 2005). As Mr. Saunders's status during his incarceration is not clear from the Complaint, his claim is analyzed under both Amendments. Unconstitutional punishment, be it under the Eighth Amendment applicable to convicted prisoners or the Fourteenth Amendment applicable to pretrial detainees, typically includes both objective and subjective components. Stevenson v. Carroll, 495 F.3d 62, 68 (3d Cir. 2007). The objective component requires an inquiry into whether "the deprivation [was] sufficiently serious" and the subjective component asks whether "the officials act[ed] with a sufficiently culpable state of mind[.]" Id. (citing Wilson v. Seites, 501 U.S. 294, 298; Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 538-39, 539 n.20 (1979)). In prison condition cases, the state of mind requirement is one of deliberate indifference. Edwards v. Northampton Cty., 663 Fed.Appx. 132, 135 (3d Cir. 2016) (per curiam). '"[T]he official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw that inference.'" Wilson v. Burks, 423 Fed.Appx. 169, 173 (3d Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994)).


         A. GWHCF is Not a "Person" Subject to Suit Under § 1983

         At the outset the Court notes that Mr. Saunders named GWHCF as a Defendant in this action. However, a prison is not considered a "person" subject to suit within the meaning § 1983. See Lenhart v. Pennsylvania, 528 Fed.Appx. 111, 114 (3d Cir. 2013) ("Westmoreland County Prison is not a person capable of being sued within the meaning of § 1983."); Edwards, 663 Fed.Appx. at 136 (recognizing prison was not a "person" under § 1983); see also White v. Knight, 710 Fed.Appx. 260, 262 (7th Cir. 2018). Accordingly, any claim alleged against GWHCF itself will be dismissed with prejudice pursuant to § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i).

         B. General Conditions of Confinement Claims During Lockdown

         With respect Mr. Saunders's conditions of confinement claims against the remaining Defendants, Mr. Saunders does not allege facts sufficient to establish a plausible claim for violations of either the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause or the Eight Amendment based on the conditions he encountered during the ten-day lockdown of Unit 7 A at GWHCF. Generally, courts recognize that prison lockdowns which last for an extended period of time violate the Eighth Amendment. Liles v. Camden Cty. Dep 't of Corr., 225 F.Supp.2d 450, 461 (D.N.J. 2002) (citing Delaney v. DeTella,256 F.3d 679, 686 (7th Cir. 2001)) (concluding that six-month lockdown violated the Eighth Amendment); see also Hall v. Williams,960 F.2d 146 (4th Cir. 1992) (reversing the grant of summary judgment in ...

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