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Saunders v. Geo Group, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 24, 2019

RICHARD SAUNDERS, Plaintiff
v.
GEO GROUP, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          PRATTER, J.

         Plaintiff Richard Saunders, who was convicted of retail theft, initiated ibis pro se civil action by lodging a complaint challenging the conditions of his confinement at George W. Hill Correctional Facility ("GWHCF"). In a Memorandum and Order docketed on June 10, 2019, the Court granted Mr. Saunders leave to proceed in forma pauperis, dismissed his Complaint without prejudice as to all claims and all Defendants, and gave Mr. Saunders leave to file an amended complaint. (ECF Nos. 5 & 6.) In response to the Court's Memorandum and Order, Mr. Saunders submitted his Amended Complaint (ECF No. 10). For the following reasons, all but one of the claims alleged in the Amended Complaint will be dismissed with prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In the original Complaint (ECF No. 2), Mr. Saunders named the GEO Group, Inc., Superintendent John A. Reilly, Jr., Warden David Byrne, Deputy Warden Mario Colucci, and Correctional Officer Kenneth as defendants. He alleged that on August 1, 2018 he was committed to GWHCF and forced to sleep on the floor in the intake processing area with approximately 20 other inmates for four days. (ECF No. 2 at 5.)[1] He also claimed that the area reeked of urine and inmates had to sleep near the toilet while others used it. (Id.) Mr. Saunders also alleged that he was subsequently moved to an intake block where he slept on the floor in a "boat" next to a toilet for 10 days with two other inmates. (Id.) Mr. Saunders also alleged that on October 27, 2018, while housed on another block, Defendants Colucci and Kenneth announced that the water would be turned off for a short period. Mr. Saunders claimed that there was no water for three days while he was locked in his cell. (Id. at 5-6.) He also asserted that the plumbing in his cell began to leak waste and urine, he had to eat his meals in his cell under these conditions, and he could not wash himself. (Id. at 6.)

         As set forth in the original Complaint, Mr. Saunders alleged that on March 21, 2019, he fell off the top bunk, which was five feet high and had no safety rail. (Id. at 6-7.) He asserted that he landed on the concrete floor and was bleeding from his ear and mouth, and that he was sent to the GWHCF medical facilities and required two stitches. (Id. at 7.) Mr. Saunders alleged that he was then taken to an outside hospital due to concussion symptoms where a scan confirmed he had a concussion. (Id.) As alleged in the original Complaint, Mr. Saunders then returned to GWHFC and was housed in medical for 24 hours before being returned to his cell block with a "bottom bunk pass." (Id.) Mr. Saunders alleged that upon returning to his cell block, Defendant Kenneth informed him that his assigned cell already housed an inmate with a bottom bunk pass and Mr. Saunders was assigned a top bunk. (Id. at 7-8.) Mr. Saunders also alleged that on March 27, 2019, he saw an ear specialist who told him that he had a hole in his ear drum and prescribed antibiotics. (Id. at 8.) Mr. Saunders asserted that, complaining of headaches, and difficulty with sleeping and hearing, he saw the same specialist again on May 2, 2019. (Id.) Based on those allegations, Mr. Saunders sought to pursue claims that the conditions of his confinement constituted deliberate indifference in violation of his Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Id. at 10.)

         By Memorandum and Order entered on June 10, 2019, the Court granted Mr. Saunders leave to proceed in forma pauperis, screened his original Complaint, and dismissed all of Mr. Saunders's claims against all defendants without prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2(B)(ii) for failure to state a claim. (ECF No. 5 at 1, 3, 10.) At that time, the Court determined that Mr. Saunders's original Complaint did not allege a plausible constitutional violation regarding the conditions of his confinement because he failed to allege that the overcrowded conditions or the lack of a bunk rail deprived him of a basic need, or that these conditions constituted an objectively serious deprivation or punishment. (Id. at 5-6.) The Court also noted that Mr. Saunders failed to describe how each named defendant was personally responsible for the alleged harm he suffered as a result of the conditions he described. (Id. at 6, n.3.) Accordingly, the Court concluded that Mr. Saunders's original Complaint failed to state a claim against Defendants GEO Group, Inc., Reilly, Byrne, Colucci and Kenneth with respect to his allegations about the physical conditions of his cell and the lack of a bunk rail. (Id. at 7.)

         With respect to Mr. Saunders's Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim regarding his medical needs when he fell from the top bunk, the Court determined that Mr. Saunders had not alleged sufficient facts to state a plausible claim for relief under the Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference standard because he failed to allege that any named defendant was aware of his need for medical treatment but intentionally refused to provide it, that there was an unconstitutional delay in his receiving treatment for a non-medical reason, or that the Defendants prevented him from receiving needed or recommended treatment. (Id. at 7- 8.) The Court specifically noted that Mr. Saunders conceded that he received treatment after alerting correctional staff of his injuries, that he was taken to an outside hospital where he was treated for concussion symptoms, that he was kept in the prison medical ward for 24 hours upon returning from the hospital, and that he was later seen by a specialist who prescribed antibiotics and continued treatment through May 2019. (Id. at 8.)

         Finally, the Court addressed Mr. Saunders's claims against Corrections Officer Kenneth. As alleged in the original Complaint, the Court interpreted Mr. Saunders's claim against Kenneth regarding the denial of a bottom bunk as a Fourteenth Amendment denial of equal protection claim. (Id. at 9.) The Court determined that Mr. Saunders had failed to allege sufficient facts to state a plausible equal protection claim because he did not allege that he was a member of a protected class, that he was treated differently because of his membership in such a class, or that Officer Kenneth lacked a rational basis for denying him a bottom bunk. (Id.) The Court, in construing Mr. Saunders's original Complaint liberally, also considered the plausibility of Saunders's claim against Officer Kenneth to the extent he sought damages for an emotional injury based on the denial of a bottom bunk. (Id.) The Court concluded, however, that in light of the Prison Litigation Reform Act's requirement of a physical injury, Mr. Saunders's claim, as pled, failed because he sought damages only for emotional injuries and failed to allege a physical injury. (Id. at 10.)

         However, the Court granted Mr. Saunders leave to file an amended complaint in order to try to cure the defects noted in the Memorandum. (Id. at 7, 10.) The Court admonished Mr. Saunders that any amended complaint should comply with Rule 8 and must provide enough information to put each defendant on sufficient notice to prepare a defense and to ensure that the Court was adequately informed to determine the issue. (Id. at 7, n.5.) By Order entered on August 15, 2019, the Court granted Mr. Saunders an additional 30 days to file an amended complaint. (ECF No. 8 at 1.) Mr. Saunders timely filed the Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 10.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Because Mr. Saunders is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Amended Complaint is subject to screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), which requires the Court to dismiss the Amended 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. The Court construes his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).

         A complaint may be dismissed for failing to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. Garrett v. Wexford Health, 938 F.3d 69, 91 (3d Cir. 2019). To conform to Rule 8, a pleading must contain a short and plain statement showing that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. See Travaline v. U.S. Supreme Court, 424 Fed.Appx. 78, 79 (3d Cir. 2011). The Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently explained that in determining whether a pleading meets Rule 8's "plain" statement requirement, the Court should "ask whether, liberally construed, a pleading 'identifies discrete defendants and the actions taken by these defendants' in regard to the plaintiffs claims." Garrett, 938 F.3d at 93 (citation omitted). A pleading may still satisfy the "plain" statement requirement "even if it is vague, repetitious, or contains extraneous information" and "even if it does not include every name, date, and location of the incidents at issue." Id. at 93-94. The important consideration for the Court is whether, "a pro se complaint's language ... presents cognizable legal claims to which a defendant can respond on the merits." Id. at 94.

         However, "a pleading that is so 'vague or ambiguous' that a defendant cannot reasonably be expected to respond to it will not satisfy Rule 8." Id. at 93; see also Fabian v. St. Mary's Med. Ctr., Civ. A. No. 16-4741, 2017 WL 3494219, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 11, 2017) ("Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 requires that pleadings provide enough information to put a defendant on sufficient notice to prepare their defense and also ensure that the Court is sufficiently informed to determine the issue.") (quotations omitted). Dismissals under Rule 8 are '"reserved for those cases in which the complaint so confused, ambiguous, vague, or otherwise unintelligible that its true substance, if any, is well disguised.'" Garrett, 938 F.3d at 94 (quoting Salahuddin v. Cuomo, 861 F.2d 40, 42 (2d Cir. 1988)).

         III. ...


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