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Talley v. Griesmer

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

November 4, 2019



          SAVAGE, J.

         Plaintiff Quintez Talley, a prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this civil action asserting that the defendants violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.[1] He also claims they breached a settlement agreement in an unrelated matter when they punished him for manifesting his mental illness and denied him psychological services.[2] He has sued the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC), Secretary Wetzel, Lieutenant Kull, Sergeant Aleman, Psychologist Nash, and Corrections Officers Griesemer, Schoeneberger, and Woodward.[3]

         Defendants have moved to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) and failure to state a claim. They also invoke qualified and sovereign immunity. Because Talley fails to state any claims, we shall grant the motion and dismiss the complaint.[4]

         Background [5]

         On May 1, 2017, Talley refused to return a razor after Griesemer verbally harassed him and called him names.[6] Woodward and Schoeneberger attempted to use Talley's breakfast tray “as a bargaining chip in exchange for the razor.”[7] Talley responded by cutting himself and stating that he would kill himself.[8] They offered to allow him to speak to Kull, but he still refused to relinquish the razor.[9] When Nash and Aleman arrived, Talley told them he was suicidal and would not surrender the razor until he was allowed to report Griesemer.[10] After Nash and Aleman left, Aleman returned wearing a rubber glove and “insisting” that Talley relinquish the razor.[11] Aleman's “primary concern remained with [Talley] giving up the razor.”[12] Talley continued to refuse, and Aleman left to inform Kull.[13] While performing medication rounds, Nurse George saw Talley cutting himself and went to retrieve Kull.[14]

         When Kull arrived and Talley reported Griesemer's name-calling, Kull suggested it was accurate.[15] George returned and attempted to clean Talley's cuts, but Kull initially insisted that George clean them through the cell door.[16] Talley objected and was treated in the medical triage area instead.[17]

         Talley appeared before Hearing Examiner Yodis for a misconduct hearing on May 11, 2017, on charges arising out of the incident.[18] Talley pled not guilty and claimed that Griesemer, Schoeneberger and Woodward demonstrated “deliberate indifference” by leaving him bleeding in his cell for over an hour.[19] The misconduct was dismissed due to Talley's “self-injurious behavior.”[20]

         Talley alleges that the DOC, Wetzel and Griesemer violated the ADA and the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, and breached the Settlement Agreement and General Release (Settlement Agreement) in Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania v. Wetzel, No. 1:13-CV-00635 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 9, 2015) (ECF No. 59) when they charged him with misconduct for cutting himself. He also claims that Griesemer, Woodward, Schoeneberger, Kull, Aleman and Nash violated the ADA and the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments when they failed to provide him access to a mental health professional.[21]

         Defendants move to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies because Talley failed to follow the mandatory administrative process.[22] They also argue that he fails to state a claim and that they are immune from suit.

         Standard of Review

         Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court may dismiss all or part of an action for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The complaint must plead “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). The plaintiff must allege facts that indicate “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. Pleading only “facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability” is insufficient and cannot survive a motion to dismiss. Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         A conclusory recitation of the elements of a cause of action is not sufficient. Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008). The plaintiff must allege facts necessary to make out each element. Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563 n.8). In other words, the complaint must contain facts which, if proven later, support a conclusion that the cause of action can be established.

         In assessing the sufficiency of a complaint, a court must: (1) identify the elements of the causes of action; (2) disregard conclusory statements, leaving only factual allegations; and (3) assuming the truth of those factual allegations, determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. Palakovic v. Wetzel, 854 F.3d 209, 220 (3d Cir. 2017) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted) (quoting Burtch v. Millberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 221 (3d Cir. 2011)).


         Defendants argue that Talley failed to exhaust his administrative remedies under the PLRA.[23] Exhaustion is not a jurisdictional requirement. Nyhuis v. Reno, 204 F.3d 65, 69 n.4 (3d Cir. 2000).

         Defendants point out that Talley never filed a grievance pursuant to DC-ADM 804, “Inmate Grievance System, ” about the events in question. But, that policy statement provides:

Issues concerning a specific inmate misconduct charge [or] statements written within a misconduct . . . will not be addressed through the Inmate Grievance System and must be addressed through Department policy DC-ADM 801, “Inmate Discipline” . . . . Issues other than specified above must be addressed through the Inmate Grievance System.

DC-ADM 804 § 1.A.7 (emphasis in original).

         Talley was charged with misconduct for refusing to return the razor and threatening to cut any prison personnel who attempted to take it from him.[24] He defended against the charge on the bases that the correctional officers were deliberately indifferent when they left him alone in his cell while he continued to cut himself. He contends that he should not have been charged for this self-injurious behavior.[25] The hearing examiner found him not guilty and dismissed the charges.[26] It is not clear what, if anything, remained to be addressed under DC-ADM 801. On the other hand, it is not clear that Talley's two-sentence response to the charges encompasses all the conduct at issue in his complaint.

         Because it is unclear whether Talley exhausted his administrative remedies, we consider the merits of his claims. See Hurst v. Snider, 530 Fed.Appx. 168, 169 n.3 (3d Cir. 2013) (“Given the uncertainty regarding exhaustion, we have chosen to address the substance of Hurst's claims.”) (citing Nyhuis, 204 F.3d at 69 n.4); Gorrell v. Yost, 509 Fed.Appx. 114, 117 n.1 (3d Cir. 2013) (“Although the defendants argued that Gorrell had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies for this claim, the District Court chose to dismiss his claim without resolving the issue of exhaustion.”) (citing Nyhuis, 204 F.3d at 69 n.4).

         ADA Claims

         The ADA makes it unlawful for public entities, including prisons, to discriminate against the disabled in the provision of services, programs and activities. Disability Rights N.J., Inc. v. Comm'r, N.J. Dep't of Human Servs., 796 F.3d 293, 301 (3d Cir. 2015) (citing Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509, 517 (2004)); Chisholm v. McManimon, 275 F.3d 315, 325 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Pa. Dep't of Corr. v. Yeskey, 524 U.S. 206 (1998)). To state an ADA claim, the plaintiff must allege “that he is a ‘qualified individual with a disability' [and] that he was excluded from a service, program, or activity of a public entity . . . because of his disability.” Disability Rights N.J., Inc., 796 F.3d at 301 (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(A)). Mental illness is a disability under the ADA. 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(A).

         Talley first alleges that the DOC, Wetzel and Griesemer violated the ADA by “punishing him in the same way other non-mentally ill inmates would have been punished” after he cut himself.[27] However, the documents attached to Talley's complaint show that his mental illness was why he was not punished. Talley was charged with threatening prison employees, refusing to obey orders, possession of contraband and destroying state property because he refused to relinquish the razor and threatened to cut anyone who opened his cell door.[28] But, because of his self-injurious behavior, a manifestation of his mental illness, the hearing examiner found him not guilty and dismissed the charges against him.[29]

         Talley also alleges that Griesemer, Woodward, Schoeneberger, Kull, Aleman and Nash violated the ADA by denying him “psychological/psychiatric services/programming . . . on account of his ‘disability' (i.e., mental infirmity/SIB [self-injurious behavior] and suicidal ideations).”[30] He claims that the defendants refused him psychological services because he has a psychological problem. Talley does not allege facts supporting this circular conclusion. In effect, he alleges only that the visits to his cell by Psychologist Nash, Nurse George and others who attempted to stop him from cutting himself constituted inadequate mental health treatment.[31] These allegations do not show that he received inadequate or no treatment “by reason of” his disability. See Brown v. Pa. Dep't of Corr., 290 Fed.Appx. 463, 467 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 12132); see also Brown v. Deparlos, 492 Fed.Appx. 211, 215 (3d Cir. 2012). Therefore, he fails to state a claim for violation of the ADA.

         Section 1983 Claims

         “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). The DOC, as a state agency, is not a “person” under § 1983. Estate of Lagano v. Bergen Cty. Prosecutor's Office, 769 F.3d 850, 847 (3d Cir. 2014). Nor do the facts pled by Talley establish a plausible constitutional violation against any individual defendant.[32]

         Eighth Amendment Claims

         Talley claims that bringing the misconduct charges violated the Eighth Amendment because they were “punishment[ ] for manifestations of his mental illness . . . .”[33] The Eighth Amendment prohibits punishment that “violates civilized standards of humanity and decency.” Griffin v. Vaughn, 112 F.3d 703, 709 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing Young v. Quinlan, 960 F.2d 351, 359 (3d Cir. 1992)). To state a claim under the Eighth Amendment, a plaintiff must allege prison conditions that “deprived him of life's minimum necessities, that the deprivation was sufficiently serious, and that a prison official acted with deliberate indifference in subjecting him to that deprivation.” Renchenski v. Williams, 622 F.3d 315, 338 (3d Cir. 2010) (quotation omitted). “False misconduct charges themselves do not constitute the denial of ‘basic human needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, medical care and personal safety.'” Booth v. Pence, 354 F.Supp.2d 553, 559 (E.D. Pa. 2005) (quoting Griffin, 112 F.3d at 709); see also Hagan v. Chambers, No. 1:08-CV-1766, 2010 WL 4812973, at *15 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 19, 2010) (“A false misconduct charge, standing alone, does not qualify as an Eighth Amendment violation.”) (citing Griffin, 112 F.3d at 709) (additional citations omitted). Here, Talley does not allege that the charges resulted in the denial of any basic necessity.

         Talley claims that the “refusal to contact psychological/psychiatric personnel” after he threatened suicide and cut himself also violated the Eighth Amendment.[34] The Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment extends to a prisoner's right to medical care. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102, 103 (1976) (internal citations omitted). Failure to provide adequate medical care violates a prisoner's right to be free from cruel and unusual ...

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