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Talley v. Pillai

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh.

December 9, 2019




         Plaintiff, Quintez Talley, has brought this lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”), DOC Secretary John Wetzel, Captain “Shredder, ” and Lt. Morris (collectively referred to as the “Commonwealth Defendants”)[2] and Dr. Pushkalai Pillai, a psychiatrist, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Titles II and V of the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131-12165. He also brings a state law claim of assault and battery against Lt. Morris and a state law claim of medical malpractice against Dr. Pillai. The Complaint filed at ECF No. 7 is the operative pleading.

         Two motions to dismiss are pending before the Court: (i) the motion to dismiss filed by the Commonwealth Defendants (ECF No. 25), and (ii) the motion to dismiss filed by Defendant Pillai (ECF No. 28), which was converted in part to a motion for summary judgment only on the issue of exhaustion. Talley has responded in opposition to each motion. (ECF Nos. 32 and 37). Dr. Pillai filed a reply brief (ECF No. 38), to which Talley filed a Sur-Reply. (ECF No. 41). The matter is ripe for resolution. For the reasons that follow, the motions will be granted and this case will be dismissed with prejudice.


         The events giving rise to this lawsuit occurred on August 8, 2016, while Talley was housed at SCI-Greene.[4] On that day, Talley was housed in a psychiatric observation cell (“POC”) after claiming to be suicidal. During Dr. Pillai's daily rounds, Talley asked to be moved to the Mental Health Unit (“MHU”). Dr. Pillai refused and told Talley that if he “continued to be suicidal, she'd send him back to the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU).” Complaint at ¶ 10. Later that same day, Lt. Morris came to Talley's POC cell to move him to the RHU, but Talley refused to be moved stating that he was suicidal. Lt. Morris then spoke to Dr. Pillai who told him to move Talley to a RHU cell with a camera so that he could be observed. Lt. Morris told Talley what Dr. Pillai had said, but Talley continued not to comply. At that point, Lt. Morris threatened to spray Talley with OC spray as part of planned use of force if Talley would not voluntarily exit his cell. Capt. Shrader[5]then spoke with Talley, but did not overrule Dr. Pillai's directive to move him to a RHU cell with a camera. When Talley saw an extraction team assembling ready to use force to remove him from the POC cell, he said he was no longer suicidal and came out of the POC cell voluntarily. Talley alleges that Secretary Wetzel maintains policies which disregard the care of mentally ill patients. Talley seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive and declaratory relief.

         Standard of Review

         The applicable inquiry under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is well settled. 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)).

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has held that, in civil rights cases, a court must give a plaintiff the opportunity to amend a deficient complaint - regardless of whether the plaintiff requests to do so - when dismissing a case for failure to state a claim, unless doing so would be inequitable or futile. See Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 251 (3d Cir. 2007).


         A. The Complaint fails to state a claim against the Commonwealth Defendants

         1. Excessive Force Claims

         In his Complaint, Talley alleges that Defendants Morris, Shrader, and the U/K Defendants violated his rights under the “excessive force” clause of Article I, Section 13 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Complaint at ¶ 32. Talley, however, represents in his brief in opposition to the Commonwealth Defendants' motion to dismiss, that he has voluntarily agreed to dismiss this claim. Br. at n. 7 (ECF No. 32). Therefore this claim is dismissed.

         2. Title II of the ADA Claim

         Title II of the ADA provides, in relevant part, “that no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefit of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, [6] or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.” 42 U.S.C. § 12132. Title II of the ADA does not apply to individuals in their individual capacities. Plaintiff states that his claim against Secretary Wetzel “is being brought against Defendant Wetzel in his ‘official' capacity, i.e., against his office (Defendant DOC).” Pl's Br. at 4-5.

         The Commonwealth Defendants argue that, not only are they entitled to Eleventh Immunity on this claim, but Talley's claim has no merit. The Court agrees with the Commonwealth Defendants, and finds that, even assuming arguendo that Talley's claims are not barred by the Eleventh Amendment, this claim has no merit. To state a claim, Talley has to allege that (1) he is a qualified individual with a disability; (2) that he was excluded from participation in or denied benefits of DOC's services, programs, or activities; and (3) such exclusion, denial of benefits, or discrimination was by reason of his disability. Furgess v. Pa Dep't of Corr., 933 F.3d 285 (3d Cir. 2019).

         Talley argues that he is a “qualified individual with a disability” and that the POC and MHU provide “services and/or programming / placement, ” Complaint at ¶ 23, which were denied to him when he was moved to the RHU. Even if Talley could show that he has a qualifying disability, he has alleged no facts describing what programs he was excluded from and he alleges no facts which show that such purported exclusion was on account of any mental health disability. Brown v. Pa. Dep't of Corr., 290 Fed.Appx. 463, 467 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 12132) (stating that a plaintiff must allege facts “sufficient to show that he was excluded ‘by reason of his disability.”). Simply stated, Talley does not allege facts making out a plausible claim of discrimination due to his mental illness. Therefore, this claim will be dismissed.

         3. Title V of the ADA and First Amendment ...

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