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McGowan v. Reisner

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 10, 2019

CHRISTOPHER PATRICK MCGOWAN, Plaintiff
v.
OFFICER REISNER, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM

          Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge United States District Court.

         Plaintiff Christopher Patrick McGowan (“McGowan”), a former pretrial detainee who was housed at all relevant times at the Franklin County Jail, in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, initiated this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1). The sole remaining defendant is officer Reisner. Before the court is defendant's Rule 12(b) motion to dismiss. (Doc. 30). For the reasons set forth below, the court will grant defendant's motion and dismiss the complaint with leave to amend.

         I. Allegations of the Complaint

         On or about September 1, 2017, defendant Reisner allegedly conducted a search of McGowan's cell. (Doc. 1, at 4-5). McGowan walked up to the cell during the search and insisted on remaining there to watch. (Id.) Defendant Reisner allegedly told McGowan to go downstairs during the search. (Id. at 4). McGowan refused to leave and, as a result, he was placed in segregated confinement for twelve days. (Id. at 4-5). McGowan alleges that he suffered mental and emotional injuries due to this incident. (Id. at 5). At the time of the incident, McGowan was a pretrial detainee at the Franklin County Jail. (Id. at 4).

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must “accept as true all [factual] allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)). Although the court is generally limited in its review to the facts contained in the complaint, it “may also consider matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case.” Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n. 2 (3d Cir. 1994); see also In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997).

         Federal notice and pleading rules require the complaint to provide “the defendant notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To test the sufficiency of the complaint in the face of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must conduct a three-step inquiry. See Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130-31 (3d Cir. 2010). In the first step, “the court must ‘tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.'” Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 675 (2009)). Next, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated; well-pleaded facts must be accepted as true, while mere legal conclusions may be disregarded. Id.; see also Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Once the well-pleaded factual allegations have been isolated, the court must determine whether they are sufficient to show a “plausible claim for relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (requiring plaintiffs to allege facts sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level”). A claim “has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         III. Discussion

         A. Mental and Emotional Injury

         McGowan alleges that he suffered mental and emotional injuries as a result of defendant's alleged conduct. (Doc. 1, at 5). There are no alleged physical injuries described in the complaint. (See Doc. 1).

         42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) provides that “[n]o federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail, prison or other correctional facility, for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury.” In Allah v. Al-Hafeez, 226 F.3d 247, 250 (3d Cir. 2000), the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recognized that where a plaintiff fails to allege actual injury, section 1997e(e) bars recovery of compensatory damages. However, the Court added that an inmate alleging a violation of his constitutional rights may still pursue the action to recover nominal and/or punitive damages even in the absence of compensable harm. See id.

         McGowan's civil rights claims assert violations of his constitutional rights and seek both compensatory and punitive damages. (See Doc. 1, at 5). Under the standards announced in Allah and section 1997e(e), McGowan's request for monetary relief to the extent that it seeks compensatory damages for mental and emotional injuries is barred; however, the court will examine McGowan's claims to the extent they seek noncompensatory damages.

         B. Fourth Amendment Claim

         McGowan alleges that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when defendant Reisner refused to allow him to observe the cell search. At best, pretrial detainees have a “diminished expectation of privacy after commitment to a custodial facility, ” and “[i]t may well be argued that a person confined in a detention facility has no reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to his room or cell and that therefore the Fourth Amendment provides no protection for such a person.” Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 556-57, 99 S.Ct. 1861 (1979). Thus, unannounced searches of a pretrial detainee's cell at irregular intervals do not violate the Fourth Amendment, even if conducted outside the inmate's presence. See id. at 555-57; see also Block v. Rutherford, 468 U.S. 576, 589-91 (1984); Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 527, 104 S.Ct. 3194 (1984) (“[A]dministration of a prison . . . would be literally impossible . . . if inmates ...


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