Mawhinney v. Morgan et al
MEMORANDUM - Signed by Judge Gregory M. Sleet on 5/7/12. (dzs, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE
WARDEN PHILLIP MORGAN, et aI.,
) Civ. Action No. 12-003-GMS
The plaintiff, Michael Mawhinney ("Mawhinney"), an inmate at the Howard R. Young
Correctional Institution ("HRYCI"), Wilmington, Delaware, filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983 alleging unlawful conditions of confinement in violation of the United States
Constitution.! (D.I. 3.) He appears pro se and was granted permission to proceed informa
pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. (D.I. 5.) The court proceeds to review and screen the
complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A(b)(I).
On October 26, 2011, Mawhinney was housed at the east side basement area of the
HRYCI. He arrived around 2:45 PM and by 4:30 PM he had become itchy, with a swollen face
and eyes, his throat was closing, and he was short of breath. Mawhinney complained to the nurse
and was sent to the infirmary. There, he informed the nurse that he has allergies. The nurse
contacted the defendant Dr. Wallace ("Dr. Wallace"), who ordered Mawhinney back to his bunk
in the basement. Within two hours, Mawhinney had the same allergic reaction and the officer on
!Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that some person has deprived him
of a federal right, and that the person who caused the deprivation acted under color of state law.
See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
duty sent Mawhinney to the infirmary. After some time in the infirmary, Mawhinney stabilized
and Dr. Wallace and the defendant Warden Phil Morgan ("Morgan") returned Mawhinney to the
basement unit. Within an hour, Mawhinney returned to the infirmary. At that point, Mawhinney
was transferred to the l-C pod where he has been housed for over a month without an allergic
reaction of the type that occurred when he was housed in the basement unit. The complaint does
not contain a prayer for relief.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
This court must dismiss, at the earliest practicable time, certain in forma pauperis and
prisoner actions that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim, or seek monetary relief from a
defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) (informapauperis
actions); 28 U. S. C. § 1915A (actions in which prisoner seeks redress from a governmental
defendant); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (prisoner actions brought with respect to prison conditions). The
court must accept all factual allegations in a complaint as true and take them in the light most
favorable to a pro se plaintiff. Phillips v. County ofAllegheny, 515 F .3d 224, 229 (3d Cir. 2008);
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). Because Mawhinney proceeds pro se, his pleading
is liberally construed and his complaint, "however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less
stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. at
94 (citations omitted).
An action is frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v.
Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and § 1915A(b)(I), a
court may dismiss a complaint as frivolous if it is "based on an indisputably meritless legal
theory" or a "clearly baseless" or "fantastic or delusional" factual scenario. Neitzke, 490 at 327
28; Wilson v. Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir. 1989); see, e.g., Deutsch v. United States, 67
F.3d 1080, 1091-92 (3d Cir. 1995) (holding frivolous a suit alleging that prison officials took an
inmate's pen and refused to give it back).
The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to
§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and § 1915A(b)(1) is identical to the legal standard used when ruling on
12(b)(6) motions. Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999) (applying Fed. R.
Civ. P. 12(b)(6) standard to dismissal for failure to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)).
However, before dismissing a complaint or claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief
may be granted pursuant to the screening provisions of28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A, the court
must grant Mawhinney leave to amend his complaint unless amendment would be inequitable or
futile. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hasp., 293 F.3d 103,114 (3d Cir. 2002).
A well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere labels and conclusions. See
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). The
assumption of truth is inapplicable to legal conclusions or to "[t]hreadbare recitals of the
elements of a cause of action supported by mere conclusory statements." Id. at 678. When
determining whether dismissal is appropriate, the court conducts a two.,.part analysis. Fowler v.
UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203,210 (3d Cir. 2009). First, the factual and legal elements ofa
claim are separated. Id. The court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true,
but may disregard any legal conclusions. Id. at 210-11. Second, the court must determine
whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that Mawhinney has a "plausible
claim for relief.,,2 Id. at 211. In other words, the complaint must do more than allege
Mawhinney's entitlement to relief; rather it must "show" such an entitlement with its facts. Id.
"[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than a mere possibility of
misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not shown - that the pleader is entitled to
relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)).
Mawhinney's claim centers around one day when, after an allergic reaction, he was twice
returned to his assigned cell in a basement unit before transferred to a different location. It is
unclear from the complaint if Mawhinney is a sentenced inmate or a pretrial detainee.
If Mawhinney is a pretrial detainee, he retains at least those constitutional rights enjoyed
by convicted prisoners with regard to conditions of confinement. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U. S. 520,
545 (1979); Hubbardv. Taylor, 399 F.3d 150, 165-66 (2005). "[W]henpretrial detainees
challenge their conditions of confinement, the Court considers whether there has been a violation
of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." Hubbard v. Taylor, 538 F.3d 229,
231 (3d Cir. 2008). The "proper inquiry is whether those conditions amount to punishment of
the detainee." Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. at 535. To determine whether challenged conditions of
confinement amount to punishment, the court considers that "if a particular condition or
restriction of pretrial detention is reasonably related to a legitimate governmental objective, it
2A claim is facially plausible when its factual content allows the court to draw a
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The plausibility standard "asks for more than a sheer
possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are
'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it 'stops short of the line between possibility and
plausibility of 'entitlement to relief. '" Id.
does not, without more, amount to punishment.'" Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. at 539; Stevenson v.
Carroll, 495 F.3d 62, 67 (3d Cir. 2007).
"Not every disability imposed during pretrial detention amounts to 'punishment' in the
constitutional sense, however. . .. [T]he fact that such detention interferes with the detainee's
understandable desire to live as comfortably as possible and with as little restraint as possible
during confinement does not convert the conditions or restrictions of detention into
'punishment. ", Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. at 537 (1979). When assessing whether the conditions
are reasonably related to the assigned purposes, the court must inquire whether the conditions
cause an inmates to endure such genuine privations and hardship over an extended period of time
such that the adverse conditions become excessive in relation to the purposes assigned to them."
Hubbard, 399 F.3d at 159.
Mawhinney's allegations fail to state a claim for "punishment" in violation of the
Fourteenth Amendment. Each time Mawhinney exhibited allergic reactions, he was sent to the
medical unit, monitored, and stabilized. Notably, he was not housed in basement location for an
extended period but for only one day. Finally, it is evident from the allegations, that it was
Mawhinney's medical condition, not unconstitutional conditions of confinement, that caused his
reaction in the basement housing assignment. When it became apparent that Mawhinney could
not remain housed in the basement, he was transferred to a different housing unit. Since that
time, there have been no allergy issues. Mawhinney'S claim does not rise to the level of the type
of genuine privation that qualifies as punishment.
If Mawhinney is a sentenced inmate, the Eighth Amendment applies, and his claim fares
no better. "The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits any punishment
which violates civilized standards and concepts of humanity and decency." Young v. Quinlan,
960 F.2d 351, 364 (3d Cir. 1992), superseded on other grounds by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). A
prisoner does not lose this protection despite a prison sentence, for "the treatment a prisoner
receives in prison and the conditions under which he is confined are subject to scrutiny under the
Eighth Amendment." Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993).
A condition of confinement violates the Eighth Amendment only if it is so reprehensible
as to be deemed inhumane under contemporary standards or such that it deprives an inmate of
minimal civilized measure of the necessities of life. See Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 8
(1992); Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294,298 (1991). When an Eighth Amendment claim is
brought against a prison official it must meet two requirements: (1) the deprivation alleged must
be, objectively, sufficiently serious; and (2) the prison official must have been deliberately
indifferent to the inmate's health or safety. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). The
objective element requires a prisoner to show that his living conditions amounted to a "serious
deprivation of basic human needs." Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981). The
subjective element requires that the prison official must actually have known or been aware of
the excessive risk to inmate safety. Beers-Capitol v. Whetzel, 256 F.3d 120, 125 (3d Cir. 2001).
The allegations fail to allege deliberate indifference to Mawhinney's health or safety. As
discussed, each time the allergic condition manifested itself, Mawhinney was sent to the medical
unit, monitored, and stabilized. Notably, he was transferred to another housing unit when it
became evident that he could not tolerate his basement housing assignment.
For the above reasons, the court will dismiss the conditions of confinement claim under
both the Fourteenth Amendment and the Eighth Amendment as frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and § 1915A(b)(1) and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1).
For the above reasons, the complaint is dismissed as frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A(b)(I) and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1). Amendment of the complaint is
An appropriate order will be entered.
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