LAWS v. MAYE et al
MEMORANDUM. AN APPROPRIATE ORDER FOLLOWS.. SIGNED BY HONORABLE C. DARNELL JONES, II ON 2/1/17. 2/3/17 ENTERED AND COPIES MAILED TO PRO SE PLFF., E-MAILED TO COUNSEL, 1 COPY TO LEGAL BIN.(pr, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
LAWRENCE N. LAWS, JR.,
MAYOR JAMES KENNEY, et al., :
February 1, 2017
Lawrence Laws, Jr., filed a pro se form Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
alleging violations of his constitutional rights while incarcerated at the Curran-Fromhold
Correctional Facility (CFCF). Compl., ECF No. 5. Defendants are City of Philadelphia Mayor
James Kenney, Deputy Prison Commissioner Michael Resnick, and Warden Gerald May. The
City of Philadelphia Law Department, on behalf of Defendants, filed a motion to dismiss for
failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Defs.’ Mot., ECF No. 7. The
plaintiff has not responded to the motion. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted,
and the plaintiff is given leave to amend his Complaint.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Before granting an unopposed 12(b)(6) motion, a district court should satisfy
itself that the complaint does not, in fact, state a claim. Ray v. Reed, 240 F.App’x 455, 456 (3d
Cir. 2007) (citing to Stackhouse v. Mazurkiewicz, 95 l F.2d 29, 30 (3d Cir. 1991)).
In deciding a 12(b)(6) motion, courts must “accept all factual allegations as true,
construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under
any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.” Phillips v.
County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted). When, as here, the plaintiff is a pro se litigant, courts “have a special obligation to
construe his complaint liberally.” Zilich v. Lucht, 981 F.2d 694 (3d Cir. 1992) (citing to Haines
v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)). Nevertheless, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a
cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Fowler v. UPMC
Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009)). This standard, which applies to all civil cases, “asks for more than a sheer possibility
that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “[A]ll civil complaints must now
set out sufficient factual matter to show that the claim is facially plausible.” Fowler, 578 F.3d at
210 (internal quotation marks omitted). “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 (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 556 (2007)).
Liberally construed, the Complaint alleges the plaintiff is being housed in a cell
with two other inmates (also known as “triple celling”). See Compl. 5 (asking “not to be put in a
3 man cell anymore”). General allegations of triple and quadruple celling are also included in a
separate document attached to the form Complaint. See id. at 9-17. That document is written in
the first person and signed by a fellow inmate, Charles C. Palmer-Young. Id. at 16. There is no
indication that the declarations in that document were made under oath or under penalties of
perjury, or that any of the allegations contained therein pertain directly to the plaintiff. The
plaintiff also attached what seem to be scanned photographs or sketches of an empty prison cell.
See id. at 18-20. He does not explain the significance of these additional documents, but does
state “see attached forms” and “see attached documents” on the form Complaint next to the
headings, “What happened to you?” and “Who else saw what happened?” See id. at 3.
In addition to allegations of triple celling, the document attached to the form
Complaint includes a series of generalized grievances regarding inadequate conditions of
confinement at CFCF. See id. at 9-17. However, the only allegations pertaining specifically to
the plaintiff appear on the form Complaint, which states he was “locked down for hours, days at
a time,” and that he “slept [in] intake cells for two days on the floor by the toilets and feces.” Id.
at 3. He does not describe the context surrounding those incidents. Besides his request to be
removed from a “3 man cell,” the plaintiff seeks monetary damages, “bigger trays for the
facility,” “better and more guards that treat inmates as humans and not animals,” “more jail
activities” and “programs to help inmates with [readmission into] society.” Id. at 6.
The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects inmates against “cruel
and unusual punishment,” including prison conditions that deprive them of “the minimal
civilized measure of life’s necessities.” Tillery v. Owens, 907 F.2d 418, 426 (3d Cir. 1990)
(double celling, in combination with unconstitutionally unsanitary and unsafe conditions,
violated the Eighth Amendment). Section 1983 provides a remedy for individuals whose federal
constitutional rights have been violated by anyone acting under color of state law. Kaucher v.
Cnty. of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006).
Under section 1983, “[a]n individual government defendant . . . must have
personal involvement in the alleged wrongdoing; liability cannot be predicated solely on the
operation of respondeat superior.” Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 353 (3d Cir. 2005) (original
alterations omitted). There are “two general ways in which a supervisor-defendant may be
liable” under section 1983: (1) they personally participated in, directed others to commit, or had
actual knowledge of and acquiesced to, the constitutional violation, or (2) they “established and
maintained a policy, practice or custom which directly caused the constitutional harm” and did
so “with deliberate indifference to the consequences.” Barkes v. First. Corr. Med., Inc., 766
F.3d 307, 316 (3d Cir. 2014) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted), rev’d on other
grounds by Taylor v. Barkes, 135 S. Ct. 2042 (2015).
Defendants do not challenge the substance of plaintiff’s claims; rather, they argue
that the Complaint should be dismissed because it fails to allege their “personal involvement in
any alleged wrongdoing.” Defs.’ Br. at 1-2, ECF No. 7. Viewing the Complaint in the light
most favorable to the plaintiff, this Court agrees that the Complaint does not contain sufficient
facts to plausibly establish Defendants’ liability. The plaintiff sues senior municipal officials but
does not allege that any of them personally participated in, or specifically directed anyone else to
carry out, the alleged wrongdoing. The plaintiff does not even allege any involvement
whatsoever on the part of Deputy Commissioner Resnick, other than to name him as a defendant
in the Complaint’s caption. See Wood v. Williams, 568 F. App’x 100, 107 (3d Cir. 2014)
(affirming district court’s decision to dismiss claim against a named defendant where the
complaint failed “to allege any facts whatsoever with respect” to that defendant).
The plaintiff does claim, in a conclusory manner, that Warden May “allows these
things to happen” and that Mayor Kenney “knows what’s going on and does not to help the
problem.” Compl. 3. However, the Complaint lacks factual content that would allow this Court
to infer Mayor Kenney’s or Warden May’s knowledge of the plaintiff’s particular situation,
much less their acquiescence to it. See Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 131-32 (3d
Cir. 2010) (allegations that supervisors “permitted the use of excessive force” or “specifically
sought” the allegedly wrongful conduct, without more, were insufficient).
Although Defendants only address the first theory of supervisory liability, this
Court finds that the Complaint also fails to satisfy the second theory. Nowhere in his form
Complaint does the plaintiff allege the existence of a policy authorizing triple celling or the
mistreatment he allegedly experienced. Indeed, he does not even allege that other inmates are
housed in cells with three or more inmates, or are persistently mistreated, so as to show a
practice or custom. Cf. Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002)
(plaintiff did not allege a constitutionally deficient policy or that “other inmates suffered similar
deprivations ... that might establish a custom”); Bielevicz v. Dubinon, 915 F.2d 845, 850 (3d Cir.
1990) (custom may be proven by showing that a specific course of conduct is “well-settled and
permanent,” even if that conduct is not endorsed by a written rule).
The generalized allegations contained in the document attached to the form
Complaint do not cure the pleading deficiencies. To begin, the authenticity and significance of
that document is unclear. It is signed by a third party but is neither an affidavit nor an unsworn
declaration made under penalties of perjury. But even assuming one could surmise a policy or
custom of triple celling and general abuse from those allegations, Defendants are mentioned
nowhere in that document. See Wood, 568 F. App’x at 107 (dismissal affirmed because
pleadings failed to allege any conduct “whatsoever” by defendant); cf. Brown v. Muhlenberg
Twp., 269 F.3d 205, 216 (3d Cir. 2001) (plaintiff failed to identify defendant’s “specific acts or
omissions that evidence[d] deliberate indifference” or persuade the court that a relationship
between the allegedly deficient policy and the injury suffered existed). Thus, the Complaint fails
to state a claim against Defendants.
Because the Complaint does not adequately allege Defendants’ liability, the
motion to dismiss is granted. Nevertheless, it is conceivable the plaintiff could (1) specify
further facts to support a claim that his constitutional rights were violated due to inadequate
prison conditions involving triple celling or other abuses, and (2) state a viable claim of
supervisor liability against Defendants for injuries suffered as a result of any of the alleged
constitutional violations, including through the implementation of deficient policies, practices or
customs with deliberate indifference to their harmful consequences. Thus, the plaintiff is granted
leave to amend his Complaint. See Grayson, 293 F.3d at 108 (plaintiff is entitled to amend his
complaint “unless doing so would be inequitable or futile”). A corresponding order follows.
BY THE COURT:
/s/ C. Darnell Jones, II
C. Darnell Jones, II J.
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