WALTERS v. BERKS COUNTY PRISON
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE MARY A. MCLAUGHLIN ON 3/9/12. 3/9/12 ENTERED AND COPIES MAILED TO PRO SE PETITIONER AND E-MAILED. (jpd)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
BERKS COUNTY PRISON
March 9, 2012
The plaintiff, who has since been released from
custody, filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that his
constitutional rights were violated as a result of the conditions
he experienced and the treatment he received while confined at
the Berks County Jail System (“BCJS”).
The defendant has moved
to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim or plead
facts that give rise to municipal liability.
The Court will
grant the defendant’s motion.
The plaintiff alleges that the physical conditions of
his cell were unsanitary to the point of violating his
The plaintiff was “housed in an area
where [he was] being forced to eat and sleep directly next to a
toilet . . . emitting unpleasant odors” and was not permitted to
eat elsewhere, despite the presence of mice and insects.
cell had cracks in the concrete floors and walls, which also
contained plaster debris and were painted with lead.
Tr. Hr’g 1/25/12 at 8.
As a result of those conditions and the presence of
mice and ants, he was at a high risk for infection.
the overhead light in the plaintiff’s cell was not turned off at
nighttime, making it difficult to sleep.
The plaintiff claims
that these conditions violated his “rights to a safe and clean
The plaintiff also suffered an infection approximately
the size of a silver dollar on his left leg from July to December
Medical staff treated the infection with an antibiotic,
wrapped his wound with a bandage, and told him that his dressing
would be changed daily.
Despite requesting assistance, the
plaintiff did not receive additional treatment and he treated the
As a result, the plaintiff developed a scar, lost
muscle mass, and experienced severe pain.
plaintiff alleges that the unsanitary conditions at the BCJS
caused the infection in his leg, as evidenced by posters at the
prison warning of a bacterial infection the Court understands may
have been methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or “MRSA.”
Tr. Hr’g 1/25/12 at 5-6.
At other times, the plaintiff suggested
that the infection might be something other than MRSA.
The plaintiff argues that the negligent and neglectful
behavior of individual members of medical staff working at the
prison resulted in his infection.
At oral argument the defendant
clarified that this staffer was likely a physician’s assistant
for Prime Care Medical, the BCJS’s medical contractor.
Id. at 7,
The plaintiff is no longer confined in the BCJS.
complaint seeks an order directing the BCJS to fix the problems
in the prison and money damages for the time he spent
incarcerated under such conditions in 2010-2011.
The defendant has moved to dismiss the complaint,
asserting that the plaintiff fails to state a claim and fails to
allege facts sufficient to support a claim of municipal
The Court agrees, finding that the facts alleged by
the plaintiff do not give rise to a constitutional violation and
are insufficient to impose municipal liability on BCJS.
Eighth Amendment Violations
The Eighth Amendment is violated by the conditions of
an inmate’s confinement when there is an “unnecessary and wanton
infliction of pain” by prison officials, “whether that conduct
occurs in connection with establishing conditions of confinement
[or] supplying medical needs.”
Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312,
The conditions of imprisonment may violate the
Eighth Amendment if they, “alone or in combination, . . . deprive
inmates of the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities.”
Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981).
include “adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.”
Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994).
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third
Circuit has interpreted the “deprivation of basic human needs”
standard as requiring proof of two elements: (a) “a sufficiently
serious objective deprivation,” and (b) “that a prison official
subjectively acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind,
i.e., deliberate indifference.”
Tillman v. Lebanon County
Correctional Facility, 221 F.3d 410, 418 (3d Cir. 2000).
Deliberate indifference requires that a prison official acted
with actual awareness of excessive risks to the plaintiff’s
Beers-Capitol v. Whetzel, 256 F.3d 120, 133 (3d Cir.
Here, the plaintiff’s allegations do not establish that
the conditions in the his cell deprived him of life’s
See, e.g., Flores v. Wagner, No. 11-1846, 2011 WL
2681596 (E.D. Pa. July 8, 2011) (concluding that another BCJS
inmate’s being forced to eat meals next to his toilet did not
violate the Constitution).
See also Detainees of the Brooklyn
House of Detention for Men v. Malcolm, 520 F.2d 392, 396 (2d Cir.
1975) (“The discomfort of eating in a cell is not, of itself, an
unconstitutional hardship . . . .”).
The conditions of the
plaintiff’s confinement as stated, while harsh, do not meet the
high standard of an “extreme deprivation” required to state a
claim for constitutional violations arising out of conditions of
Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 8-9 (1992).
Finally, the plaintiff’s allegations regarding his
infection do not state a claim under Section 1983 as against
The plaintiff acknowledges that he in fact did receive
medical treatment, and his allegations are conceded to be ones of
neglect rather than the “deliberate indifference” required by
prison officials for a cognizable constitutional violation.
plaintiff’s reference to posters at the BCJS regarding infection
suggests that the prison was in fact aware of the risk of
infection and took steps to combat it, rather than that BCJS was
deliberately indifferent to the risk of infection.
See Tr. Hr’g
Further, the defendant made clear at oral argument that
medical treatment at the prison is performed by a third-party
contractor rather than prison officials.
For these reasons,
the Court cannot conclude that any actions taken by BCJS with
respect to the plaintiff’s medical treatment violated his
The plaintiff’s factual allegations regarding his
treatment can not state a claim against BCJS unless he can show
in an amended pleading that (a) BCJS took actions that worked a
constitutional deprivation with respect to the plaintiff’s
medical care, and, as explained below, (b) such a deprivation was
pursuant to a policy, practice, or custom of BCJS.
The plaintiff also has not alleged facts sufficient to
state a claim against BCJS, a governmental entity, on his claims
relating to medical treatment.
To state a claim for relief under
Section 1983 against a governmental entity for the actions of its
employees, those individuals must have acted in a way that can
“fairly be said to represent official policy.”
Carter v. City of
Phila., 181 F.3d 339, 356-57 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting Monell v.
N.Y. City Dept. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978)).
is because government entities cannot be held liable under
Section 1983 on a respondeat superior theory.
Monell, 436 U.S.
Here, the plaintiff has not alleged facts suggesting
that his rights were violated pursuant to an official policy or
practice of the BCJS, at least with respect to the medical care
that he received.1
His claims against the BCJS regarding his
infection are thus independently dismissible for this reason.
The plaintiff’s allegations in the complaint and at
oral argument describe conditions in the BCJS that were
undoubtedly difficult for him to endure.
The Court has taken
those allegations and construed them liberally in light of the
fact that the plaintiff proceeds pro se.
See Spruill v. Gillis,
Construed liberally, the allegations regarding the
condition of the plaintiff’s cell and the requirement that he be
forced to eat meals inside of it can fairly be said to represent
official BCJS policy within the meaning of Monell.
372 F.3d 218, 236 n.12 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing Alston v. Parker,
363 F.3d 229, 233-34 (3d Cir. 2004)).
The plaintiff has still
failed to satisfy the pleading requirements of Rule 8.
Zilich v. Lucht, 981 F.2d 694, 694-96 (3d Cir. 1992) (despite the
“special obligation to construe [a pro se litigant’s] complaint
liberally,” a pro se litigant’s pleading must satisfy the Federal
The Court will therefore dismiss the plaintiff’s claims
The plaintiff will have thirty days to file
an amended complaint.
An appropriate order shall issue separately.
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