REZNICKCHECK v. COUNTY OF LANCASTER COURT OF COMMON PLEAS et al
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE MARY A. MCLAUGHLIN ON 7/29/14. 7/30/14 ENTERED AND COPIES MAILED TO PRO SE PETITIONER AND E-MAILED. (jpd)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
DENNIS MOLYNEAUX, et al.
July 29, 2014
This is a § 1983 action brought by a pro se prisoner,
John Reznickcheck, who was formerly incarcerated at the
Lancaster County Prison (“LCP”).
The plaintiff filed this
action against Lancaster County, Dennis Molyneaux, Trinity
Services Group, Inc. (“Trinity”), Ryan Schubert, and several
John Doe defendants.
The plaintiff alleges that his
constitutional rights were violated when he was served rotten
potatoes as part of his meals over a period of several weeks.
On January 14, 2014, in a Memorandum and Order, the
Court granted Trinity and Schubert’s motion to dismiss.
Defendant Molyneaux has now filed this motion for judgment on
For substantially the same reasons discussed in
the Court’s January 14, 2014 Memorandum and Order, the Court
will grant defendant Molyneaux’s motion.
Factual Background 1
Facts Alleged in the Amended Complaint
Reznickcheck became incarcerated at LCP on July 14,
During his confinement at LCP, the food service company
for LCP, Trinity, served rotten potatoes to Reznickcheck as part
of his meals, at least once per day for several weeks.
potatoes contained “clearly visible mold, black spots, and
Reznickcheck suffered an upset stomach, headache,
nausea, short-term vomiting, constipation, and weight loss as a
Amd. Compl. 3; Compl. Exh. A, B. 2
Reznickcheck filed at least three complaints regarding
the rotten potatoes. 3
One request or complaint was sent to
Molyneaux did not respond to that complaint.
The food service director responded to two of Reznickcheck’s
Those responses indicated that Trinity had recently
switched to a new brand of potatoes, and that the cooks had been
instructed to remove any potatoes that looked bad.
The facts alleged were described in the Court’s January
14, 2014 Memorandum. The Court repeats those facts here for
completeness, in addition to the specific allegations regarding
The plaintiff attached copies of two request forms to the
original complaint, but did not attach them to the amended
complaint. In an effort to liberally construe the plaintiff’s
complaint, the Court will consider the exhibits as if they were
attached to the amended complaint.
Some, but not all, of these complaints were formal
grievances filed with LCP. Amd. Compl. 3.
responses explained that “this should take care of the problem.”
Reznickcheck alleges that the food service director “admitted
that the potatoes were rotten, and did not deny serving said
product to inmates for stated period of time.”
Amd. Compl. 3,
9; Compl. Exh. A, B.
Facts Alleged during the Rule 16 Conference
As part of the Court’s general practice with pro se
litigants, the Court held an on-the-record Rule 16 conference on
September 10, 2013, during which the Court allowed the plaintiff
to give a complete explanation of the facts of the case.
the Court’s practice to incorporate facts alleged by the pro se
litigant during the Rule 16 conference into the complaint.
During the Rule 16 conference, Reznickcheck explained
that if he complained that his meal contained inedible potatoes,
he could usually obtain a replacement meal.
sometimes had new potatoes, sometimes had the same food without
the potatoes, and sometimes had other food to replace the
Occasionally, corrections officers did not replace
the contaminated meal.
9/10/13 Rule 16 Conf. Trans. 6:18-21,
17:25, 18:1-25, 19:1-12.
Standard of Review
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide that,
after the pleadings are closed, but early enough not to delay
trial, a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.
Civ. P. 12(c).
Where a motion for judgment on the pleadings
argues that the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted, the court applies the same standards as
under a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. 4
Turbe v. Gov’t of Virgin Islands,
938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991).
The court “must accept the allegations in the
complaint as true, and draw all reasonable factual inferences in
favor of the plaintiff.”
As with a 12(b)(6) motion, the
court must disregard any legal conclusions, and determine
whether the facts alleged are sufficient to show that the
plaintiff has a “plausible claim for relief.”
Fowler v. UPMC
Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009); Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).
Because the plaintiff in this case is
a pro se litigant, the court must construe the complaint
Higgs v. Atty. Gen. of the U.S., 655 F.3d 333, 339
(3d Cir. 2011) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976)).
As an initial matter, injunctive relief is not
available to the plaintiff, and the defendant is entitled to
judgment on the pleadings with respect to the plaintiff’s claims
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(h)(2) provides that the
defense of failure to state a claim may be raised in a Rule
12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings. Fed. R. Civ. P.
for injunctive relief. 5
“An inmate’s transfer from the facility
complained of generally moots the equitable and declaratory
Sutton v. Rasheed, 323 F.3d 236, 248 (3d Cir. 2003)
(per curiam) (citing Abdul-Akbar v. Watson, 4 F.3d 195, 197 (3d
The plaintiff left Lancaster County Prison on or
before June 13, 2013.
See 6/13/13 Change of Address (Docket No.
There is no indication that the alleged violation was too
short in duration to be fully litigated prior to its cessation
or expiration or that there is a reasonable likelihood that the
plaintiff will be subjected to the same action again.
Sutton, 323 F.3d at 248 (explaining that an injunction is not
moot where (1) the violation is too short in duration to be
fully litigated prior to its cessation or expiration and (2)
there is a reasonable likelihood that the same complaining party
would be subjected to the same action again).
The defendant is also entitled to judgment on the
pleadings with respect to the plaintiff’s claim for damages.
The plaintiff has not alleged any personal involvement by
Molyneaux in the alleged constitutional violation.
allegations in the amended complaint that involve defendant
The amended complaint requests an injunction on the warden
and food services provider, presumably to prevent the continued
service of rotten potatoes, and to create an oversight committee
to ensure food safety at LCP. The amended complaint also seeks
revision of the grievance system at LCP to include an appeal
process. See Amd. Compl. 5-6.
Molyneaux are: (1) that Molyneaux was sent a request that was
never answered by him; and (2) that Molyneaux knew that rotten
potatoes were being served to inmates, or should have known
because he is responsible for the total operations of food
service and the institution.
Amd. Compl. 3.
Molyneaux cannot be held liable for the service of
rotten potatoes based on a respondeat superior theory.
v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir.1988).
plaintiff must allege personal involvement of defendants in
alleged constitutional deprivations.
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 676 (2009) (“Because vicarious liability is
inapplicable to Bivens and § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead
that each Government-official defendant, through the official's
own individual actions, has violated the Constitution”); Rode,
845 F.2d at 1207 (“A defendant in a civil rights action must
have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs . . . .”).
allegation that Molyneaux knew or should have known about the
service of the potatoes solely because he held a supervisory
position is therefore insufficient to state a claim against him.
The plaintiff has not alleged any facts which would
support the conclusory allegation that Molyneaux knew about the
condition of the potatoes, and there are no allegations that
Molyneaux participated in the service of the potatoes.
that Reznickcheck filed a grievance regarding the service of
rotten potatoes, which Molyneaux may have seen but did not
respond to, is insufficient to show personal involvement of
Rode, 845 F.2d at 1208 (holding that the filing of a
grievance with the governor’s office did not constitute personal
involvement of the governor); Haynes v. Moore, No. 09-4958, 2010
WL 2595958, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Jun. 23, 2010) (“[A] warden’s
participation in the review of a grievance is insufficient to
establish personal involvement.”); Mines v. Levi, No. 07-1739,
2009 WL 839011, at *6 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 26, 2009) (“[R]eceiving and
failing to respond to a grievance sent by a prisoner is not
sufficient to demonstrate personal involvement of a prison
supervisor . . . .”)
Moreover, even if Reznickcheck had alleged personal
involvement by defendant Molyneaux, he has not alleged a
The plaintiff was a pretrial
detainee during the relevant time period.
See Def.’s Mot., Exh.
It is unclear to the Court whether the plaintiff intends to
seek relief for Molyneaux’s failure to respond to the
plaintiff’s complaint. To the extent the amended complaint
alleges such a claim, the defendant is entitled to judgment on
the pleadings. Prisoners do not have a constitutional right to
a grievance procedure. A warden’s failure to respond to a
grievance does not make out a constitutional claim. See
Wilson v. Horn, 971 F. Supp. 943, 947 (E.D. Pa. 1997), aff'd,
142 F.3d 430 (3d Cir. 1998); Haynes v. Moore, No. 09-4958, 2010
WL 2595958, at *2 (E.D. Pa. June 23, 2010) (citing cases). The
plaintiff has also named John Doe Defendant #5, who he intended
to be the person who handles grievances at LCP. See 9/10/13
Rule 16 Conf. Trans. 16:5-20. For the same reason, if the
plaintiff asserts a claim against John Doe #5 for failure to
respond to the plaintiff’s grievances, that claim is dismissed.
His § 1983 claim must therefore be assessed under the Due
Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
“[U]nder the Due
Process Clause, a detainee may not be punished prior to an
adjudication of guilt in accordance with due process of law.”
Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 (1979).
A condition of
confinement amounts to punishment if a “disability is imposed
for the purpose of punishment,” as opposed to as “an incident of
some other legitimate governmental purpose.”
538 F.3d 229, 232 (3d Cir. 2008).
Hubbard v. Taylor,
The Supreme Court has
acknowledged that the conditions of confinement may violate the
Due Process Clause if a pretrial detainee was forced to “endure
genuine privations and hardship over an extended period of time
. . . .”
Bell, 441 U.S. at 542.
The Third Circuit has held that “[u]nconstitutional
punishment typically includes both objective and subjective
Stevenson v. Carroll, 495 F.3d 62, 68 (3d Cir.
The objective component requires that the “deprivation
was sufficiently serious” and the subjective component requires
that “the officials acted with a sufficiently culpable state of
Id. (internal quotations omitted).
Exhibit A to the defendant’s motion is a case summary from
the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas which indicates that
Reznickcheck was a pretrial detainee prior to May 6, 2013. The
Court may consider this document, as it is a public record.
Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998
F.2d 1192, 1197 (3d Cir. 1993).
The plaintiff has failed to allege a sufficiently
A sufficiently serious deprivation is one
that causes a detainee “to endure genuine privations and
hardship over an extended period of time.”
Potter v. Fraser,
No. 10-4200, 2011 WL 2446642, at *4 (D.N.J. Jun. 13, 2011)
(citing Bell, 441 U.S. at 542).
The plaintiff has not alleged
genuine privations or hardships because he has alleged that he
could obtain a replacement meal if his meal contained inedible
potatoes, and he has alleged only minor, short term injuries.
See Duran v. Merline, 923 F. Supp. 2d 702, 719-20 (D.N.J. 2013)
(holding that, where meals were nutritionally adequate, there
was no constitutional deprivation, and that isolated incidents
of contaminated food resulting in temporary discomfort were not
See also Potter, 2011 WL 2446642, at *4;
Mora v. Camden Cnty., No. 09-4183, 2010 WL 2560680, at *9
(D.N.J. June 21, 2010).
The Court finds that the plaintiff has failed to state
a claim for a constitutional violation under the Fourteenth
Because the plaintiff has already amended his
complaint once, and because the Court allowed the plaintiff to
give a complete explanation of the facts of the case during the
Rule 16 conference, the Court concludes that amendment would be
See In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d
1410, 1434 (3d Cir. 1997).
The plaintiff’s claims against
Molyneaux will therefore be dismissed with prejudice. 8
An appropriate order shall issue separately.
The Court will also dismiss the plaintiff’s claims against
John Doe Defendants #1-3. There are no allegations regarding
those defendants’ personal involvement in a constitutional
violation, and the plaintiff has nonetheless failed to allege a
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