Margetta v. Ferguson et al
MEMORANDUM re pltf's MOTION for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis 2 (Order to follow as separate docket entry)Signed by Honorable William W. Caldwell on 1/19/17. (ma)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
TAMMY FERGUSON, et al.,
CIVIL NO. 1:CV-17-0037
The pro se plaintiff, Steven Margretta, an inmate at the State Correctional
Institution in Benner Township (SCI-Benner), Pennsylvania, filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civilrights action challenging the loss of his prison job. He names as defendants the following
SCI-Benner officials: Tammy Ferguson, the prison’s superintendent; Nadine Ramirez, Head
of the Education Department; Cheryl Garmon, Director of Inmate Employment; Richard
Hamor, Unit Manager of C-Block; and Terry Gummo, inmate counsel. Also named as
defendants are the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC), and John E. Wetzel,
Secretary of the Department of Corrections. The individual defendants have been named
in their individual and official capacities.
As Margretta seeks to proceed in forma pauperis in this action, the Complaint
is before us for screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. For the following reasons, the
Complaint will be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). However, Margretta
will be permitted to file an amended complaint on his equal protection claim.
Standard of Review
We are required to screen Margretta’s Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1915A(a) and 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). The court must dismiss a complaint, or any
portion thereof, if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally frivolous, malicious, fail to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a
defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2); 28 U.S.C. §
The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim under
§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is the same as that for dismissing a complaint pursuant to a motion filed
under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d
220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000). Under Rule 12(b)(6), we must “take as true all the factual
allegations of the [complaint] and the reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them,
but we disregard legal conclusions and recitals of the elements of a cause of action,
supported by mere conclusory statements.” Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121,
128 (3d Cir. 2010)(quotation marks omitted and citation omitted).
“The test in reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under
Rule 12(b)(6) is whether, under any ‘plausible' reading of the pleadings, the plaintiff would
be entitled to relief." Guidotti v. Legal Helpers Debt Resolution, L.L.C., 716 F.3d 764 (3d
Cir. 2013) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974, 167
L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). To satisfy this standard, a complaint need only contain “a short and
plain statement of the claim,” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), and detailed factual allegations are
not required, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964. Nonetheless, a complaint has
to plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570, 127
S.Ct. at 1974. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,’ but it asks
for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S.
at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965). “[L]abels and conclusions” are not enough, Twombly, 550 U.S.
at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65, and a court “‘is not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion
couched as a factual allegation.’” Id., 127 S.Ct. at 1965 (quoted case omitted).
A complaint filed by a pro se plaintiff must be liberally construed and “held ‘to
less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.’” Fantone v. Latini, 780
F.3d 184 (3d Cir. 2015)(citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21, 92 S.Ct. 594, 596,
30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972)); see also Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197,
2200, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007). Yet, even a pro se plaintiff “must allege sufficient facts in
their complaints to support a claim.” Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245
(3d Cir.2013) (citation omitted). A plaintiff is to be granted leave to file a curative amended
complaint even when he does not seek leave to amend, unless amendment would be
inequitable or futile. See Estate of Lagano v. Bergen Cnty. Prosecutor’s Office, 769 F.3d
850, 861 (3d Cir. 2014).
In his Complaint, Margretta alleges as follows. Since August 2015, he has
been employed as a library worker in SCI-Benner’s institutional library. (ECF No. 1, p. 3)
He has received positive progress reports from his supervisor, Ms. Wyandt, the lead
librarian at the prison library, and receives 35¢ an hour in compensation for his services as
a library worker.
On July 25, 2016, Margretta was summoned to a meeting. In attendance at
that meeting were Ms. Ramirez, Head of the Education Department; Ms. Garmon, Director
of Inmate Employment; Mr. Hamor, Unit Manager of C-Block; and Mr. Gummo, Inmate
Counsel. Ms. Wyandt was not aware of the meeting until immediately before it took place.
Margretta’s prison employment as a library worker was terminated at the meeting.
Margretta claims Ramirez, Garmon, Hamor and Gummo removed him from
his job in violation of the DOC’s administrative directives. According to Plaintiff, DC-ADM
816, Section 1(M)(7) reads:
Removal of an inmate from a work assignment for reasons other
than misconduct or medical necessity must be handled by a Unit
Management Team action. The Supervisor must submit in writing
information regarding the reaso[n](s) to the Unit Management
Team, who will discuss the situation with the inmate and attempt
to resolve the problem. The Unit Management Team may remove
the inmate from the job assignment and his/her pay may be
(Id., p. 4.) Margretta avers Ramirez, Garmon, Hamor and Gummo, acting as the Unit
Management Team, violated the directive because they removed him from his prison job
without the submission of written information from his supervisor regarding the reasons for
removal. (Id.) Margretta asserts the defendants did not remove other inmates from their
job assignments in violation of DC-ADM 816, Section 1(M)(7). He claims the DOC,
Secretary Wetzel and Superintendent Ferguson failed to ensure the other defendants “were
properly trained to follow the the (sic) policy outlined in DC-ADM 816, Section 1(M)(7).”
(Id., p. 23)
Margretta presents three claims: (1) a claim that his rights “created by DCADM 816, Section 1(M)(7)” were violated; (2) a claim that his equal protection rights were
violated; and (3) a claim that his due process rights were violated. (Id., p. 5.) As relief, he
seeks declaratory, compensatory, and punitive damages. (Id.)
The Eleventh Amendment Prohibits Suits against the DOC and
Claims against the Defendants in Their Official Capacities
The Eleventh Amendment bars suits against a state and its agencies in
federal court that seek monetary damages. See Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Auth. v.
Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U.S. 139, 144, 113 S.Ct. 684, 687-88, 121 L.Ed.2d 605 (1993);
Johnson v. Wenerowicz, 440 F. App’x 60, 84 (3d Cir. 2011)(nonprecedential). By statute,
the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has refused to waive its Eleventh Amendment
immunity. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 8521(b); Lavia v. Pa., Dept. Of Corr., 224 F.3d 190,
195 (3d Cir. 2000). Likewise, since suits against state officials in their official capacities are
really suits against the employing government agency, they are also barred by the Eleventh
Amendment. See Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25-27, 112 S.Ct. 358, 361-62, 116 L.Ed.2d
301 (1991); Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70-71, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 2312,
105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1989). An additional reason for dismissing the federal claims against the
DOC is that it is not a “person” for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id.)
The claims against the following defendants, in their official capacities only,
will therefore be dismissed: Tammy Ferguson, Nadine Ramirez, Cheryl Garmon, Richard
Hamor, Terry Gummo, and John E. Wetzel. The DOC will also be dismissed from this
Claims Against Secretary Wetzel and Superintendent Ferguson
Personal involvement in the alleged wrongdoing is necessary for the
imposition of liability in a civil-rights action. Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 353 (3d Cir.
2005); Sutton v. Rasheed, 323 F.3d 236, 249-50 (3d Cir. 2003). A supervisory defendant
may be liable if he directed, or knew of and acquiesced in, the deprivation of a plaintiff’s
constitutional rights. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207-08 (3d Cir. 1988).
Liability cannot be imposed on a defendant in a § 1983 claim based on a respondent
superior theory. Id. A supervisory official may also be liable for a failure to train
subordinates, a failure to train being considered a subcategory of establishing an
unconstitutional policy or practice, personal conduct that would allow for the imposition of
liability on a supervisory official. See Korth v. Hoover,
F. Supp. 2d
WL 3088147, at *7 (M.D. Pa. 2016)(Caldwell, J.).
Here, Margretta does not allege that Secretary Wetzel or Superintendent
Ferguson had any contemporaneous personal knowledge of Margretta’s firing or directed
the other defendants not to follow DOC policy when discharging him from his prison job on
July 25, 2016. As noted above, a defendant “cannot be held responsible for a
constitutional violation which he or she neither participated in nor approved.” C.H. ex rel.
Z.H. v. Oliva, 226 F.3d 198, 201-202 (3d Cir. 2000). Margretta does allege, conclusionally,
that these defendants failed to ensure the other defendants “were properly trained to follow
the DC-ADM 816, Section 1(M)(7).” However, such an allegation cannot support a failureto-train claim when Plaintiff also alleges as part of an equal protection claim that no other
inmate was subjected to a violation of the policy. Accordingly, these defendants will be
dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) without leave to amend.
Margretta Does Not Have a Liberty or Property
Interest in Prison Employment Protected by the
Due Process Clause
The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides in pertinent
part: "No State shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process
of law. . . .” U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. Plaintiff’s due process claim fails because a
prisoner has no liberty or property interest in a prison job. See Presbury v. Wenerowicz,
472 F. App’x 100, 101 (3d Cir. 2012)(nonprecedential). This claim will therefore be
dismissed. Additionally, because any amendment to Margretta’s due process claim would
be futile, he will not be granted leave to amend this claim.
Margretta Fails to State an Equal Protection Claim
Plaintiff also makes an equal protection claim. He avers that “Defendants did
not remove other inmates from their job assignments in violation of DC-ADM 816, Section
1(M)(7).” (ECF No. 1, p. 4, ¶ 22). He does not allege he is a member of a protected class,
so we construe his claim as a class-of-one claim.
The Equal Protection Clause guarantees “No state shall . . . deny to any
person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1.
It is “essentially a direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike.” City
of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432, 439, 105 S.Ct. 3249, 3254, 87 L.Ed.2d
313 (1985). For a class-of-one equal-protection claim, a plaintiff must plead that: (1) he
was treated differently from others similarly situated; (2) defendants did so intentionally,
and (3) there was no rational basis for the difference in treatment. See Pearson v. Varano,
656 F. App’x 583, 584 (3d Cir. 2016)(nonprecedential)(internal citations and quotations
omitted). “Persons are similarly situated under the Equal Protection Clause when they are
alike ‘in all relevant respects.’” Blunt v. Lower Merion School Dist., 767 F.3d 247, 273 (3d
Cir. 2014)(quoting Startzell v. City of Phila., 533 F.3d 183, 203 (3d Cir. 2008)).
Based on the above case law, Margretta’s allegations fail to support a classof-one claim. He has not alleged the other inmates were similarly situated to him nor has
he alleged there was no rational basis for the difference in treatment. Since it appears he
could make the necessary allegations, he will be granted leave to amend this claim.
Plaintiff should also provide the facts underlying the loss of his job, i.e., how it happened
that Ramirez, Garmon, Hamor and Gummo, acting as the Unit Management Team, decided
that he should lose his job, the reason why he did lose his job, and any presentation
Wyandt made at the meeting where he lost his job.
Leave to Amend
Margretta will be granted twenty-one days to file an amended complaint
alleging an equal protection claim. If Margretta decides to file an amended complaint, he is
advised he must clearly designate on the face of the document that it is the “Amended
Complaint,” it must bear the docket number assigned to this case, and it must be retyped or
legibly rewritten in its entirety, preferably on the court-approved form. In addition, the
"amended complaint must be complete in all respects. It must be a new pleading which
stands by itself as an adequate complaint without reference to the complaint already filed."
Young v. Keohane, 809 F. Supp. 1185, 1198 (M.D. Pa. 1992). Margretta is advised that
any amended complaint he may file supersedes the original complaint and must be
“retyped or reprinted so that it will be complete in itself including exhibits.” M.D. Pa. LR
15.1; see also W. Run Student Hous. Assocs. V. Huntingdon Nat’l Bank, 712 F.3d 165, 171
(3d Cir. 2013). Consequently, all causes of action alleged in the original complaint which
were not dismissed with prejudice and are not alleged in the amended complaint are
Margretta is also advised that his amended complaint must be concise and
direct. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(d). Each allegation must be set forth in an individually
numbered paragraphs in short, concise and simple statements. Id. The allegations should
be specific enough as to time and place, and should identify the specific person or persons
responsible for the deprivation of his constitutional rights and what each individual did that
led to deprivation of his rights. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676, 129 S.Ct. at 1948. He must also
specify the relief he seeks. Margretta’s failure to file an appropriate amended complaint
within the required time will result in his lawsuit being dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted. Margretta is
also cautioned that illegible submissions will be returned to him without consideration.
An appropriate order follows.1
/s/ William W. Caldwell
William W. Caldwell
United States District Judge
Date: January 19, 2017
We have not addressed Plaintiff’s state-law claim because, if he fails to allege a valid
federal claim, we should dismiss the state-law claim without prejudice to filing it in state court. A
decision on the state-law claim should therefore await any amended complaint Plaintiff may file.
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