Weller v. Franklin County Jail et al
MEMORANDUM re pltf's mtns for Leave to Proceed ifp 6 and to appoint cnsl 5 (Order to follow as separate docket entry)Signed by Honorable Sylvia H. Rambo on 4/16/18. (ma)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
RONALD L. WELLER,
FRANKLIN COUNTY JAIL et al., :
Plaintiff Ronald L. Weller is a pretrial detainee currently confined at the
Cumberland County Prison, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 1.) Weller filed
this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on March 23, 2018, naming as
Defendants the Franklin County Jail and Warden William Bechtold. (Doc. No. 1.)
Plaintiff complains of the condition of the clothing he received while a pretrial
detainee confined at Franklin County Jail, which this Court analyzes under the
Fourteenth Amendment which proscribes cruel and unusual punishment. (Id. at 5.)
Plaintiff has also filed a motion to appoint counsel (Doc. No. 5), and a motion for
leave to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. No. 6). Pursuant to the Prison Litigation
Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”), the Court will perform the following screening of
the complaint prior to service of process.
Plaintiff alleges that he entered Franklin County Jail on February 16, 2018.
(Doc. No. 1 at 4.) Upon arrival, Plaintiff claims that he was not given clean
underwear, but rather, given underwear with fecal and urine stains and a t-shirt that
had yellow armpit stains. (Id. at 5, 6.) Plaintiff alleges that he may have
contracted some disease from the stained underwear, as he is now experiencing
skin irritation. (Id. at 6.) He requests $50,000 as relief. (Id.) It appears that
Plaintiff is no longer incarcerated at the Franklin County Jail, but rather, is
currently housed at the Cumberland County Prison.
Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court is obligated, prior to service of process,
to screen a civil complaint in which a prisoner is seeking redress from a
governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. §
1915A(a); James v. Pa. Dep’t of Corr., 230 F. App’x 195, 197 (3d Cir. 2007). The
Court must dismiss the complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can
be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1); Mitchell v. Dodrill, 696 F. Supp. 2d 454,
471 (M.D. Pa. 2010). The Court has a similar obligation with respect to actions
brought in forma pauperis. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). In performing this
mandatory screening function, a district court applies the same standard applied to
motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Mitchell, 696 F. Supp. 2d at 471.
When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must
accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences
that can be drawn from them, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.
See In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010). The
Court’s inquiry is guided by the standards of Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). Under Twombly and
Iqbal, pleading requirements have shifted to a “more heightened form of pleading.”
See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). To prevent
dismissal, all civil complaints must set out “sufficient factual matter” to show that
the claim is facially plausible. Id. The plausibility standard requires more than a
mere possibility that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. As the
Supreme Court instructed in Iqbal, “where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the
court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has
alleged – but it has not ‘show[n]’ – ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.’” Iqbal,
556 U.S. at 679 (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)).
Accordingly, to determine the sufficiency of a complaint under Twombly
and Iqbal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has identified
the following steps a district court must take when determining the sufficiency of a
complaint under Rule 12(b)(6): (1) identify the elements a plaintiff must plead to
state a claim; (2) identify any conclusory allegations contained in the complaint
“not entitled” to the assumption of truth; and (3) determine whether any “wellpleaded factual allegations” contained in the complaint “plausibly give rise to an
entitlement to relief.” See Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d
Cir. 2010) (citation and quotation marks omitted).
In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, “a
court must consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters
of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant’s
claims are based upon these documents.” Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230
(3d Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc.,
998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). A court may also consider “any ‘matters
incorporated by reference or integral to the claim, items subject to judicial notice,
matters of public record, orders, [and] items appearing in the record of the case.’”
Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006) (quoting 5B
Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1357 (3d
In conducting its screening review of a complaint, the court must be mindful
that a document filed pro se is “to be liberally construed.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429
U.S. 97, 106 (1976). A pro se complaint, “however inartfully pleaded,” must be
held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers” and can
only be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it appears beyond doubt that the
plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him
to relief. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972).
SECTION 1983 STANDARD
In order to state a viable § 1983 claim, the plaintiff must plead two essential
elements: 1) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting
under color of state law, and 2) that said conduct deprived the plaintiff of a right,
privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.
Natale v. Camden Cty. Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 580-81 (3d Cir. 2003).
Further, § 1983 is not a source of substantive rights. Rather, it is a means to
redress violations of federal law by state actors. Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S.
273, 284-85 (2002).
Moreover, in addressing whether a viable claim has been stated against a
defendant, the court must assess whether the plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that
the defendant was personally involved in the act which the plaintiff claims violated
his rights. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). Liability
may not be imposed under § 1983 on the traditional standards of respondeat
superior. Capone v. Marinelli, 868 F.2d 102, 106 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing Hampton
v. Holmesburg Prison Officials, 546 F.2d 1077, 1082 (3d Cir. 1976)). Instead,
“supervisory personnel are only liable for the § 1983 violations of their
subordinates if they knew of, participated in or acquiesced in such
conduct.” Capone, 868 F.2d at 106 n.7.
There are only two avenues for supervisory liability: (1) if the supervisor
“knew of, participated in or acquiesced in” the harmful conduct; and (2) if a
supervisor established and maintained a policy, custom, or practice which directly
caused the constitutional harm. Id.; Santiago, 629 F.3d at 129; A.M. ex rel. J.M.K.
v. Luzerne Cty. Juvenile Ctr., 372 F.3d 572, 586 (3d Cir. 2004). As it concerns
the second avenue of liability, conclusory, vague, and speculative allegations of
custom, policy, or practice are insufficient. Id.
Franklin County Prison
Franklin County Prison is not subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and
will be dismissed with prejudice pursuant to the screening provisions of the PLRA.
See Smith v. Samuels, Civ. No. 12- 524, 2013 WL 5176742, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Sept.
12, 2013) (“Courts have repeatedly recognized that a prison or correctional facility
is not a person for purposes of civil rights liability.”) Will v. Michigan Dep’t of
State Police, 491 U.S 58, 64 (1989) (holding that a State is not a “person” under §
1983); Lavia v. Pa. Dep’t of Corr., 224 F.3d 190, 195 (3d Cir. 2000); Beattie v.
Dep’t of Corr. SCI-Mahanoy, Civ. No. 08-00622, 2009 WL 533051, at *6 (M.D.
Pa. Mar. 3, 2009); Davis v. Pa. Bd. of Prob. And Parole, Civ. No. 05-330J, 2006
WL 3308440, at *5 (W.D. Pa. Oct. 13, 2006). Consequently, because Franklin
County Prison is not subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, it will be dismissed
from this action with prejudice.
Warden William Bechtold
Other than being named in the caption of the complaint, the body of the
complaint contains no allegations against Warden Bechtold. (Doc. No. 1.) This
form of pleading is patently inadequate since it fails to allege facts that give rise to
a plausible claim for relief. See Hudson v. City of McKeesport, 241 F. App’x 519
(3d Cir. 2007) (affirming dismissal of defendant who was only named in caption of
case). Indeed, the complaint is devoid of any factual averments related to Warden
Bechtold. The body of the complaint does not identify any individual Defendant
engaged in misconduct, and it does not indicate how and when any Defendant was
involved in the alleged wrongdoing. See Hudson v. City of McKeesport, 244 F.
App’x 519, 422 (3d Cir. 2007) (affirming dismissal of defendant because
complaint did not provide any basis for a claim against him).
In addition to this pleading deficiency, to the extent Plaintiff claims that
Warden Bechtold is liable under § 1983 by virtue of respondeat superior, the Court
notes that supervisors are not typically liable under § 1983 solely on a theory of
respondeat superior. See City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 824 n.8
(1985); Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs. Of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91
(1978). “A defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in
the alleged wrongs, liability cannot be predicated solely on the operation of
respondeat superior. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207-08 (3d Cir.
1988); see also Sutton v. Rasheed, 323 F.3d 236, 249 (3d Cir. 2003) (citing Rode.)
Personal involvement can be shown through allegations of personal direction
or of actual knowledge and acquiescence. Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207. As set forth in
A defendant in a civil rights action must have personal
involvement in the alleged wrongs. . . . [P]ersonal
involvement can be shown through allegations of
personal direction or of actual knowledge and
acquiescence. Allegations of participation or knowledge
and acquiescence, however, must be made with
Id. at 1207.
Moreover, the filing of a grievance, participation in “after-the-fact” review
of a grievance, or dissatisfaction with the response to an inmate’s grievance, do
not establish the involvement of officials and administrators in any underlying
constitutional deprivation. See Pressley v. Beard, 266 F. App’x. 216, 218 (3d Cir.
2008) (not precedential) (“The District Court properly dismissed these defendants
and any additional defendants who were sued based on their failure to take
corrective action when grievances or investigations were referred to them.”);
Brooks v. Beard, 167 F. App’x. 923, 925 (3d Cir. 2006) (not precedential) (holding
that allegations that prison officials responded inappropriately to inmate’s later8
filed grievances do not establish the involvement of those officials and
administrators in the underlying constitutional deprivation); Ramos v. Pa. Dep’t of
Corr., Civ. No. 06–1444, 2006 WL 2129148, at *3 (M.D. Pa. July 27, 2006)
(“[C]ontentions that certain correctional officials violated an inmate’s
constitutional rights by failing to follow proper procedure or take corrective action
following his submission of an institutional grievance are generally without
merit.”); Wilson v. Horn, 971 F. Supp. 943, 947 (E.D. Pa. 1997) (noting that prison
officials’ failure to respond to inmate’s grievance does not state a constitutional
claim), aff’d, 142 F.3d 430 (3d Cir. 1998) (table). Because Plaintiff fails to
provide any allegation in his complaint against Warden Bechtold, he will be
Motion to Appoint Counsel
Plaintiff requests the appointment of counsel because he lacks monetary
funds. (Doc. No. 5 at 1.) Although prisoners have no constitutional or statutory
right to the appointment of counsel in civil cases, district courts do have broad
discretionary power to appoint counsel for indigent civil litigants under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(1). Montgomery v. Pinchak, 294 F.3d 492, 498 (3d Cir. 2002). In
Tabron v. Grace, the Third Circuit developed a non-exhaustive list of factors to aid
district courts in determining whether to appoint counsel for such litigants. Tabron
v. Grace, 6 F.3d 147, 155-57 (3d Cir. 1993). Such factors include the plaintiff’s
ability to present his case, the complexity of the legal and discovery issues in the
case, the amount of factual investigation that will be required, the necessity of
expert witnesses, and whether “witness credibility is a key issue.” Id.
Additionally, “[a]s a threshold matter, a district court must assess whether the
claimant’s case has some arguable merit in fact and law.” Montgomery, 294 F.3d
at 498-99 (citing Tabron, 6 F.3d at 155). Finally, “[t]he plaintiff’s ability to
present a case is ‘[p]erhaps the most significant’ consideration and depends on
factors such as ‘the plaintiff’s education, literacy, prior work experience, and prior
litigation experience . . . along with a plaintiff’s ability to understand English . . .
[and] the restraints placed upon a prisoner plaintiff by confinement.’” Nunuez v.
Wetz, Civ. No. 14-cv-0727, 2017 WL 4698092, at *1 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 19, 2017)
(citing Montgomery, 294 F.3d at 501).
In the present case, the Tabron factors do not warrant appointing counsel at
this time. Plaintiff is able to understand English, the legal issues present in this
action are not complex and Plaintiff has the apparent ability to litigate this action
pro se. Additionally, Plaintiff’s claim of lack of funds simply does not warrant
appointment of counsel.
In addition to the foregoing, this Court’s duty to construe pro se pleadings
liberally, Riley v. Jeffes, 77 F.2d 143, 147-48 (3d Cir. 1985), coupled with
Plaintiff’s apparent ability to litigate this action, militate against the appointment of
counsel at this time. Accordingly, the Court declines to appoint counsel for
Plaintiff, however, in the event that future proceedings demonstrate the need for
counsel, the matter may be reconsidered by the Court sua sponte or upon a motion
properly filed by Plaintiff.
Leave to Amend
Courts are cautioned that because of the liberal pleading standard, a plaintiff
should generally be granted leave to amend before dismissing a claim that is
merely deficient. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir.
2002). The federal rules allow for liberal amendments in light of the “principle
that the purpose of pleading is to facilitate a proper decision on the merits.”
Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962) (citations and internal quotations
omitted). The Court may deny a motion to amend where there is “undue delay,
bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure
deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing
party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of the amendment.”
Id. The Court must also determine that a proposed amendment would be futile if
the complaint, as amended, would not survive a motion to dismiss for failure to
state a claim. In re NAHC, Inc. Sec. Litig., 306 F.3d 1314, 1332 (3d Cir. 2002).
Based on the foregoing, the Court finds that Plaintiff should be permitted
leave to amend his complaint. Should Plaintiff elect to file an amended complaint,
he is advised that the amended complaint must be complete in all respects. It must
be a new pleading which stands by itself without reference to the original
complaint or any other document already filed. The amended complaint should set
forth his claims in short, concise and plain statements as required by Rule 8 of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Each paragraph should be numbered. It should
specify which actions are alleged as to which defendants and sufficiently allege
personal involvement of the defendant in the acts which he claims violated his
rights. Mere conclusory allegations will not set forth a cognizable claim.
For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff’s motion for leave to proceed in forma
pauperis (Doc. No. 6), will be granted, Plaintiff’s motion to appoint counsel (Doc.
No. 5), will be denied without prejudice, and Plaintiff’s complaint (Doc. No. 1),
will be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted with
leave to amend. An appropriate order follows.
s/Sylvia H. Rambo
SYLVIA H. RAMBO
United States District Judge
Dated: April 16, 2018
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?