Muniz v. Sullivan et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION - Accordingly, for the reasons set forth above, Plaintiffs motion for leave to amend the complaint (Doc. 63 ) is GRANTED. The Clerk of Court shall docket the amended complaint (Doc. 63 , Exhibit) as a separate entry on the docke t of this action. Defendants shall answer or otherwise respond to the amended complaint in accordance with the requirements set forth in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Local Rules of this Court. Signed by Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson on March 1, 2012. (kjn )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
C.O. SULLIVAN, et al.,
Civil No. 3:10-CV-2635
(Magistrate Judge Carlson)
In this action, Plaintiff Angel Muniz, proceeding pro se, has brought claims
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against a number of current and former guards and officials
at the Schuylkill County Prison, alleging that during his incarceration at the prison
he was subjected to violent assaults and incidents of excessive force in violation of
the Eighth Amendment.
Now pending before the Court is the Plaintiff’s motion to amend his complaint
to include claims for supervisory liability against Warden Gene Berdanier and Deputy
Warden David Wapinsky, alleging supervisory liability and deliberate indifference
for their alleged role in acquiescing in the alleged conduct of subordinate prison staff.
(Doc. 63) Defendants have opposed the motion, arguing, inter alia, that the
Plaintiff’s proposed amendment is futile because it fails to allege personal
involvement on the part of either Berdanier or Wapinsky, and because there can be
no respondeat superior liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 66) In his reply
brief, the Plaintiff attempts to explain, in part, the basis for including supervisory
liability claims against Berdanier and Wapinsky, and cites to caselaw explaining how
and when a supervisor may properly be liable for knowing of and acquiescing in
Upon consideration, Plaintiff’s motion to amend his complaint will be granted,
but without prejudice to the supervisory defendants later challenging the sufficiency
of the amended complaint through a pre-trial motion under Rule 12 or Rule 56 of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Decisions regarding motions to amend pleadings rest in the sound discretion
of the court, and will not be disturbed absent an abuse of that discretion. See, e.g.,
Bjorgung v. Whitetail Resort, L.P., 550 F.3d 263 (3d Cir. 2008); Cureton v. NCAA,
252 F.3d 267 (3d Cir. 2001). That discretion, however, is governed by certain basic
principles, which are embodied in Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Rule 15(a) provides that a party may amend his pleading once as a matter of course
within 21 days after serving it, or within 21 days of a responsive pleading or a motion
filed under Rule 12(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Fed. R. Civ. P.
15(a)(1). In all other cases, “a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing
party’s written consent or the court’s leave. The court should freely give leave when
justice so requires.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2).
In accordance with this rule, and because the Defendants had previously
answered the Complaint (Doc. 21), Muniz properly sought leave of court to amend
his complaint, and to do so for the limited purpose of clearly making a claim of
supervisory liability against Defendants Berdanier and Wapinsky. We do not find
any basis to conclude that Muniz unreasonably delayed seeking to amend the
Complaint, or that his efforts to amend were motivated by bad faith or to prejudice
the opposing parties. See Adams v. Gould, Inc., 739 F.2d 858, 864 (3d Cir. 1984).
Instead, the Defendants urge the Court to deny Muniz leave to amend by
arguing that his proposed amendments would be futile. An amendment is futile when
“the complaint, as amended, would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be
granted.” Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 115 (3d Cir. 2000). The Defendants argue
that the proposed amendments would be futile because the claims against Berdanier
and Wapinsky are predicated solely upon a theory of respondeat superior, and
because the amended complaint fails to set forth a sufficient factual or legal basis to
impose liability against Berdanier or Wapinsky.
Although the amended complaint is a relatively spare document, we cannot say
at this time that Muniz has absolutely failed to state a claim upon which relief could
be granted. Muniz, who is proceeding pro se in this litigation, has endeavored to
explain the nature of his claims against all Defendants, including the claims against
officers who were allegedly involved in assaultive conduct, and to explain how he
notified Warden Berdanier and Deputy Warden Wapinsky on multiple occasions that
guards at the prison were using excessive force against him, but they did nothing in
response. (Doc. 63)
Furthermore, we do not share Defendants’ view that Muniz is simply
attempting to include a claim for respondeat superior liability. It is true that
“[g]overnment officials may not be held liable for the unconstitutional conduct of
their subordinates under a theory of respondeat superior.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1948 (2009).
However, “[l]iability based on respondeat
superior arises ‘solely on the basis of the existence of an employer-employee
relationship,’ regardless of whether the employer had any part in causing harm.”
Santiago v. Warminster Tp., 629 F.3d 121, 128 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Monell v.
Dep’t of Soc. Servs. of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 692 (1978)).
In this case, it does not appear that Muniz is seeking to hold Berdanier and
Wapinsky liable solely on the basis of an employer-employee relationship, but instead
because these individual supervisors allegedly were placed on notice of the violent,
assaultive conduct of their subordinates, and acquiesced in the conduct. The Third
Circuit has explained that “a supervisor may be personally liable . . . if he or she
participated in violating the plaintiff’s rights, directed others to violate them, or, as
the person in charge, had knowledge of and acquiesced in his subordinates’
violations.” A.M. ex rel. J.M.K. v. Luzerne Cnty. Juvenile Det. Ctr., 372 F.3d 572,
586 (3d Cir. 2004); see also Santiago, 629 F.3d at 129 (finding that a claim that a
supervisor acquiesced in his subordinates’ violations “seeks a species of supervisory
liability, . . . not respondeat superior liability” and thus was not subject to dismissal
solely on the basis that the plaintiff seeks to impose respondeat superior liability).
Because we disagree with the principle basis on which the Defendants object
to the Plaintiff’s proposed amended complaint – futility – we will permit the
amended complaint to be filed and will direct the Defendants to respond. To the
extent that the Defendants believe the pleading fails to satisfy the pleading standards
applicable under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or that it fails to state
a claim, they may seek dismissal of the claims through a properly filed motion
brought under Rule 12(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.1
We recognize that Defendants also take issue with the sufficiency of the
facts alleged in the amended complaint. Defendants will be permitted to raise this
issue in any preliminary dispositive motion they may elect to file, to which
Accordingly, for the reasons set forth above, Plaintiff’s motion for leave to
amend the complaint (Doc. 63) is GRANTED. The Clerk of Court shall docket the
amended complaint (Doc. 63, Exhibit) as a separate entry on the docket of this action.
Defendants shall answer or otherwise respond to the amended complaint in
accordance with the requirements set forth in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
and the Local Rules of this Court.
/s/ Martin C. Carlson
Martin C. Carlson
United States Magistrate Judge
Dated: March 1, 2012
Plaintiff will thereafter have an opportunity to respond, or otherwise to seek
further leave to amend, and clarify, the factual basis for his allegations of
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