Bradley v. Captain Harris et al
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry) re 70 MOTION TO DISMISS FOR FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM filed by Connie Green, J.A. Eckard, A Hines, John Wetzel, Lieutenant House, Walters (PLEASE SEE MEMORANDUM FOR COMPLETE DETAILS)Signed by Honorable William J. Nealon on 10/12/17. (lh) (Main Document 77 replaced on 10/12/2017) (lh).
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
TRACY R. BRADLEY,
Captain HARRIS, et al.,
: CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:CV-15-2514
: (Judge Nealon)
Plaintiff, an inmate confined in the State Correctional Institution, Albion,
Pennsylvania, filed the above captioned civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
He complains of an incident which occurred at his former place of confinement, the
State Correctional Institution, Huntingdon (“SCI-Huntingdon”), Pennsylvania. The
action is proceeding on Plaintiff’s second amended complaint, filed on November 23,
2016. (Doc. 69). Plaintiff challenges a disciplinary hearing and the placement in a dry
cell, pending the investigation into the misconduct that resulted in the disciplinary
charges. Id. For relief, he seeks compensatory and punitive damages for Defendants
alleged violation of Plaintiff’s Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Id. The
named Defendants are Department of Corrections Secretary, John Wetzel, and the
following SCI-Huntingdon employees: Captain Harris, Lieutenant House,
Superintendent J. A. Eckard, Major Walters, Hearing Examiner Hines and Ms. Connie
Presently before the Court is Defendants’ motion to dismiss. (Doc. 70). The
motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow,
Defendants’ motion to dismiss will be granted.
Motion to Dismiss
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) authorizes dismissal of a complaint for “failure to state
a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Under Rule 12(b)(6), we must “accept all
factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the
plaintiff may be entitled to relief.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d
Cir.2009) (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir.2008)).
While 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, Bell Atlantic
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), a complaint must plead “enough facts to
state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. “The plausibility standard
is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility
that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[L]abels and conclusions” are not enough, Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555, and a court “‘is not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a
factual allegation.’” Id. (quoted case omitted). Thus, “a judicial conspiracy claim must
include at least a discernible factual basis to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal.”
Capogrosso v. The Supreme Court of New Jersey, 588 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir.2009) (per
In resolving the motion to dismiss, we thus “conduct a two-part analysis.”
Fowler, supra, 578 F.3d at 210. First, we separate the factual elements from the legal
elements and disregard the legal conclusions. Id. at 210-11. Second, we “determine
whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a “
‘plausible claim for relief.’ ” Id. at 211 (quoted case omitted).
In addition, because Plaintiff complains about “prison conditions,” the
screening provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e apply, as do the screening provisions of 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e), given that he was granted in forma pauperis status to pursue this suit.
The court’s obligation to dismiss a complaint under the PLRA screening provisions for
complaints that fail to state a claim is not excused even after defendants have filed a
motion to dismiss. See, e.g., Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126 n. 6 (9th Cir.2000).
Hence, if there is a ground for dismissal which was not relied upon by a defendant in a
motion to dismiss, the court may nonetheless sua sponte rest its dismissal upon such
ground pursuant to the screening provisions of the PLRA. See Lopez; Dare v. U.S.,
Civil No. 06-115E, 2007 WL 1811198, at *4 (W.D.Pa. June 21, 2007), aff'd,264
FedAppx. 183 (3d Cir.2008).
Allegations in Complaint
In November 2015, Plaintiff states the he was coming out of the visiting hall
to enter the room where you change clothes after your visit, when “Officer Bowser and
his partner were waiting in the changing room and asked [Plaintiff] if [he] had something
in [his] mouth, at which time they told [Plaintiff] to give them what [he] had in [his]
mouth and [he] did.” (Doc. 69). Plaintiff “explained that Officer Kitchie had gave it to
[him] prior to [him] going into the visit hall” and “had told [him] to place the item under
[his] clothes, but [he] could not because there was another inmate at the gate way trying
to come into the dressing room, so [he] was told to take the times with [him] and to bring
them back when [he] came back in after being out on the visit.” Id. Plaintiff claims that
he tried to explain that “Officer Ritchie gave them to [him] to give to another inmate and
these acts were out of necessity for the safety of [his] family.” Id
Plaintiff was then “taken to the RHU in SCI-Huntingdon, a call was received
and [Plaintiff] was given a Blue smock like apparatus to put on without any underclothes
on.” Id. Plaintiff “was asked if [he] swallowed anything and [he] told them no.” Id.
Plaintiff claims that he was then “cuffed to the wall” and that “the hand of the wrist that
was hanging” was “hanging to such a degree that the nurse had to repeatedly come and
check the blood was still circulating.” Id. Plaintiff states that he was “in that room for
seventy-two plush hours in the same position” and that his “wrist was hurting [him] very
bad.” Id. While in the room, Plaintiff states that “[he] was handcuffed to a wall like a
slave, like a dog, [he] was forced to lay in [his] own feces wet with [his] own urine, there
was no water in the room, the toilet bowl and sink securely covered and taped so that it
could not be used, the officers watching [him] told [him] the water was cut off in the
room, there was plexy-glass covering the bars, there was no way to flush a toilet, no way
to throw anything, there was a camera in the corner of the cell suspended from the
ceiling and an officer sitting there the entire time, thus there was no way to discard,
throw away any alleged item [he] was to have had.” Id. He claims he was then released
to an observation room in the RHU. Id.
Plaintiff eventually received an disciplinary hearing for the charge of
possession or use of a dangerous or controlled substance. Id. Plaintiff was found not
guilty of this charge, but was found guilty of possession of contraband. Id. Plaintiff was
sanctioned to sixty (60) days in disciplinary confinement for the misconduct. Id. He
claims that Defendants, Ms. Green and Superintendent Eckard upheld the punishment
provided by the hearing examiner. Id.
Plaintiff filed the instant action in which he seeks compensatory and punitive
damages for “the pain and suffering [he] endured as well as for the illegal disciplinary
confinement.” Id. Plaintiff claims that his placement in the dry cell was in violation of
his Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment and he
challenges his disciplinary proceeding under the Fourteenth Amendment. Id.
A. Eighth Amendment
Prison officials must provide prisoners with the basic necessities of life such
as food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, medical care and personal safety. See Farmer v.
Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994); Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993). It is
well settled that prison conditions constitute cruel and unusual punishment if they result
in serious deprivations of basic human needs. See Tillman v. Lebanon County
Correctional Facility, 221 F.3d 410 (3d Cir. 2000). A condition of confinement
implicates the Eighth Amendment, if it is so reprehensible as to be deemed inhumane
under contemporary standards or deprives an inmate of minimal civilized measure of the
necessities of life. See Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 8 (1992); Wilson v. Seiter,
501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991).
A prison official violates the Eighth Amendment when he acts with deliberate
indifference to a known objectively serious risk to a prisoner’s health or safety. See
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837; Beers-Capitol v. Whetzel, 256 F. 3d 120, 125 (3d Cir. 2001).
This requirement means that “the official must both be aware of facts from which the
inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also
draw the inference.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837.
The length of the inmate’s exposure to the alleged unconstitutional conditions
and the totality of the circumstances must be considered when making a determination as
to cruel and inhumane treatment. A prisoner must also establish a specific deprivation of
a single, identifiable basic necessity. Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 304-05 (1991). The
inmate must also demonstrate that the prison official responsible for the conditions of
confinement acted with “a sufficiently culpable state of mind.” Id. at 298.
This is clearly not a case where the Plaintiff is challenging a long term
confinement. On the contrary, Plaintiff, himself, indicates that he was only in the dry
cell for seventy-two hours.
It has been recognized that the temporary placement of a prisoner in a dry cell
for the purpose of examining his excrement for contraband doe not violate the Eighth
Amendment. See Gilblom v. Gillipsie, 435 Fed. App’x. 165 (3d Cir. 2011) (finding no
Constitutional violation when an inmate spent approximately 36-hours in close
proximity to his excrement while housed in a dry cell to ensure that he had not
swallowed drugs). See also, Muchler v. Smith Bail Bonds, LLC., No. 3:15-cv-00093,
2016 WL 3035303, (M.D. Pa., May 26, 2016) (holding placement in a dry cell for three
days did not deprive inmate of basic life necessities); Wilson v. Schomig, 863 F.Supp.
789 (N.D. Ill.1994) (ruling that without a showing of physical harm, claim that inmate
was forced to sleep on urine and feces-stained mattress in dirty, roach-infested, leaky
cell was not enough to make out an Eighth Amendment claim).
In the instant matter, Plaintiff admits he was found with unidentified
contraband in his mouth. It was, therefore, reasonable for staff to take precautions to
ensure Plaintiff had not swallowed additional contraband by placing him in a dry cell.
The mere fact that Plaintiff denied swallowing anything does not make the correctional
officers’ actions unreasonable. Plaintiff admits he was only housed in the dry cell for
approximately seventy-two hours, a period of time that has been deemed acceptable by
this and other courts. As such, Plaintiff fails to allege facts sufficient that give rise to a
claim for cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.
B. Fourteenth Amendment Due Process
The Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides in
pertinent part: “No State shall. . .deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without
due process of law. . . .” The Supreme Court has mandated a two-part analysis of a
procedural due process claim: first "whether the asserted individual interests are
encompassed within the . . . protection of ‘life, liberty or property[,]’” and second, “if
protected interests are implicated, we then must decide what procedures constitute ‘due
process of law’.” Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 672 (1977). If there is no
protected liberty or property interest, it is unnecessary to analyze what procedures were
followed when an alleged deprivation of an interest occurred. In Wolff v. McDonnell,
418 U.S. 539, 563-73 (1974), where the plaintiffs were deprived of good time credits as
a severe sanction for serious misconduct, the Supreme Court held that such inmates had
various procedural due process protections in a prison disciplinary proceeding, including
the right to call witnesses and to appear before an impartial decision-maker.1
Thereafter, the Court in Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 471 (1983), stated
that a state law which “used language of an unmistakably mandatory character” creates a
protected liberty interest. Following Hewitt many courts held that a state regulation can
In Wolff, the Supreme Court recognized that “prison disciplinary
proceedings are not part of a criminal prosecution, and the full panoply of
rights due a defendant in such proceedings does not apply.” Id. at 556.
Nonetheless, the Supreme Court held that a prisoner facing serious
institutional sanctions is entitled to some procedural protection before
penalties can be imposed. Id. at 563-71. The Supreme Court set forth five
requirements of due process in a prison disciplinary proceeding: (1) the right
to appear before an impartial decision-making body; (2) twenty-four hour
advance written notice of the charges; (3) an opportunity to call witnesses and
present documentary evidence, provided the presentation of such does not
threaten institutional safety or correctional goals; (4) assistance from an
inmate representative, if the charged inmate is illiterate or if complex issues
are involved; (5) a written decision by the fact finders as to the evidence
relied upon and the rationale behind their disciplinary action. Id.
An additional procedural requirement was set forth in
Superintendent, Massachusetts Correctional Inst. at Walpole v. Hill, 472 U.S.
445, 453-56 (1985). In that case, the Court held that there must be some
evidence which supports the conclusion of the disciplinary tribunal.
create a due process interest -- such as freedom from punitive segregation -- if the rule
contains mandatory language such as “shall” or “will.” E.g., Layton v. Beyer, 953 F.2d
839, 848-49 (3d Cir. 1992).
The Court’s decision in Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472 (1995), however,
marked a shift in the focus of liberty interest analysis from one “based on the language
of a particular regulation” to “the nature of the deprivation” experienced by the prisoner.
Id. at 481. In Sandin the Court was presented with the procedural due process claims of
a state prisoner who had been found guilty of misconduct and sentenced to 30 days in
disciplinary segregation. Id. at 474-76. The Court first found that the approach adopted
in Hewitt – described above -- was unwise and flawed. Id. at 481-84. The Court also
rejected plaintiff Conner’s argument that “any state action taken for punitive reasons
encroaches upon a liberty interest under the Due Process Clause even in the absence of
any state regulation.” Id. at 484. The Court reasoned, inter alia, that “[d]iscipline by
prison officials in response to a wide range of misconduct” is expected as part of an
inmate’s sentence. Id. at 485. The nature of plaintiff Conner’s confinement in
disciplinary segregation was found similar to that of inmates in administrative
segregation and protective custody at his prison. Id. at 486.
Focusing on the nature of the punishment instead of on the words of any
regulation, the Court held that the procedural protections in Wolff were inapplicable
because the “discipline in segregated confinement did not present the type of atypical,
significant deprivation in which a state might conceivably create a liberty interest.” Id.
The Court examined the nature of Conner’s disciplinary segregation and found that
“[b]ased on a comparison between inmates inside and outside disciplinary segregation,
the State’s actions in placing him there for 30 days did not work a major disruption in
his environment.” Id. In the final holding of the opinion, the Court stated “that neither
the Hawaii prison regulation in question, nor the Due Process Clause itself, afforded
Conner a protected liberty interest that would entitle him to the procedural protections
set forth in Wolff.” Id. at 487 (emphasis added).2
Even if the Wolff requirements were not complied with at the misconduct
hearing, Bradley’s complaint, in light of Sandin, is without merit since Bradley does not
The Sandin Court relied on three factors in making this determination: (1)
confinement in disciplinary segregation mirrored conditions of administrative
segregation and other forms of discretionary confinement; (2) based on a
comparison between inmates inside and outside segregation, the state’s action in
placing the inmate there did not work a major disruption in the inmate's
environment; and (3) the state's action did not inevitably affect the duration of
Furthermore, the majority in Sandin viewed administrative or
protective custody as “not atypical” and within the “ordinary incidents of prison
life.” 515 U.S. at 484-86. Specifically, the Court stated that “Conner’s
confinement did not exceed similar, but totally discretionary confinement in either
duration or degree of restriction.” Id. at 486. Consequently, the appropriate point
of comparison is between disciplinary segregation and other forms of discretionary
segregation, not general population conditions.
have a liberty interest in remaining free from disciplinary confinement and the
procedural due process protections set forth in Wolff do not apply. Furthermore, the
incidents of disciplinary confinement in the present case are not materially different than
those the Supreme Court found to be “not atypical” in Sandin, and they do not differ
appreciably from those of administrative custody.
This Court and others within this circuit, applying Sandin in various actions,
have found no merit in the procedural due process claims presented. See Marshall v.
Shiley, et al., Civil No. 94-1858, slip op. at 7 (M.D. Pa. July 26, 1996)(McClure,
J.)(holding, pursuant to Sandin, that where plaintiff alleges only that he was sentenced to
sixty days in disciplinary segregation, under Sandin, he cannot assert a claim for the
violation of his Fourteenth Amendment rights); Muse v. Geiger, et al., Civil No. 940388, slip op. at 4 (M.D. Pa. September 29, 1995) (Nealon, J.) (holding, pursuant to
Sandin, that the procedural due process claims are meritless because the punishment
twice imposed was thirty (30) days in disciplinary segregation (which differs little from
administrative segregation)); Beckwith v. Mull, Civil No. 94-1912, slip op. at 9-12
(M.D. Pa. September 27, 1995) (McClure, J.) (holding, pursuant to Sandin, that the
procedural due process claims must fail because the punishment was twenty (20) days in
disciplinary segregation); Sack v. Canino, No. CIV. A. 95-1412, 1995 WL 498709, at *1
(E.D. Pa. August 21, 1995) (holding in the alternative, pursuant to Sandin, that the
defendants deserved summary judgment on the procedural due process claims because
plaintiff’s punishment was thirty (30) days in disciplinary segregation); Brown v.
Stachelek, No. CIV. A. 95-522, 1995 WL 435316, at *3-4 (E.D. Pa. July 20, 1995)
(holding, pursuant to Sandin, that plaintiff’s procedural due process claims would be
dismissed because plaintiff's punishment was thirty (30) days in disciplinary
segregation); Colatriano vs. Williams, No. CIV. A. 94-292-SCR, 1995 WL 396616, at
*2-3 (D. Del. June 23, 1995) (holding, pursuant to Sandin, that neither the Due Process
Clause nor state law supported plaintiff’s procedural due process claims because his
punishment (at most ninety (90) days in “close custody” and a loss of “minimum status”)
was not outside the scope of his sentence and did not otherwise violate the Constitution).
Considering the rules of law set forth in Sandin, the Court finds that Bradley’s due
process claims resulting from his placement in disciplinary segregation are meritless
because he had no protected liberty interest in the first place. Thus, Plaintiff has failed
to state a due process claim related to any misconduct charge or any period of
confinement in the RHU, and these claims should be dismissed.
C. Personal Involvement
In a § 1983 civil rights action, the Plaintiff must prove the following two
essential elements: (1) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting
under color of state law; and that the conduct complained of deprived the Plaintiff of
rights, privileges or immunities secured by the law or the Constitution of the United
States. Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527 (1981); Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 184 (3d
Cir.1993); Beattie v. Dept. of Corrections SCI–Mahanoy, 2009 WL 533051, *3
(M.D.Pa.). Further, Section 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, it is well established that personal liability in a civil rights action
cannot be imposed upon an official based on a theory of respondeat superior. See, e.g.,
Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976); Hampton v. Holmesburg Prison Officials, 1546
F.2d 1077, 1082 (3d Cir.1976); Parratt, supra. The doctrine of respondeat superior does
not apply to constitutional claims. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, (2009)
(“Government officials may not be held liable for unconstitutional conduct of their
subordinates under a theory of respondeat superior.” ); see also Evancho v. Fisher, 423
F.3d 347, 353 (3d Cir.2005) (claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 cannot be premised
on a theory of respondeat superior ) (citing Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207
(3d Cir.1988)). Rather, each named defendant must be shown, via the complaint’s
allegations, to have been personally involved in the events underlying a claim. Iqbal,
556 U.S. at 675 (“[A] plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant,
through the official’s own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.”). As the
Court stated in Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir.1998):
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 actual knowledge
and acquiescence, however, must be made with appropriate
particularity. (Citations omitted).
See also Beattie v. Dept. of Corrections SCI–Mahanoy, 2009 WL 533051, *3 (“a
prerequisite for a viable civil rights claim is that a Defendant directed, or knew of and
acquiesced in, the deprivation of a Plaintiff’s constitutional rights.”), citing Rode, supra.
Finally, a prison official’s response or lack thereof to an inmate’s
Administrative remedies is not sufficient alone to hold the official liable in a civil rights
action. Glenn v. Delbalso, 599 Fed.Appx. 457 (3d Cir. 2015)(access to prison grievance
procedures is not a constitutionally-mandated right, and allegations of improprieties in
the handling of grievances do not state a cognizable claim under § 1983); Mincy v.
Chmielsewski, 506 Fed. App’x. 99 (3d Cir. 2013)(an officer’s review of, or failure to
investigate, an inmate’s grievances generally does not satisfy the requisite personal
involvement); Brooks v. Beard, 167 Fed. App’x. 923 (3d Cir. 2006)(holding that
although the complaint alleges that Appellees responded inappropriately to Brook’s
later-filed grievances about his medical treatment, these allegations do not establish
Appellees’ involvement in the treatment itself).
It is apparent from the Plaintiff’s allegations that the only roles of Defendants
Superintendent Eckard, Secretary Wetzel, Hearing Examiner Hines, and Ms. Green,
were all connected to the filing of Plaintiff’s grievance and subsequent appeals.
However, such claims that these Defendants violated his constitutional rights regarding
their handling of his grievance, fails as a matter of law, and these Defendants are entitled
Leave to Amend
Before dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief
may be granted, the Court must grant the Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint unless
amendment would be inequitable or futile . See Grayson v. Mayview State Hospital, 293
F.3d 103, 114 (3rd Cir. 2002). Based on the foregoing, we find futility in allowing
Plaintiff to file an amended complaint with respect to the allegations raised in the instant
Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s second amended complaint for
failure to allege an Eighth or Fourteenth Amendment claim, and for failure to allege
personal involvement will be granted. An appropriate order will follow.
Dated: October 12, 2017
/s/ William J. Nealon
United States District Judge
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