Lawson v. Norwood et al
MEMORANDUM - Based on the foregoing, Defendants' motion to dismiss will be granted. An appropriate Order shall issue.Signed by Honorable Robert D. Mariani on 12/20/16. (jfg)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
Civil No. 3:16-cv-1489
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, et al.,
Plaintiff, Ronnie Lawson, an inmate currently confined at the United States
Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania ("USP-Lewisburg"), commenced this Bivens1, 28
U.S.C. § 1331, action on July 19, 2016. (Doc. 1). The matter is proceeding via an
amended complaint, wherein Plaintiff names as Defendants the Department of Justice, the
Federal Bureau of Prisons Northeast Regional Office, and the United States Penitentiary at
Lewisburg. (Doc. 10). Presently pending before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b). (Doc. 18). For the following reasons, the
motion to disrniss will be granted.
Standard of Review
A complaint must be dismissed under FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6), if it does not allege
Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971).
Bivens stands for the proposition that "a citizen suffering a compensable injury to a constitutionally
protected interest could invoke the general federal-question jurisdiction of the district courts to obtain an
award of monetary damages against the responsible federal official." Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478,
"enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell At!. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007). The plaintiff must
aver Ufactual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S. Ct.
1937, 1949, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009).
"Though a complaint 'does not need detailed factual allegations, ... a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" DelRio-MocGi v. Connolly Prop.
Inc., 672 F.3d 241, 245 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). In other words,
U[fjactual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative leveL"
Covington v. Int'I Ass'n of Approved Basketball Officials, 710 F.3d 114, 118 (3d Cir. 2013)
(internal citations and quotation marks omitted). A court "take[s] as true all the factual
allegations in the Complaint and the reasonable inferences that can be drawn from those
facts, but ... disregard[s] legal conclusions and threadbare recitals of the elements of a
cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Ethypharm S.A. France V.
Abbott Laboratories, 707 F.3d 223,231, n.14 (3d Cir. 2013) (internal citations and quotation
Twombly and Iqbal require [a district court] to take the following three steps to
determine the sufficiency of a complaint: First, the court must take note of the
elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim. Second, the court should
identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not
entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, where there are well-pleaded
factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine
whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.
Connelly v. Steel Valley Sch. Dist., 706 F.3d 209, 212 (3d Cir. 2013).
"[W]here 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 (internal citations and quotation marks
omitted). This "plausibility" determination will be a "context-specific task that requires the
reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.
However, even "if a complaint is subject to Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, a district court
must permit a curative amendment unless such an amendment would be inequitable or
futile." Phillips V. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224,245 (3d Cir. 2008).
[E]ven when plaintiff does not seek leave to amend his complaint after a
defendant moves to dismiss it, unless the district court 'finds that amendment
would be inequitable or futile, the court must inform the plaintiff that he or she
has leave to amend the complaint within a set period of time.
Allegations of the Amended Complaint
Plaintiff alleges that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated when he was
subjected to inhumane conditions of confinement, denial of medical treatment, deliberate
indifference, "adulteration", and cruel and unusual punishment. (Doc. 10). Specifically,
Plaintiff complains that the cells in the Special Management Unit at USP-Lewisburg have
poor air circulation and no air conditioning. (Id. at p. 2). He alleges that he submitted sick
call requests for medical treatment that were purportedly unanswered. (Id.). Next, Plaintiff
asserts that his legal documents were confiscated and/or missing after he was transferred
to a new cell, and that he was served food that was contaminated with blood. (Id. at pp. 2
3). Lastly, Plaintiff alleges that he was assaulted by officers and sprayed with chemicals for
allegedly fighting with his cellmate. (Id. at pp. 3-4).
Defendants argue that the amended complaint must be dismissed because they are
not properly named Defendants, and they are entitled to sovereign immunity as agencies of
the United States. (Doc. 14, pp. 4-5).
It is well-settled that governmental entities are not "persons" and therefore not proper
defendants in a federal civil rights action. Hindes v. F.O.I.C., 137 F.3d 148, 159 (3d Cir.
1998) (a federal agency is not a "person" subject to § 1983 liability, whether or not it is in an
alleged conspiracy with state actors); see also Accardi V. United States, 435 F.2d 1239,
1241 (3d Cir. 1970). Thus, Bivens claims may not be maintained against federal agencies.
FDIC V. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471,485 (1994); Jaffee
United States, 592 F.2d 712, 717 (3d
Cir. 1979) ("Because [plaintiff] has sued the Government itself, Bivens ... do[es] not afford
him a traversable bridge across the moat of sovereign immunity."). Accordingly, the United
States Department of Justice, the Bureau of Prisons Northeast Regional Office, and USPLewisburg are not "persons" and therefore not proper Defendants in this federal civil rights
Additionally, sovereign immunity constitutes ajurisdictional bar to claims against the
United States and its agencies, unless Congress has specifically waived such immunity.
Corr. Servs. Corp. v. Malesko, 534 U.S. 61,72 (2001) ("If a federal prisoner in a BOP facility
alleges a constitutional deprivation, he may bring a Bivens claim against the offending
individual officer, subject to the defense of qualified immunity. The prisoner may not bring a
Bivens claim against the officer's employer, the United States, or the BOP."); Meyer, 510
U.S. at 475; Lewal v. Ali, 289 F. App'x 515,516 (3d Cir. 2008) ("An action against
government officials in their official capacities constitutes an action against the United
States [and is] barred by sovereign immunity, absent an explicit waiver."); Webb v. Desan,
250 F. App'x 468,471 (3d Cir. 2007). Plaintiff asserts no such waiver of sovereign
immunity, and the United States and its agencies have not waived their immunity from suit.
Based on an application of the above standards, Plaintiffs amended complaint will
be dismissed as the United States Department of Justice, the Bureau of Prisons Northeast
Regional Office, and USP-Lewisburg are not properly named defendants, and any claims
against the United States and its agencies are plainly barred by the doctrine of sovereign
Leave to Amend
When a complaint fails to present a prima facie case of liability, courts should
generally grant leave to amend before dismissing a complaint. See Grayson v. Mayview
State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d
Cir. 2000). Specifically, the Third Circuit has admonished that when a complaint is subject
to dismissal for failure to state a claim, courts should liberally grant leave to amend "unless
such an amendment would be inequitable or futile." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 245 (citing Alston
v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 235 (3d Cir. 2004)}. 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." Fornan v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962) (citations and internal
quotations omitted). In the matter sub judice, the Court has previously granted Plaintiff the
opportunity to amend his complaint. Because Plaintiffs present claims are barred by
sovereign immunity, his amended complaint will be dismissed with prejudice, as additional
amendment of his claim would be futile.
Based on the foregoing, Defendants' motion to dismiss will be granted. An
appropriate Order shall issue.
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