PREACHER v. OVERMYER et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION that DOC Defendants' motion to dismiss 29 will be denied. An appropriate Order follows. Signed by Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter on 1/8/18. (lrw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
JOHN DALE PREACHER,
MICHAEL D. OVERMYER, et al.,
Civil Action No. 17-18 Erie
Magistrate Judge Baxter
United States Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter
Relevant Procedural and Factual History
Plaintiff John Dale Preacher, a prisoner formerly incarcerated at the State Correctional
Institution at Forest in Marienville, Pennsylvania ("SCI Forest"),1 initiated this civil rights action
on January 20, 2017, by filing a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff
subsequently filed an amended complaint on August 2, 2017, which superseded the original
complaint and is the operative pleading in this case. [ECF No. 23]. The amended complaint is a
sprawling 52-page document containing 231 paragraphs and multiple claims against thirty-five
(35) Defendants, all of whom were employed at SCI-Forest during the relevant time periods at
issue: Superintendent Michael D. Overmyer ("Overmyer"); Deputy Superintendent Derek F.
Oberlander ("Oberlander"); Captain Ernesto J. Mongelluzzo ("Mongelluzzo"); Program Manager
Erin Ireland ("Ireland"); Major Paul A. Ennis ("Ennis"); Captain C. Carter ("Carter"); Lieutenant
Justin Davis ("Davis"); Lieutenant Douglas Dickey ("Dickey"); Chief Psychologist Bruce Simon
("Simon"); Unit Manager Matthew J. Blicha ("Blicha"); Counselor Sharon Price ("Price");
Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Somerset, Pennsylvania.
Lieutenant Heffernan ("Heffernan"); Registered Nurse Kathleen Hill ("Hill"); Psychology
employee Kevin C. Cowan ("Cowan"); Sergeant J.H. Culver ("Culver"); Lieutenant Richard
Wonderling ("Wonderling"); Sergeant Shawn Fredrickson ("Fredrickson"); Corrections Officers
B.J. Long ("Long"), B.J. Boddorf ("Boddorf"), C.J. Frey ("Frey"), Smalls ("Smalls"), Barnes
("Barnes"), R.P. Smith ("Smith"), J.D. Reddick ("Reddick"), M. Booher ("Booher"), G.W. Hiler
("Hiler"), Weiss ("Weiss"), J.E. Coleman ("Coleman"), Farcus ("Farcus"), and Termine
("Termine"); Food Service Manager Kevin Dittman ("Dittman"); Food Service Instructor L.
Whisner ("Whisner"); Sergeant M. Gilara ("Gilara"); Psychiatrist Craig Hasper ("Hasper"); and
Food Service Supervisor Holloway ("Holloway"). For ease of reference, all Defendants, other
than Defendant Hasper, will be collectively referred to as "DOC Defendants."
In general, Plaintiff raises claims under the first, eighth, and fourteenth amendments to
the United States Constitution, as well as state law tort claims of assault and battery, intentional
infliction of emotional distress, and negligence.
The DOC Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s amended complaint2
[ECF No. 29]; however, the motion primarily seeks to have the amended complaint severed into
multiple lawsuits or, alternatively, to have Plaintiff file a more definite statement of his claims.
In particular, Defendants argue that Plaintiff has violated Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a)
by improperly joining Defendants in one action, even though the claims against each of them did
not arise from the same transaction or occurrence. Accordingly, Defendants seek dismissal of the
amended complaint, without prejudice to Plaintiff's right to file a new complaint including the
claim(s) he wishes to pursue in this action, and separate civil actions for all other unrelated
Defendants Holloway and Termine, who were added as Defendants in the amended complaint and were not served
until September 29, 2017, subsequently joined in the other DOC Defendants' motion on November 2, 2017. [ECF
No. 45]. Defendant Hasper has not yet filed a response to Plaintiff's amended complaint, as no response is due from
him until December 27, 2017.
claims. (ECF No. 30, DOC Defendants' Brief, at p.7). Alternatively, Defendants argue that
Plaintiff’s amended complaint implicates or violates Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(e)
(vague or ambiguous pleading), 10(b) (each claim arising from a separate transaction or
occurrence should be stated in a separate count to promote clarity), and 8(a) (short and plain
statement of the claim); thus, Defendants assert they are "unable to draft a meaningful responsive
pleading," and Plaintiff should be required to file a more coherent complaint (Id. at p.9). Plaintiff
has since filed a motion and brief in opposition to Defendants' motion (ECF Nos. 36, 37). This
matter is now ripe for consideration.
Standards of Review
Motion to Dismiss
A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) must be
viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and all the well-pleaded allegations of the
complaint must be accepted as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007). A complaint
must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12 (b)(6) if it does not allege “enough facts to state a claim
to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).
See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (May 18, 2009) (specifically applying Twombly
analysis beyond the context of the Sherman Act).
The Court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiff if they are unsupported by the
facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp.,
394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004) citing Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906
(3d Cir. 1997). Nor must the court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). See also
McTernan v. City of York, Pennsylvania, 577 F.3d 521, 531 (3d Cir. 2009) (“The tenet that a
court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal
conclusions”). A Plaintiff’s factual allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above
the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, citing 5 C.Wright & A. Miller, Federal
Practice and Procedure § 1216, pp. 235-36 (3d ed. 2004). Although the United States Supreme
Court does “not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, [the Court does require] enough
facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570.
In other words, at the motion to dismiss stage, a plaintiff is “required to make a ‘showing’
rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief.” Smith v. Sullivan, 2008 WL 482469,
at *1 (D.Del. February 19, 2008) quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d
Cir. 2008). “This ‘does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,’ but instead
‘simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal
evidence of’ the necessary element.” Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234, quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at
The Third Circuit subsequently expounded on the Twombly/Iqbal line of cases:
To determine the sufficiency of a complaint under Twombly and Iqbal,
we must take the following three steps:
First, the court must ‘tak[e] 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.’
Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 221 (3d Cir. 2011) quoting Santiago v.
Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010).
Pro se Pleadings
Pro se pleadings, “however inartfully pleaded,” must be held to “less stringent standards
than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520–21 (1972). If the
court can reasonably read pleadings to state a valid claim on which the litigant could prevail, it
should do so despite failure to cite proper legal authority, confusion of legal theories, poor syntax
and sentence construction, or litigant’s unfamiliarity with pleading requirements. Boag v.
MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364 (1982); United States ex rel. Montgomery v. Brierley, 414 F.2d 552,
555 (3d Cir. 1969) (petition prepared by a prisoner may be inartfully drawn and should be read
“with measure of tolerance”). Under our liberal pleading rules, during the initial stages of
litigation, a district court should construe all allegations in a complaint in favor of the
complainant. Gibbs v. Roman, 116 F.3d 83 (3d Cir. 1997), overruled on other grounds by
Abdul-Akbar v. McKelvie, 239 F.3d 307, 311 (3d Cir. 2001). Because Plaintiff is a pro se
litigant, this court may consider facts and make inferences when appropriate.
Motion to Dismiss or for a More Definite Statement
The DOC Defendants argue that Plaintiff "has utterly failed to meet even the relaxed
standards applicable to pro se pleadings," as the amended complaint "contains no counts" and
"Plaintiff jumps back and forth so that it is virtually impossible to identify claims or discern
which defendant is involved and how." (ECF No. 30, DOC Defendants' Brief, at p. 9). The Court
disagrees with Defendants' characterization of the amended complaint. In fact, the Court finds
that Plaintiff has been quite detailed and organized in his account of Defendants' alleged conduct,
which is presented in a chronological manner. Moreover, Defendants' complaint that Plaintiff's
claims are not specifically stated in separate counts unduly emphasizes form over substance,
particularly in light of Plaintiff's detailing of his claims against each Defendant in paragraphs
205-215 of the amended complaint. Indeed, despite Defendants' assertion that it is "virtually
impossible to identify claims," they proceed to list eight sets of claims they have been able to
discern from Plaintiff's allegations. (Id. at pp. 5-7).
Motion to Dismiss/Sever for Improper Joinder
Alternatively, the DOC Defendants contend that "there is no connection among the
distinct and varied claims in the Amended Complaint" and, therefore, the complaint should be
dismissed or Plaintiff should "be required to select which claim is to be pursued in this action"
and pursue any other claims he wishes to assert in separate civil actions. (ECF No. 30, DOC
Defendants' Brief, at p. 7). However, aside from providing a general listing of the claims they
discern from the amended complaint, Defendants fail to suggest to the Court what parties and
claims they believe should remain and what claims and/or parties should be severed/dismissed.
Instead, Defendants have placed the burden upon the Court to either make such a determination
on its own accord, or to order Plaintiff to make a third attempt at narrowing his claims, which
would likely serve only to prolong the progress of this case further. The Court is not inclined to
Rather, given the early stage of this proceeding, the Court is more inclined to give
credence to the pro se Plaintiff's assertion that the parties and claims in this case are bound by a
common, underlying thread of harassment and retaliation that permeates the allegations of the
amended complaint. It is incumbent upon Defendants to respond accordingly.
For the foregoing reasons, Defendants' motion to dismiss [ECF No. 29] will be denied.
An appropriate Order follows.
/s/ Susan Paradise Baxter
SUSAN PARADISE BAXTER
United States Magistrate Judge
Dated: January 8, 2018
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