NORRIS v. DAVIS et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION that Plaintiff is provided twenty (20) days from the date of this Order within which to amend the Complaint to set forth clearly-identified causes of action that both identify Plaintiff's legal theories and facts suggestive of the proscribed conduct alleged, in accordance with Bell Atlantic v. Twombly. In the absence of amendment within the twenty (20) day period, Defendants Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 9 ) will be granted. In the event of amendment, said Motion may be re-filed, at Defendants discretion, within twenty (20) days from the date of the Amended Complaint. Signed by Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan on 04/28/2011. (jmb) Modified on 4/29/2011 to correct typos. (ksa)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
DAN DAVIS; NEDRA GREGO;
SUPERINTENDENT FOLINO; and
) Civil Action No. 10 - 1118
) Chief Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan
Plaintiff, Matthew Norris, an inmate currently confined at the State Correctional
Institution at Greene, located in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, commenced this action against the
following individuals employed at SCI-Greene: Dan Davis, Assistant Superintendent; Nedra
Grego, a registered nurse; S. Folino, Superintendent; and Dorina Varner, Chief Grievance
Coordinator. In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his rights as protected
by the Eighth Amendment by confining him in the restricted housing unit (RHU), which is
exacerbating his mental illness.
A. Standard of Review
Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint (ECF No. 9). A motion to
dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a
complaint. In deciding this motion, the court must read the complaint in the light most favorable
to the plaintiff and all well-pleaded, material allegations in the complaint must be taken as true.
Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976). The court is bound to give the plaintiff the benefit of
every reasonable inference to be drawn from the "well-pleaded" allegations of the complaint.
Retail Clerks Intern. Ass'n, Local 1625, AFL-CIO v. Schermerhorn, 373 U.S. 746, 753 n. 6
(1963). A viable complaint must include "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible
on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v.Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 556 (2007) (rejecting the traditional
12 (b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). The court must
accept as true all allegations of the complaint and all reasonable factual inferences must be
viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Angelastro v. Prudential-Bache Securities,
Inc., 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir. 1985). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to
relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. at 555. See also Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, ___ U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1951 (U.S. 2009) (holding that, while the Complaint need
not contain detailed factual allegations, it must contain more than a "formulaic recitation of the
elements" of a constitutional claim and must state a claim that is plausible on its face) (quoting
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and providing further guidance on the standard
set forth therein).
Courts generally consider the allegations of the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters
of public record in deciding motions to dismiss. Pension Benefit Guar. v. White Consol. Indus.,
Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Factual allegations within documents described or
identified in the complaint also may be considered if the plaintiff’s claims are based upon those
Id. (citations omitted).
Moreover, a district court may consider indisputably
authentic documents without converting a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary
judgment. Spruill v. Gillis 372 F.3d 218, 223 (3d Cir.2004); In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec.
Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997).
Pro se pleadings are to be construed liberally, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520
(1972), and pro se litigants are to be granted leave to file a curative amended complaint "even
when a plaintiff does not seek leave to amend," unless such an amendment would be inequitable
or futile. Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 235 (3d Cir. 2004). Notwithstanding this liberality,
pro se litigants are not relieved of their obligation to allege sufficient facts to support a
cognizable legal claim. See, e.g., Taylor v. Books A Million, Inc., 296 F.3d 376, 378, (5th Cir.
2002); Riddle v. Mondragon, 83 F.3d 1197, 2102 (10th Cir. 1996). Thus, a complaint that sets
forth facts that affirmatively demonstrate that the plaintiff has no right to recover is properly
dismissed without leave to amend. Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 106 (3d Cir.
2002); see also Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 107-108 (1976).
B. Liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Plaintiff's Complaint seeks to assert liability against Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must meet two threshold
requirements. He must allege: 1) that the alleged misconduct was committed by a person acting
under color of state law; and 2) that as a result, he was deprived of rights, privileges, or
immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S.
42 (1988); Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535 (1981), overruled in part on other grounds,
Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 330-331 (1986).
To establish personal liability against a defendant in a section 1983 action, that defendant
must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs; liability cannot be predicated solely on
the operation of respondeat superior. Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976). Accordingly,
individual liability can be imposed under section 1983 only if the state actor played an
"affirmative part" in the alleged misconduct. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d
Cir. 1988); Chinchello v. Fenton, 805 F.2d 126, 133 (3d Cir. 1986). Personal involvement by a
defendant can be shown by alleging either personal direction or actual knowledge and
acquiescence in a subordinate's actions. Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207.
C. The Eighth Amendment
Plaintiff’s claims seek to invoke liability under the Eighth Amendment, which provides
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed,
nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
U.S. Const. amend. VIII.
The Eighth Amendment protects individuals against the infliction of "cruel and unusual
punishments." U.S. Const. amend. VIII. This protection, enforced against the states through the
Fourteenth Amendment, guarantees incarcerated persons humane conditions of confinement. In
this regard, prison officials must ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter and
medical care, and must "take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates."
Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27
Notwithstanding, not every injury raises constitutional concerns.
A prison official
violates the Eighth Amendment only when two requirements are met. The inmate must show
1) he suffered a risk of "serious" harm; and 2) prison officials showed "deliberate
indifference" to such risk. Id., 511 U.S. at 834. The first element is satisfied when the alleged
"punishment" is "objectively sufficiently serious." Id. In determining whether a prisoner has
alleged a risk that is objectively serious, a court must consider not only the seriousness of the
potential harm and the likelihood that the harm will actually occur, but evidence that unwilling
exposure to that risk violates contemporary standards of decency. In other words, the prisoner
must show that the risk of which he complains is not one that today's society chooses to tolerate.
Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 35 (1993). The second criterion, deliberate indifference,
requires an inmate to show that the prison official had a sufficiently culpable state of mind.
The Supreme Court clarified this deliberate indifference standard in Farmer as follows.
We hold instead that a prison official cannot be found liable under
the Eighth Amendment for denying an inmate humane conditions
of confinement unless the official knows of and disregards an
excessive risk to inmate health or safety; 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. This approach comports best with the text of the
Amendment as our cases have interpreted it. The Eighth
Amendment does not outlaw cruel and unusual "conditions"; it
outlaws cruel and unusual "punishments." An act or omission
unaccompanied by knowledge of a significant risk of harm might
well be something society wishes to discourage, and if harm does
result society might well wish to assure compensation. . . . But an
official's failure to alleviate a significant risk that he should have
perceived but did not, while no cause for commendation, cannot
under our cases be condemned as the infliction of punishment.
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837-838 (emphasis added).
Plaintiff alleges that the conditions of his confinement in the RHU violate the Eighth
Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Plaintiff fails to allege any facts
to demonstrate that the conditions of his confinement in the RHU deprived him of any basic
human need such as food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, medical care or personal safety. Neither
classification nor confinement to segregation, either administrative or punitive, implicates the
Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the Eighth Amendment unless the conditions
themselves are cruel and unusual. Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678, 686 (1978); Spaight v.
Coughlin, 104 F.3d 350 (Table), 1996 WL 518507 (2d Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 117 S.Ct. 972
(1997); Young v. Quinlan, 960 F.2d 351, 363 (3d Cir. 1992); Sheley v. Dugger, 833 F.2d 1420,
1428-29 (11th Cir. 1987); Gibson v. Lynch, 652 F.2d 348, 352 (3d Cir. 1981) ("administrative
segregation and solitary confinement do not, in and of themselves, constitute cruel and unusual
punishment") (citing Hutto), cert. denied, 462 U.S. 1137 (1983).
The Constitution does not mandate comfortable prisons. Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 349.
Prisons housing "persons convicted of serious crimes cannot be free of discomfort." Id. Accord
Griffin v. Vaughn, 112 F.3d. 703 (3d Cir. 1997) (restrictive conditions in administrative custody
in the Pennsylvania state correctional institutions, in and of themselves, do not violate the Eighth
Plaintiff claims that his confinement in the RHU is exacerbating his mental health issues.
The RHU is a place where the worst of the worst are confined. The behavior modification
utilized in these programs is a carrot and stick approach, i.e., Plaintiff's negative behaviors are
negatively reinforced or "punished" by a substantial loss of privileges and Plaintiff is encouraged
to engage in good behavior by the incentive of granting greater privileges as he continues to
engage in positive behaviors. Such behavior modification appears throughout the penal system,
i.e., the stick of incarceration at a greater security classification and/or higher security prison
with the carrot of greater privileges in lower security prisons or the carrot of parole should the
inmate conduct himself properly. See, e.g. Banks v. Beard, 399 F.3d 134, 136-141 (3d Cir.
2005) (describing LTSU); Rivera v. Pa. Dept. Of Corrections, 837 A.2d 525, 529-532 (Pa.
Super. 2003) (same).
The well-established rule is that discipline reasonably maintained in state prisons is not
under the supervisory direction of Federal courts. Ford v. Board of Managers of the New Jersey
State Prison, 407 F.2d 937 (3d Cir. 1969).
But so long as incarceration as a form of punishment
continues, we are required perforce to recognize that, archaic and
indefensible though it may be, its objective is to circumscribe
certain activities and opportunities not only available in, but also
characteristic of, an open societal setting. And, unpleasant as it is
to contemplate the physical restrictions of a 'settled environment',
we must also recognize that even those rights which survive penal
confinement may be diluted by peculiar institutional requirements
of discipline, safety, and security.
Gittlemacker v. Prasse, 428 F.2d 1, 3-4 (3 Cir. 1970).
It is only when confinement becomes so foul, so inhuman, and so violative of the basic
concepts of decency that a federal court should interfere with prison officials who purportedly
have the experience and expertise in matters of prison discipline. Plaintiff has failed to evidence
conditions that satisfy the objective component of an Eighth Amendment claim with respect to
the conditions alleged in the RHU.
The Superior Court of Pennsylvania rejected a similar Eighth Amendment claim
regarding the Long Term Segregation Unit (LTSU) wherein it made the following observations.
The basic conditions in this most restrictive of units
designed for the most severe behavioral problems in the prison
population are, perhaps not surprisingly, very unpleasant. There is
a regular problem of feces throwing and the accompanying stench,
which has been recently only partially corrected by a modification
of the cell doors. Another practice of stopping up toilets until they
run over and flood the cells, is not uncommon and can lead to
similar unsanitary conditions. Although the institution has a
specialized team to go in and clean and sanitize after such
incidents, the evidence suggests that there are sometimes periods
of delay during which the inmates are residing and even eating
their meals within the sight and smell of human waste. There was
no evidence, however, that inmates['] food itself was contaminated
with this waste. Although petitioners allege that the staff actively
encourage the throwing of feces, the evidence did not support this
As noted above, the inmates in the LTSU have 23 hours of
solitary confinement in their cells per day with one hour a day in
the yard. There is considerable noise described as banging and
screaming on the unit at all hours of the day and night and the
lights are left on twenty-four hours a day. Many of the inmates are
described as suffering from mental and emotional illnesses,
although the severely mentally ill are apparently housed in a
separate unit. This Court had the opportunity to visit the
Psychiatric Unit which is staffed with a full-time nurse, and the
inmates appear well managed and orderly. It is not clear to this
Court whether the mental and emotional conditions demonstrated
in the LTSU contribute or cause the extreme behavioral issues that
landed these inmates in the LTSU or whether those types of
conditions are in part caused by long periods of solitary
confinement in such a unit.
There have been problems with the heat during which the
cells have been quite cold during the winter months, although extra
blankets appear to have been available at those times. ... At times,
pepper spray is used to control unruly inmates, and the spray
lingers in the air, causing problems for the surrounding inmates.
To punish the LTSU inmates for misconducts, they are
sometimes put in “alternate housing,” which involves being put
into a cell without the inmate's property or clothing, with a smock
and no underclothing to wear, a mattress and a “security blanket.”
According to the LTSU policy, where an inmate's misconduct has
involved the use of the mattress, such as using it to create a
barricade or destroying it for any purpose, this alternate housing
would exclude a mattress and require the inmate to sleep on a
metal bed frame or on the concrete slab. ... While in this alternate
housing, if the inmate's misconduct has involved misuse of food or
utensils (cups or containers have at times been used to collect
fluids or feces to use against staff or other inmates), the inmate
will be given only a “nutritional food loaf” to eat during the
duration of the punishment, which is a frozen concoction of rice
and some sort of starch. This is done only for short durations until
the inmate is brought into conformity and the process is done
under medical supervision. The water is also controlled from
outside the cell during these punishments to avoid the inmate
causing a flood, although water to drink is apparently made
available every few hours. ... In one instance, Mr. Rivera testified
to having been put in a “four-point restraint” for a misconduct,
which constituted being chained to a metal bed frame by all four
limbs, during which restraint he was unable to use the bathroom
and was forced to soil himself with urine and feces. Prison
officials noted this was after he attacked a guard and had to be
forcefully removed from his cell.
. . . A counselor is available on the unit once a month, but
must share time with all the inmates and there is no privacy for
counseling. . . . There is a system of inmate reviews which
includes monthly reviews by the Unit Management Team and
quarterly reviews by a Program Review Committee. These
reviews, in addition to the established grievance procedures,
provide opportunities for the inmates to discuss problems and
grievances that they might have with the conditions of their
confinement as well as to have their behavioral status reviewed
and possibly some of their disciplinary custody time set aside.
Rivera v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections, 837 A.2d 525, 530-532 (Pa. Super. 2003). The
Superior Court held that the conditions of confinement in the LTSU, as explained above, did not
deprive the prisoners of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities, or at least a single,
identifiable human need. Rivera, 837 A.2d at 534 (Pa. Super. 2003) (citing Wilson v. Seiter, 501
U.S. 294 (1991)).
Put simply, the federal and state Pennsylvania courts unanimously have found that the
harsh conditions of confinement in the various restrictive housing units in the Pennsylvania state
institutions, including the most restrictive LTSU, without more, does not violate the Eighth
Amendment. See, e.g., Griffin v. Vaughn, 112 F.3d. 703 (3d Cir. 1997) (holding that the
restrictive conditions in administrative custody in the Pennsylvania state correctional
institutions, in and of themselves, do not violate the Eighth Amendment); Pressley v. Johnson,
268 Fed. App’x 181, 183 (3d Cir. 2008) (same); Walker v. Campbell, Civ. No. 09-282, 2010 WL
2891488 (W.D. Pa. May 4, 2010) (same); Fortson v. Kelchner, Civ. No. 08-532, 2009 WL
693247, at *3 (W. D. Pa. Mar. 13, 2009) (granting Defendants' Motion to Dismiss as to
Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim regarding confinement in the RHU and SMU); Milhouse v.
Arbasak, Civ. No. 07-01442, 2009 WL 1119488, 3 (E.D. Pa. April 27, 2009) (holding that mere
placement in SHU did not violate the Eighth Amendment); Pressley v. Blaine, 544 F.Supp.2d
446, 453 (W. D. Pa. 2008) (holding that 1080 days of disciplinary confinement did not implicate
the Eighth Amendment); Dantzler v. Beard, Civ. No. 05-1727, 2007 WL 5018184, at *11-12
(W.D. Pa. Dec. 6, 2007) (holding that the conditions of confinement in the SMU and LTSU did
not amount to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment); Woods v.
Abrams, Civ. No. 06-757, 2007 WL 2852525, 14 (W. D. Pa. Sep. 27, 2007) (holding that the
conditions of confinement in the LTSU did not satisfy the objective component of an Eighth
Amendment claim); [Gary] Banks v. Beard, Civ. No. 03-659, 2006 WL 2192015, at *11 (W. D.
Pa. Aug. 1, 2006) (same).
As noted by the Honorable Richard A. Posner, Circuit Judge of the Court of Appeals for
the Seventh Circuit:
Prison authorities must be given considerable latitude in the design
of measures for controlling homicidal maniacs without
exacerbating their manias beyond what is necessary for security. It
is a delicate balance. “Federal judges must always be circumspect
in imposing their ideas about civilized and effective prison
administration on state prison officials. The Constitution does not
speak with precision to the issue of prison conditions (that is an
understatement); federal judges know little about the management
of prisons; managerial judgments generally are the province of
other branches of government than the judicial; and it is unseemly
for federal courts to tell a state ... how to run its prison system.”
Duran v. Elrod, 760 F.2d 756, 759 (7th Cir. 1985); see also Bell v.
Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 547 (1979).
Scarver v. Litscher, 434 F.3d 972, 976 -977 (7th Cir. 2006). See also Bruscino v. Carlson, 854
F.2d 162,164-65 (7th Cir. 1988).
Here, the record shows that Plaintiff is being treated for his mental illness (ECF No. 3-1,
p. 6). It is within Plaintiff’s own ability to earn his way out of restricted housing by modifying
his behavior accordingly.
Notwithstanding, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has held that,
in civil rights cases, a court must give a plaintiff the opportunity to amend a deficient complaint regardless of whether the plaintiff requests to do so - when dismissing a case for failure to state a
claim, unless doing so would be inequitable or futile.
See Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote
Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 251 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d
229, 235 (3d Cir. 2004)). Thus, Plaintiff will be given the opportunity to file an amended
complaint. An appropriate order follows.
AND NOW, this 28th day of April, 2011;
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff is provided twenty (20) days from the date of
this Order within which to amend the Complaint to set forth clearly-identified causes of action
that both identify Plaintiff's legal theories and facts suggestive of the proscribed conduct alleged,
in accordance with Bell Atlantic v. Twombly. In the absence of amendment within the twenty
(20) day period, Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 9) will be granted. In the event of
amendment, said Motion may be re-filed, at Defendants’ discretion, within twenty (20) days
from the date of the Amended Complaint.
Lisa Pupo Lenihan
Chief United States Magistrate Judge
ES – 4644
175 Progress Drive
Waynesburg, PA 15370
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?