DALIE v. PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION granting in part and denying in part 22 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, which has been converted into a Motion for Summary Judgment on the issue of exhaustion only. See Memorandum Opinion for details. Signed by Magistrate Judge Cynthia Reed Eddy on 8/3/2017. (bsc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF
CORRECTIONS, et al.,
) Civil Action No. 2: 16-cv-0698
) United States Magistrate Judge
) Cynthia Reed Eddy
Presently before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss For Failure to State A Claim filed by
the Defendants (ECF No. 22), which has been converted into a Motion for Summary Judgment
on the issue of exhaustion only. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted in part
and denied in part.
Plaintiff, George Dalie (“Plaintiff” or “Dalie”) is a state prisoner in the custody of the
Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”) currently confined at SCI-Rockview. He
commenced this action on or about May 9, 2016,2 with the filing of a Complaint. However,
because the Complaint was received without the filing fee or a motion to proceed in forma
pauperis, the case was statistically closed on May 31, 2016. After some intervening proceedings
In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1), the parties have consented to
have a Untied States Magistrate Judge conduct proceedings in this case, including entry of a final
judgment. ECF Nos. 29, 30.
The Complaint was signed May 9, 2016, but not received by the Court until May 27,
2016. Pursuant to the prisoner mailbox rule, the Court will treat May 9, 2016, as the relevant
regarding the payment of the filing fee, the Complaint was officially filed on August 8, 2016.
(ECF No. 6).
Plaintiff asserts that while incarcerated at SCI-Greene his First and Eighth Amendment
rights were violated, as well as his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized
Persons Act (“RLUIPA”). Plaintiff is suing the Department of Corrections (“DOC”) and several
DOC officials and SCI-Greene staff. Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants’ policy of
not permitting Plaintiff to wear his pants above the ankle bone as required by his religious
practice violated his rights under RLUIPA and the First Amendment free exercise clause. In
support of this allegation, he describes two particular instances where he was told to unroll his
pants after leaving a religious service. (ECF No. 6, at ¶ 24). He also asserts that C/O Matthews
issued him a retaliatory false misconduct report in violation of his First Amendment rights, that
C/O Matthews used harassing language and gestures on several occasions, and attempted to
assault him on October 23, 2014, in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. Dalie asserts that
neither Superintendent Gilmore nor Lt. Kennedy protected him from C/O Matthews’ conduct in
violation of his Eighth Amendment rights.
Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss arguing that the Complaint should be
dismissed as Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies and, in the alternative, that
the Complaint fails to state a claim. Because Defendants presented material outside of the
complaint, the Court converted the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment on the
issue of exhaustion, and allowed the parties time to submit additional briefing and evidence. The
issues now have been fully briefed (ECF Nos. 23 and 33) and the matter is ripe for disposition.
Standard of Review
Motion to Dismiss For Failure to State a Claim
A motion to dismiss pursuant Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiently of the
complaint. When reviewing a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all well-pleaded facts
and allegations, and must draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the plaintiff.
Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 62 F.3d 212, 220 (3d Cir. 2011), cert. denied, -- U.S. --, 131 S.
Ct. 1861 (2012) (citing In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010)).
However, as the Supreme Court of the United States made clear in Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, such “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level.” 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(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 Twombly, and providing further guidance on
the standard set forth therein).
To determine the legal sufficiency of a complaint after Twombly and Iqbal, the United
States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit instructs that a district court must make a three-step
approach when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Santiago v.
Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 n.7 (3d Cir. 2010) (noting that although Iqbal describes the
process as a “two-pronged approach,” it views the case as outlining three steps) (citing Iqbal,
556 U.S. at 675). First, “the court must ‘tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state
a claim.” Id. at 130 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675) (alteration in original). Second, the court
“should identify allegations that, ‘because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to
the assumption of truth.’” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Third, ‘”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.’” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).
Courts generally consider the allegations of the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters
of public record in deciding motions to dismiss. Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. 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 documents. Id. (citations omitted). In addition, 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); Lum v. Bank of America, 361 F.3d
217, 222 (3d Cir. 2004) (in resolving a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court
generally should consider “the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint,
matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim.”).
Moreover, 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).
Finally, a court must employ less stringent standard when considering pro se pleadings
than when judging the work product of an attorney. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520
(1972). When presented with a pro se complaint, the court should construe the complaint
liberally and draw fair inferences from what is not alleged as well as from what is alleged.
Dlunos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir. 2003). 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).
Motion for Summary Judgment
Summary judgment is appropriate if, drawing all inferences in favor of the non-moving
party, the record indicates that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary judgment may
be granted against a party who fails to adduce facts sufficient to establish the existence of any
element to that party's case and for which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986). The moving party bears the initial burden of identifying
evidence or the lack thereof that demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.
National State Bank v. Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 979 F.2d 1579, 1582 (3d Cir. 1992).
Once that burden has been met, the non-moving party must set forth “specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial” or the factual record will be taken as presented by the moving
party and judgment will be entered as a matter of law. Matsushita Elec. Ind. Co. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). An issue is genuine only if the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242 (1986). The inquiry, then, involves determining “whether the evidence presents a
sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one
party must prevail as a matter of law.” Brown v. Grabowski, 922 F.2d 1097, 1111 (3d Cir. 1990)
(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251–52). If a court, having reviewed the evidence with this
standard in mind, concludes that “the evidence is merely colorable . . . or is not significantly
probative,” then summary judgment may be granted. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249–50. Finally,
while any evidence used to support a motion for summary judgment must be admissible, it is not
necessary for it to be in admissible form. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; J.F.
Feeser, Inc., v. Serv–A–Portion, Inc., 909 F.2d 1524, 1542 (3d Cir. 1990).
The Administrative Exhaustion Requirement
Defendants’ first argument is that the complaint in its entirety should be dismissed
because Plaintiff has failed to fully exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to all the
claims brought in this lawsuit. As the parties were advised, the motion to dismiss was converted
to a motion for summary judgment on this issue.
Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), a prisoner is required to pursue all
avenues of relief available to him within the prison’s grievance system before bringing a federal
civil rights actions. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); Booth v. Churner, 206 F.3d 289, 291 (3d Cir. 2000),
aff’d, 532 U.S. 731 (2001).
Failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the PLRA is an
affirmative defense that must be pleaded and proven by Defendants. Ray v. Kertes, 285 F.3d
287, 295 (3d Cir. 2002).
Moreover, the PLRA also requires “proper exhaustion” meaning that a prisoner must
complete the administrative review process in accordance with the applicable procedural rules of
that grievance / appeal system and a procedurally defective administrative grievance or appeal
precludes action in federal court. Fennell v. Cambria County Prison, 607 F. App’x 145, 149 (3d
Cir. 2015) (citing Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 84, 90-91 (2006) and Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d
218, 230 (3d Cir. 2008)).
The exhaustion requirement is a “bright-line rule” and “it is beyond the power of this
court – or any other- to excuse compliance with the exhaustion requirement, whether on the
ground of futility, inadequacy, or any other basis.” Nyhuis v. Reno, 204 F.3d 65, 73 (3d Cir.
2000). Likewise, as previously stated, our appellate court has been very clear that all available
remedies must be exhausted prior to filing suit. Oriakhi v. United States, 165 F. App’x 991, 993
(3d Cir. 2006).
The DOC’s grievance policy DC-ADM 804 provides the procedures that prisoners must
follow in submitting grievances. To initiate a claim, a prisoner must file an initial grievance
within 15 working days of an incident. The grievance is submitted to the Facility Grievance
Coordinator (Step 1). If the grievance is denied, the prisoner may appeal to the Superintendent.
(Step 2). Once a prisoner has received a disposition of his Appeal to the Superintendent, the
prisoner may appeal a second time to the Secretary’s Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals
(“SOIGA”) and seek Final Review (Step 3). SOIGA then must respond with a final resolution.
Robinson v. Superintendent Rockview SCI, 831 F.3d 148, 151 (3d Cir. 2016).
In support of their motion, Defendants have submitted the declaration of Kerri Moore, the
Assistant Chief Grievance Officer in the DOC’s SOIGA office. Based on Ms. Moore’s review
of the official records of the SOIGA, for the time period from January 1, 2014 – January 1,
2015,3 Plaintiff has appealed only three grievances to final review, none of which involve the
allegations which give rise to this lawsuit.4 Defendants argue that the record demonstrates that
Plaintiff has not exhausted his available administrative remedies with respect to any issue raised
in this lawsuit.
Based on the Complaint, it appears the events giving rise to this lawsuit occurred
between June 6, 2014, and October 23, 2014.
Grievance No. 507865, filed in May of 2014, complained that inmates were being served
drinking water from a trash can; Grievance No. 51456, filed in June of 2014, pertained to
Plaintiff’s ability to participate in Ramadan; and Grievance No. 520329, filed in July of 2014,
pertained to Plaintiff’s compensation for being a block worker.
Religious Accommodation Claim
In response to Defendants’ motion, Plaintiff has produced Religious Accommodation
Request Response, dated 12/11/2015, in which his requests for a Halal diet and to cuff his pants
were denied. (ECF No. 33-2). While the request in this religious accommodation request does
relate to some of the allegations in this civil rights complaint, an inmate request form is not the
equivalent form of a grievance and it does not appear from the record that this inmate request
was appealed. The summary judgment record contains no evidence that Plaintiff filed any
grievances pertaining to the two particular instances when he was told to unroll his pants after
leaving a religious service nor did he file a grievance about the general policy that pants were not
allowed to be hemmed / cuffed above the ankle. Therefore, because Plaintiff did not fully
exhaust his administrative remedies on this issue, summary judgment will be granted on
Plaintiff’s claims that his rights were under RLUIPA and the First Amendment’s free exercise
clause were violated.
Claims Against C/O Matthews, Lt. Kennedy, and Superintendent Gilmore
Plaintiff also has produced Grievance No. 513408 dated 06/09/2014 and Grievance No.
524845 dated 8/29/2014, both of which involve complaints about C/O Matthews and Lt.
Specifically in Grievance No. 513408, Plaintiff complained that C/O Matthews
threatened him on 06/06/14 that “the next time I hear about you filing a grievance about the way
the water is being served to inmates in the dining hall I’m going to issue you a misconduct” and
that Lt. Kennedy failed to conduct a full and impartial investigation on Plaintiff’s claims. (ECF
No. 33-1, Exh. A-3). In Grievance No. 524845, Plaintiff again complained about C/O Matthews
and Lt. Kennedy stating that C/O Matthews engaged in “habitual harassment, discrimination,
ethnic intimidation, official oppression, and retaliation by staff.” Additionally, according to the
grievance, when Lt. Kennedy was informed of C/O Matthews’ actions, Lt. Kennedy told Plaintiff
that “there was nothing he could do.” (ECF No. 33-1, Exh. A-6).5
Plaintiff contends that he submitted a final appeal to SOIGA for both grievances (ECF
No. 33-1, Exh. A-4 and ECF No. 33-1, Exh. A-8) but never received a final decision letter on
either grievance. When he received no response, in an attempt to spur a response, he again wrote
SOIGA informing it that he had not received a final decision letter. (ECF No. 33-1, Exh. A-10
and ECF No. A-9).
At this stage of the litigation, there is enough in the record for the Court to find that there
is a material issue of fact as to whether Plaintiff was impeded in his efforts to exhaust his
grievances against C/O Matthews and Lt. Kennedy because he received no response from
SOIGA. However, this finding is without prejudice to Defendants’ right to revisit this issue on a
more fully developed record.
However, the summary judgment record is clear that Plaintiff did not file any grievance
regarding failure to protect, or any other claim, against Superintendent Gilmore concerning the
issues of this lawsuit. Therefore, summary judgment will be granted on Plaintiff’s failure to
protect claim against Superintendent Gilmore based on Plaintiff’s failure to exhaust
Claims Against the Department of Corrections (“DOC”)
As Defendants correctly point out, any claims against the DOC are barred by the
Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, which precludes lawsuits against a state
As a result of this grievance, it appears that Plaintiff was allowed to get his pants
hemmed. However, on 09/19/14, Plaintiff was ordered to get new pants because his pants were
hemmed too high and against DOC policy. ECF No. 33-1, Exh. A-6.
in federal court, regardless of the type of relief sought. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159,16567 (1985); Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89 (1984).
It is well settled that the DOC is an agency or arm of the state, and therefore, entitled to
the same Eleventh Amendment immunity which the Commonwealth enjoys. Will v.
Michigan Department of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 63 (1989). While the Pennsylvania General
Assembly has expressly waived its immunity in nine very specific instances as set forth in 42 Pa.
C.S.A. § 8522, none of those exceptions is at issue here. And in any event, when enacting its
limited waiver of immunity, the Commonwealth specifically reserved its right under the
Eleventh Amendment to immunity from suit in federal court. 42 Pa. C. S. §8521(b); see also Pa.
Const.Art. I, §11; 1 Pa. Const. Stat. Ann. §2310; Lavia v. Department of Corrections, 224 F.3d
190, 195 (3d Cir. 2000).
Moreover, title 42, United States Code, section 1983 makes clear that claims brought
pursuant to § 1983 must be brought against a “person” acting “under color” of law. The
Department of Corrections is not a “person” as defined under §1983 and thus, cannot be sued
under that statute. Will, 491 U.S. 58 at 71 (1989).
For these reasons, any claims against the DOC will be dismissed. Further, because
Plaintiff would be unable to cure the deficiencies with respect to any claim involving the DOC
allowing an amendment as to this claim would be futile.
Claims Against C/O Matthews
It is not entirely clear from the Complaint, but it appears that Plaintiff is asserting a First
Amendment retaliation claim against C/O Matthews, as well as Eighth Amendment deliberate
indifference claims against C/O Matthews for harassing language and gestures and for filing a
false misconduct report against Plaintiff.
As to the retaliation claim, a prisoner claiming a First Amendment retaliation claim must
show that: (1) his conduct was constitutionally protected, (ii) he suffered “adverse action” at the
hands of the defendant, and (iii) there was a causal connection between the two. Rauser v. Horn,
241 F.3d 330, 333 (3d Cir. 2001). It is well-settled that “[g]overnment actions, which standing
alone, do not violate the Constitution, may nonetheless be constitutional torts if motivated in
substantial part by a desire to punish an individual for exercise of a constitutional right.”
Mitchell v. Horn, 318 F.3d 523, 530 (3d Cir. 2003) (quoting Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220,
224-25 (3d Cir. 2000)).
Plaintiff asserts in the Complaint that Matthews’ conduct was in retaliation for Plaintiff
filing a grievance against the dietary staff for serving drinking water from a trash can.
filing of grievances or a lawsuit satisfies the constitutionally protected conduct prong of a
retaliation claim. Rauser, 241 F.3d at 333. The Court recognizes that discovery may well reveal
that the alleged conduct does not give rise to a First Amendment retaliation claim, but at this
early stage of the litigation, the allegations of the Complaint must be accepted as true and all
reasonable inferences must be drawn in Plaintiff’s favor.
To the extent that Plaintiff is attempting to bring separate Eighth Amendment claims
based on C/O Matthews’ alleged harassing language and gestures, these claims fail as a matter of
law. The use of words generally cannot constitute an assault actionable under § 1983. “Mere
threatening language and gestures of a custodial officer do not, even if true, amount to
constitutional violations.” Lewis v. Wetzel, 153 F. Supp. 3d 678, 698 (M.D.Pa. 2015); see also
Balliet v. Whitmire, 626 F. Supp. 219, 228 – 29 (M.D.) (“[v]erbal abuse is not a civil rights
violation . . .”), aff’d, 800 F.2d 1130 (3d Cir. 1986).
Given the circumstances described by Plaintiff in the Complaint, the purported harassing
language and gestures attributed to C/O Matthews, although offensive, did not rise to the level of
a constitutional violation. Thus, Plaintiff’s claims that C/O Matthews harassed, threatened, and
attempted to assault him will be dismissed. Because Plaintiff would be unable to cure the
deficiencies with respect to these claims allowing an amendment as to these claims would be
Likewise, Plaintiff’s claims that C/O Matthews filed a false misconduct report against
him will be dismissed. The filing of a false misconduct report does not violate the Eighth
Amendment as such an act does not constitute the denial of basic human needs, such as clothing,
food, shelter, medical care, or sanitation. See Booth v. Pence, 354 F. Supp.2d 553, 559 (E.D.Pa.
2005), aff’d, 141 F. App’x 66 (3d Cir. 2005). Nor does the filing of a false misconduct charge
violate a prisoner’s procedural or substantive due process rights. Smith v. Mensinger, 293 F. 3d
641, 653-54 (3d Cir. 2002). However, as explained supra, to the extent that Plaintiff is alleging
that the false misconduct report was filed in retaliation for Plaintiff engaging in protected
activity, Plaintiff does state a claim. See, e.g., Mitchell v. Horn, 318 F.3d 523, 530 (3d Cir.
2003) (holding that prisoner’s allegations that he was falsely charged with misconduct in
retaliation for filing a complaint against a prison officer stated a claim for retaliation in violation
of the First Amendment).
Claims Against Lt. Kennedy
Intertwined with his claims against C/O Matthews, Plaintiff asserts that he informed Lt.
Kennedy of C/O Matthews’ retaliatory conduct, and Lt. Kennedy failed to protect him from C/O
Matthews’ retaliatory conduct. While the facts are bare, the Court finds that Plaintiff has alleged
enough to create a plausible Eighth Amendment claim against Lt. Kennedy. For a supervisor to
face responsibility, he must be personally involved in the alleged wrongs. Personal involvement
can be shown through allegations of personal direction or actual knowledge and acquiescence.
Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). For a failure to supervise claim, the
plaintiff must prove that the defendant “exhibited deliberate indifference to the plight of the
person deprived.” Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1118 (3d Cir. 1989).
In this case, it appears the essence of Plaintiff’s claim against Lt. Kennedy is that, after
being apprised of the claimed retaliatory conduct by C/O Matthews, Lt. Kennedy failed to take
corrective action. Plaintiff’s allegations against Lt. Kennedy are sufficient at this early stage of
the litigation to survive the motion to dismiss. Again, discovery may well reveal that the alleged
conduct does not give rise to an Eighth Amendment claim, but at this early stage of the litigation,
the allegations of the Complaint must be accepted as true and all reasonable inferences must be
drawn in Plaintiff’s favor.
For all the foregoing reasons, the Motion to Dismiss For Failure to State A Claim filed by
the Defendants, which has been converted into a Motion for Summary Judgment on the issue of
exhaustion only, will be granted in part and denied in part. Summary judgment will be granted
for failure to exhaust on (1) Plaintiff’s claims that his rights under RLUIPA and the First
Amendment’s free exercise clause were violated and (2) all claims against Superintendent
Gilmore. The motion to dismiss will be granted as to all claims against the Pennsylvania
Department of Corrections. The motion to dismiss will be granted on Plaintiff’s Eighth
Amendment claims against C/O Matthews. The motion to dismiss will be denied on Plaintiff’s
First Amendment retaliation claims against C/O Matthews and denied as to Plaintiff’s Eighth
Amendment claims against Lt. Kennedy.
An appropriate order follows.
s/Cynthia Reed Eddy
Cynthia Reed Eddy
United States Magistrate Judge
Dated: August 3, 2017
P.O. Box A
Bellefonte, PA 16823
(via U.S. First Class Mail)
Yana L. Warshafsky
Office of the Attorney General
(via ECF electronic notification)
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?