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Gaul v. Morgan

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 22, 2014

PHIL MORGAN, et al., Defendants.


GREGORY M. SLEET, District Judge.

The plaintiff, Christopher Gaul ("Gaul"), an inmate at the Howard R. Young Correctional Institution ("HRYCI"), Wilmington, Delaware, filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] (D.I. 2.) He appears pro se and was granted permission to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. (D.I. 3, 6.) The court proceeds to review and screen the complaint.


On August 10, 2012, Gaul received an updated status sheet with his new sentence which indicated that he had a no-contact order with Christopher Akers ("Akers"), his co-defendant. (D.I. 3, exs. C, D.) Akers was placed on Gaul's pod on August 17, 2012. ( Id. at ex. C.) Gaul informed C/O Bowerly ("Bowerly")[2] and nothing was done, so he informed the 8-12 shift and, the next day, the 8-4 and 4-12 shifts. Nothing was done. On August 19, 2012, Gaul and Akers had an argument and Bowerly locked everyone down. Bowerly called the defendants Lt. Garland Williams ("Williams") and Sgt. Radcliff Charles ("Charles") and they spoke to Akers and placed Akers on the movement sheet. Gaul was the head tier man, and that afternoon he was let out of his cell during the 4-12 shift so that he could serve chow. After serving chow, Akers attacked him. The defendant C/O Zella Jones ("Jones") saw the inmates arguing and, before she could reach them, Akers punched Gaul in the face. ( Id. at ex. B.) Gaul defended himself Jones ordered both inmates to stop fighting; they did not and she sprayed Vexor (a brand name for pepper spray) towards the inmates. Akers was bleeding from the nose and escorted to the infirmary. Gaul was moved to disciplinary housing.

Gaul received a disciplinary report for fighting, was found guilty, and received nine points. ( Id. at exs. B, C.) Gaul submitted a grievance and was told by the defendant Michael Deloy ("Deloy") that his issues with classification and discipline were non-grievable because they have their own appeal process. ( Id. at ex. D.) In addition, DeLoy advised Gaul that there was no information on his commitment paperwork to indicate there was a no-contact order and that the no-contact order was not received by the Delaware Department of Correction ("DOC") and entered into the system until August 20, 2012, the day after the incident. ( Id. ) Gaul appealed the change in his classification to the defendant former HRYCI Warden Phil Morgan ("Morgan"), [3] received a copy from the defendant Ann Downing ("Downing"), the warden's secretary, who then forwarded the appeal to the defendant Jenifer Barnes ("Barnes"), a classification counselor. Nothing was done. In addition, Gaul wrote to the defendant Deputy Warden Mark Emig ("Emig") who told Gaul there was nothing that he could do. Finally, Gaul wrote to the defendant DOC Commissioner Robert Coupe ("Coupe") complaining of falsified state records.

Gaul seeks compensatory damages, injunctive relief, and requests counsel.


This court must dismiss, at the earliest practicable time, certain in forma pauperis and prisoner actions that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) ( in forma pauperis actions); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (actions in which prisoner seeks redress from a governmental defendant); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (prisoner actions brought with respect to prison conditions). The court must accept all factual allegations in a complaint as true and take them in the light most favorable to a pro se plaintiff. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 229 (3d Cir. 2008); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). Because Gaul proceeds pro se, his pleading is liberally construed and his complaint, "however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. at 94 (citations omitted).

An action is frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and § 1915A(b)(1), a court may dismiss a complaint as frivolous if it is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory" or a "clearly baseless" or "fantastic or delusional" factual scenario. Neitzke, 490 at 327-28; Wilson v. Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir. 1989); see, e.g., Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1091-92 (3d Cir. 1995) (holding frivolous a suit alleging that prison officials took an inmate's pen and refused to give it back).

The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and § 1915A(b)(1) is identical to the legal standard used when ruling on 12(b)(6) motions. Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999) (applying Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) standard to dismissal for failure to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)). However, before dismissing a complaint or claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A, the court must grant Gaul leave to amend his complaint unless amendment would be inequitable or futile. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 114 (3d Cir. 2002).

A well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere labels and conclusions. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). The assumption of truth is inapplicable to legal conclusions or to "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action supported by mere conclusory statements." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. When determining whether dismissal is appropriate, the court must take three steps: "(1) identify[] the elements of the claim, (2) review[] the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) look[] at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluat[e] whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged." Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). Elements are sufficiently alleged when the facts in the complaint "show" that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Deciding whether a claim is plausible will be a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.


A. Failure to Protect

Gaul alleges that he told Bowerly that there was a no-contact order with Akers. Bowerly relayed the information to Williams and Charles following an argument between Gaul and Akers. In addition, Williams and Charles spoke to Akers following the argument, but Akers remained housed on the pod and was placed on the ...

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