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Restrepo v. Phelps

United States District Court, D. Delaware

December 10, 2017

PERRY PHELPS, et al., Defendants



         The plaintiff, Juan Restrepo ("Restrepo"), an inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center ("VCC"), Smyrna, Delaware, appears pro se and was granted permission to proceed in forma pauperis. (D.I. 4.) Restrepo filed this lawsuit alleging violations of his civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] (D.I. 2.) The court proceeds to review and screen the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A(b)(1).


         Restrepo alleges that he was housed in SHU/solitary maximum security confinement at the VCC from 2010 through 2016 and that he has been diagnosed as severely mentally ill. Restrepo alleges that his condition exponentially worsened during the years he spent in solitary confinement, and he has multiple scars from suicide attempts.

         The complaints refers to occurrences in 2011, 2013, and 2016.[2] In 2016, when Restrepo was no longer housed in solitary confinement, he was placed in a double cell. Restrepo told the staff that he could not function with another person in the cell. As a result, was punished and placed in isolation confinement (i.e., the hole) during June and July 2016.

         In October 2016, the staff again forced Restrepo to house in a double cell. The same day, he had a major breakdown and attempted suicide. Restrepo alleges that the staff harassed him at the hospital and when he was on suicide watch in the infirmary. Restrepo alleges that mental health psychologist advised VCC administration that Restrepo needed a single cell, not a double cell. However, staff again forced Restrepo into a double cell and refused him access to psychologists. Restrepo was double celled for one week. It appears that he was then single celled and again double celled.

         Restrepo alleges that Commissioner Perry Phelps ("Phelps"), in his position as the former VCC warden and now as Commissioner, has overseen the implementation of policies and procedures that harmed him. Restrepo alleges that his rights are being violated due to a defective mental health program and he is not receiving property treatment. Restrepo has submitted numerous grievances, all to no avail. He seeks compensatory damages and declaratory relief.[3]


         A federal court may properly dismiss an action sua sponte under the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A(b) if "the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 452 (3d Cir. 2013); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) (in forma pauper is 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 Restrepo 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 Rule 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 Restrepo 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); BellAtl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). A plaintiff must plead facts sufficient to show that a claim has substantive plausibility. See Johnson v. City of Shelby, __ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 346, 347 (2014). A complaint may not dismissed, however, for imperfect statements of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted. See Id. at 346.

         Under the pleading regime established by Twombly and Iqbal, a court reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint must take three steps: (1) take note of the elements the plaintiff must plead to state a claim; (2) identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth; and (3) when there are well-pleaded factual allegations, the court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016) (internal citations and quotations omitted). 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.

         IV. ...

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