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Drumgo v. Pierce

United States District Court, D. Delaware

April 12, 2018

WARDEN DAVID PIERCE, et al., Defendants.


         The plaintiff DeShawn Drumgo ("Drumgo"), a former inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center ("VCC") in Smyrna, Delaware, now housed at SCI Coal Township in Coal Township, Pennsylvania, filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He proceeds pro se and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (See D.I. 12.) On May 9, 2017, the case was closed upon Drumgo's motion to withdraw the complaint. (See D.I. 18, 19.) Drumgo filed a motion to reopen the case, granted by the court on November 17, 2017. (D.I. 25, 26.) The original complaint (D.I. 2) and its amendment (D.I. 7), together, consist of the operative pleading. (See D.I. 25.) The court now proceeds to review and screen the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and § 1915A(a).


         Drumgo raises claims relating to the February 2017 prison siege at the VCC. Also named as plaintiffs are "One Hundred and Fifteen Men & Witnesses." Drumgo was housed in C-Building where the eighteen-hour siege took place. He alleges that in 2016 he was classified to medium security and wrongfully housed in C-Building. Drumgo alleges that inadequate staffing or lack of proper staffing caused him to be taken hostage, the VCC failed to protect him, and it deprived him of due process because of a situation it failed to control.

         Drumgo alleges he was laying face down with two other inmates waiting to be rescued, and instead, John Doe officers rushed the cell, stepped on his head and back and punched him. Drumgo alleges that zip ties were placed on him very tightly and when he stated he was not resisting he was punched in the left side of his face and his glasses were broken. During this time, his sneakers were taken. He was taken from the cell and dragged and beaten from B-tier all the way to the yard. He alleges he was punched, choked, and pepper sprayed. He alleges that he suffered a brutal beating while zip tied and the beating was given by the hands of the Delaware State Police, Maryland Police, and Delaware Department of Correction ("DOC") officers, other John Does, and VCC officers Beale, Mitchell, and Marvel.

         Drumgo was walked to medical, barefoot, and wearing only undergarments in 30 degree weather. He was seen by a nurse and alleges that he "received no treatment." At the time the Drumgo filed the complaint, he sought an immediate injunction to obtain treatment for his injuries. However, the request is moot, given that Drumgo is no longer housed at the VCC. He also alleges that as a result of the siege he suffers from nightmares and flashbacks and sought mental health treatment, to no avail.

         Drumgo alleges that following the siege he was subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement for nine days. The conditions included deprivation of clothing, sheets, blankets, and the basic necessities of life. He submitted grievances to no avail. He alleges that his legal work was taken, and he was told it was "intentionally destroyed" along with other inmates' property. He also alleges his personal property was taken including photos, shower shoes, and soap.

         Drumgo alleges that the defendant Delaware Governor John Carney ("Carney") is responsible for: the denial of due process; excessive force; deliberate indifference to Drumgo's medical needs; failure to protect after invoking security; destroying and/or depriving Drumgo of his litigation, legal papers, and personal property; failing to protect Drumgo from becoming a hostage held for 18 hours; not protecting Drumgo from the beating by underlings and authorities; not making sure he received adequate medical care; and having Drumgo housed in "medium high" housing when he has been classified to medium since March 2016.

         Drumgo alleges that the defendant Deputy Warden Parker ("Parker") is responsible for placing him in the "war zone" when he was housed in maximum security with no write-up, no charge, and no due process.

         On March 7, 2017, Drumgo amended his complaint by seeking an emergency injunction to "restrain" continued punishment. (D.I. 7.) Drumgo alleges violations of his right to due process complains because he was housed for over a month in SHU, the same as solitary confinement. He complains that he spent 23 hours per day locked in a cell with no radio, television, headphones, legal work sneakers, or shower shoes. He was required to eat in his cell and was not allowed to go to school, private mental health meetings, or accumulate good time credits. He complains of nerve damage in his hands, pain in his ears, and headaches resulting from the beating he received during the prison siege.

         Drumgo complains that he was interviewed by an Internal Affairs Officer and two homicide detectives and when he would not talk to them, a corrections officer left him in an interview room for an hour. Drumgo alleges this made it look like he was a snitch because everyone else returned in five to ten minutes and this placed his life and safety at risk. Finally, Drumgo complains that he no longer has his usual contact visits.

         Drumgo seeks compensatory damages and injunctive relief including the return of his legal work and personal property.


          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 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 Drumgo proceeds pro se, his pleading is liberally construed and his complaint, "however in artfully 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 merciless 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, 61 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 Drumgo 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). 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.

          III ...

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