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Hardwick v. Connections Community Support Programs, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Delaware

August 2, 2018

JAMES HARDW1CK, Plaintiff,

          James Hardwick, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Smyrna, Delaware. Pro Se Plaintiff.

          Dana Spring Monzo and Roopa Sabesan, White & Williams, Wilmington, Delaware, Counsel for Defendant.



         Plaintiff James Hardwick, an inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware, filed a Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, followed by an Amended Complaint.[1] (D.I. 2, 8). Plaintiff appears pro se and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (D.I. 6). Before the Court is Defendant Connections Community Support Programs, Inc.'s motion to dismiss (D.I. 20) and Plaintiff's motion for discovery. (D.I. 28). Briefing is complete on the motion to dismiss. (D.I. 20, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27).


         The Court screened the Complaint and Amended Complaint on October 10, 2017 and identified cognizable and non-frivolous claims. (See D.I. 9, 10). Plaintiff named several defendants, all of whom have been dismissed except for Connections. (D.I. 9). Connections moves to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) on the grounds that the claims against it are insufficient to plausibly show Connections has a policy or practice that subjects it to constitutional liability.


         In reviewing a motion filed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the court must accept all factual allegations in a complaint as true and take them in the light most favorable to plaintiff. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Because Plaintiff 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." Id. A court may consider the pleadings, public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint, and documents incorporated into the complaint by reference. Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion maybe granted only if, accepting the well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the complainant, a court concludes that those allegations "could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 558 (2007).

         "Though 'detailed factual allegations' are not required, a complaint must do more than simply provide 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.'" Davis v. Abington Mem'l Hosp., 765 F.3d 236, 241 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). I am "not required to credit bald assertions or legal conclusions improperly alleged in the complaint." In re Rockefeller Ctr. Props., Inc. Sec. Litig., 311 F.3d 198, 216 (3d Cir. 2002). A complaint may not be dismissed, however, "for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted." Johnson v. City of Shelby, 135 S.Ct. 346, 346 (2014).

         A complainant must plead facts sufficient to show that a claim has "substantive plausibility." Id. at 347. That plausibility must be found on the face of the complaint. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "A claim has facial plausibility when the [complainant] pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. 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. at 679.

         When a plaintiff relies upon a theory of respondeat superior to hold a corporation liable, he must allege a policy or custom that demonstrates "deliberate indifference." Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1110 (3d Cir. 1989); Miller v. Correctional Med. Sys., Inc., 802 F.Supp. 1126, 1132 (D. Del. 1992). To establish that Defendant is directly liable for the alleged constitutional violations, Plaintiff "must provide evidence that there was a relevant [Connections] policy or custom, and that the policy caused the constitutional violation [plaintiff] allege[s]." Natale v. Camden Cty. Correctional Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 584 (3d Cir. 2003). Respondeat superior or vicarious liability cannot be a basis for corporate liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as a corporation under contract with the state cannot be held liable for the acts of its employees and agents under those theories. Id. at 583. Assuming the acts of Defendant's employee have violated a person's constitutional rights, those acts may be deemed the result of a policy or custom of the entity for whom the employee works, thereby rendering the entity liable under § 1983, where "the inadequacy of existing practice [is] so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights, that the policymaker can reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need." Natale, 318 F.3d at 584.

         "'Policy is made when a decisionmaker possessing] final authority to establish ... policy with respect to the action issues an official proclamation, policy or edict.'" Miller v. Corr. Med. Sys., Inc., 802 F.Supp. at 1132 (alteration in original) (quoting Andrews v. City of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469, 1480 (3d Cir. 1990)). "Custom, on the other hand, can be proven by showing that a given course of conduct, although not specifically endorsed or authorized by law, is so well-settled and permanent as virtually to constitute law." Miller, 802 F.Supp. at 1132 (citing Andrews, 895 F.2d at 1480; Fletcher v. O'Donnell, 867 F.2d 791, 793-94 (3d Cir. 1989)).

         Connections argues dismissal is appropriate because Plaintiff has not pled facts sufficient to demonstrate it has a deficient policy or procedure. It contends that the allegations also do not state a claim for negligence under Delaware law.

         As is well-established, the legal standard when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions is identical to the standard used when screening a complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). See Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999). The Court previously reviewed Plaintiff's allegations and found that he stated what appear to be cognizable and non-frivolous claims. (See D.I. 9). Nothing has changed since that ruling. Nonetheless, the Court has revisited the ...

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