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Hester v. Pierce

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 24, 2018

WARDEN DAVID PIERCE, et al, Defendants.

          Cornell Hester, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, SCI-Chester, Chester, Pennsylvania, Pro Se Plaintiff.

          Joseph Clement Handlon, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for Defendants.


          STARK, U.S. District Judge.


         Plaintiff Cornell Hester ("Plaintiff), a former inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center ("VCC") in Smyrna, Delaware, filed this action alleging constitutional violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 1983. (D.I. 2) He is now housed at SCI-Chester in Chester, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff appears pro se and has been granted leave to proceed in forma paitperis. (D.I. 9) Before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss and Plaintiffs opposition. (D.I. 12, 14)


         Plaintiff was an inmate at the VCC when a February 1-2, 2017 hostage incident took place and resulted in the death of a corrections officer. Plaintiff was housed in C Building at the VCC. He alleges he was an inmate hostage and then beaten during the rescue. Following die incident, Plaintiff was transferred to the Secured Housing Unit ("SHU"). Prior to the transfer, Plaintiff had a medium status level classification. Plaintiff alleges his placement in SHU violated the Eighth Amendment as well as his right to due process. He states that former VCC Warden David Pierce ("Pierce") considered all 120 inmate hostages as suspects and placed them in maximum confinement. According to Plaintiff, this placement meant he was "illegally found guilty" when he had not been charged with a crime.

         Plaintiff also alleges that he sustained a serious injury when he was taken hostage, was mentally and emotionally oppressed, and was having anxiety attacks. He also alleges he was lacked in die back and, as a result, threw up blood for 38 days, without receiving medical attention or treatment. Plaintiff alleges that he was denied medical attention and treatment on direct order from Pierce. Plaintiff alleges that is "having mental psychological defects" from the maximum security housing. He has requested mental health help and has been on a waiting list since the hostage incident He commenced this action on March 20, 2017.

         Defendants move for dismissal pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) on the grounds that three of the four defendants are not mentioned in the Complaint and Pierce appears to have been named because he was a warden at the time of the February incident and when C Building inmates were subsequently transferred to restrictive housing. Plaintiff opposes the motion, seeks a stay and an evidentiary hearing, and requests counsel.


         Evaluating a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) requires the Court to accept as true all material allegations of the complaint. See Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 223 (3d Cir. 2004). "The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1420 (3d Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, the Court may grant such a motion to dismiss only if, after "accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true, and viewing them in the light most favorable to plaintiff, plaintiff is not entitled to relief." Maio v. Aetna, Inc., 221 F.3d 472, 481-82 (3d Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks omitted). A district court ruling on a motion to dismiss may consider the facts alleged on the face of the complaint, as well as "documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice." Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007).

         A well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere labels and conclusions. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell At/. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (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.

         "To survive a motion to dismiss, a civil plaintiff must allege facts that 'raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).'" Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). A claim is facially plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. At bottom, "[t]he complaint must state enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [each] necessary element" of a plaintiffs claim. Wilkerson v. New Media Tech. Charter Sch. Inc., 522 F.3d 315, 321 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         The Court is not obligated to accept as true "bald assertions," Morse v. Lower Merion Scb. Dist.,132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks omitted), "unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences," Scbuylkill Energy Res., Inc. p. Pennsylvania Power & Light Co.,113 F.3d 405, 417 (3d Cir. 1997), or allegations that are "self-evidently false," Nami v. Fauver,82 F.3d 63, 69 (3d Cir. 1996). 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 ...

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