United States District Court, D. Delaware
before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss
Plaintiffs Second Amended Complaint. (D.I. 63). The Parties
have fully briefed the issues. (D.I. 64, 66, 67). For the
reasons set out below, Defendants' Motion is
March 2, 2007, Plaintiff was sentenced to life in prison as a
habitual offender. See Szubielski v. State, 82 A.3d
730 (Del. 2013). The second amended complaint alleges that
Plaintiff was then transferred to the James T. Vaughn
Correctional Center ("VCC") and housed in maximum
security ("SHU"), which is a "solitary
confinement unit." (D.I. 59 at ¶¶ 12-13).
Plaintiff was classified to SHU until October 2016.
(Id. at ¶ 22). Defendant Pierce served as
warden at the VCC from 2013 until 2017. (Id. at
¶ 7). Defendant Metzger is the current VCC warden.
(Id. at ¶ 8).
year, the Institutional Based Classification Committee
("IBCC") classifies Plaintiff. (Id. at
¶ 14). The classification assigned determines where he
will be housed, for which privileges he will be eligible, and
other aspects of his day-to-day life. (Id.). After
each of Plaintiffs reviews from 2007-2014, the IBCC
recommended Plaintiffs housing in maximum security.
(Id. at¶ 16)
early 2015, Plaintiff wrote to Defendant Pierce and requested
a transfer from SHU. (Id. at ¶ 17). Pierce
replied that he would consider the transfer after the August
2015 classification review. (Id.). On August 6,
2015, the ACLU and Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. filed a
Section 1983 lawsuit ("the CLASI lawsuit")
against the Delaware Department of Correction over the mental
health treatment provided to inmates in SHU and the length of
time that they are housed there. See Community Legal Aid
Society, Inc. v. Coupe, Civ. No. 15-688-GMS (D. Del.).
Individual inmates were not named in the lawsuit, but
Plaintiff was one of the exemplar inmates described in the
complaint. (D.I. 59 at ¶ 18). The identities of the
exemplar inmates were known by attorneys and officials at the
DOC, including Defendant Pierce. (Id.).
IBCC conducted its 2015 annual review on September 1, 2015
and classified Plaintiff to medium security, medium high
programs, and inmate worker. (Id. at ¶ 20). On
October 14, 2015, Defendant Pierce exercised his unilateral
veto authority to retain Plaintiff in SHU. (Id. at
reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must accept the
complaint's factual allegations as true. See Bell
Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Rule
8(a) requires "a short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief."
Id. at 555. The factual allegations do not have to
be detailed, but they must provide more than labels,
conclusions, or a "formulaic recitation" of the
claim elements. Id. ("Factual allegations must
be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level... on the assumption that all the allegations in the
complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).").
Moreover, there must be sufficient factual matter to state a
facially plausible claim to relief. Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The facial plausibility
standard is satisfied when the complaint's factual
content "allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged." Id. ("Where a complaint pleads
facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's
liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and
plausibility of entitlement to relief." (internal
quotation marks omitted)).
move to dismiss the case claiming: (1) Defendant Pierce is
entitled to immunity from suit on Count I; (2) Plaintiffs
retaliation claim in Count II against Defendant Pierce is
implausible; and (3) Plaintiff has failed to state a
cognizable claim against Defendant Metzger in Count III.
alleges that Defendant Pierce violated the Fifth and
Fourteenth Amendments when he unilaterally vetoed Plaintiffs
new IBCC classification. (D.I. 59 at ¶¶ 23-38).
Defendant Pierce argues that the doctrine of qualified
immunity shields him from liability for this alleged
violation. (D.I. 64 at 5-8).
immunity protects government officials from insubstantial
claims to "shield officials from harassment,
distraction, and liability when they perform their duties
reasonably." Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223,
231 (2009). "When properly applied, it protects 'all
but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate
the law.'" Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S.
731, 743 (2011) (quoting Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S.
335, 341 (1986)). Qualified immunity protects government
officials performing discretionary functions unless: (1) the
official's conduct violates "a statutory or
constitutional right, and (2)  the right was 'clearly
established' at the time of the challenged conduct."
Id. at 735.
Government official's conduct violates clearly
established law when, at the time of the challenged conduct,
'[t]he contours of [a] right [are] sufficiently
clear' that every 'reasonable official would have
understood that what he is doing violates that
right.'" Id. at 741 (alteration in
original) (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S.
635, 640 (1987)). "In other words, there must be
sufficient precedent at the time of action, factually similar
to the plaintiffs allegations, to put defendant on notice
that his or her conduct is constitutionally prohibited."
McLaughlin v. Watson,271 F.3d 566, 572 (3d Cir.
2001). To determine if a right is clearly established, the
Third Circuit directs a court to look first for Supreme Court
precedent. Mammaro v. N.J. Div. of Child Prot. &
Permanency,814 F.3d 164, 169 (3d Cir. 2016). If there
is none, then a court may rely on a '"robust
consensus of cases of persuasive authority' in the Court
of Appeals." Id. (quoting Taylor v.
Barkes,135 S.Ct. 2042, 2044 (2015) (per curiam)).