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Fletcher v. Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. Delaware

November 6, 2018


          William C. Fletcher, Jr., pro se

          Plaintiff Dana Spring Monzo, Karine Sarkisian, White and Williams LLP, Wilmington, DE - attorneys for Defendant Connections Community Support Programs



         Plaintiff William C. Fletcher ("Plaintiff or "Fletcher"), an inmate at the Howard R. Young Correctional Institution ("HRYCI"), [1] filed his complaint pro se on June 2, 2017 against the Delaware Department of Corrections ("DOC") and Connections Community Support Programs' ("Connections"). (D.I. 3). He has been granted leave to proceed to proceed in forma pauper is. (D.I. 5). Fletcher alleges he was retaliated against by Connections when it failed to provide him mental health and medical care following grievances he submitted. (D.I. 3 at 2, 5; D.I. 3-1 at 5-8). After the Court reviewed and screened the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A(b)(J), it dismissed the DOC because of its immunity from suit, but allowed the apparently non-frivolous and cognizable retaliation claims against Connections to proceed. (D.I. 13).

         Presently before the Court is Connections' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint for failure to state a claim asserting that the Complaint fails to allege that it maintained a policy, practice, or custom that caused the alleged inadequate medical care. (D.I. 18). The motion was filed with a supporting opening brief on January 3, 2018. Plaintiff has not responded. For the reasons set forth herein, Connections' motion is denied.


         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) may be granted only if, accepting the well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the complainant, the Court concludes that those allegations "could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief."[2] Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 558 (2007); Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016). "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). "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 plaintiff must plead facts sufficient to show that a claim has substantive plausibility. See Johnson v. City of Shelby, 135 S.Ct. 346, 347 (2014). 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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). 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 such 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 Connections is directly liable for the alleged constitutional violations, Fletcher "must provide evidence that there was a relevant [Connections] policy or custom, and that the policy caused the constitutional violation[s] [plaintiff] allege[s]." Natale v. Camden Cty. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 584 (3d Cir. 2003) (because respondeat superior or vicarious liability cannot be a basis for liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a corporation under contract with the state cannot be held liable for the acts of its employees and agents under those theories). If, however, the acts of a Connections' 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. See Natale, 318 F .3d at 584 (citations omitted).

         "Policy is made when a decisionmaker possess[ing] final authority to establish . . . policy with respect to the action issues an official proclamation, policy or edict." Miller, 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." Id. (citing Andrews, 895 F.2d at 1480; Fletcher v. O'Donnell, 867 F.2d 791, 793-94 (3d Cir. 1989)).

         As noted above, Connections asserts that dismissal is required because Fletcher has not pleaded facts sufficient to demonstrate it has a deficient policy or procedure. (D.I. 18). The legal standard when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions, however, is identical to the standard used when screening a complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). Castillov. Kelly, 690 Fed.Appx. 96, 97 (3d Cir. 2017) ("When dismissing complaints for failure to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), th[e] standard of review is the same as under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)"). The Court previously reviewed Fletcher's allegations and found that he stated what appear to be cognizable and non-frivolous claims. (D.I. 13). Nothing has changed since that ruling. Nevertheless, the Court has revisited the allegations, liberally construed them, and finds that Fletcher adequately raises medical needs claims under the Eighth Amendment.

         The allegations are that Fletcher participated in a behavior modification program that is run by Connections. (D.I. 3-1 at 1). Fletcher alleges that his counselor in the program approached him to arrange a job interview at a car dealership where Fletcher was employed prior to his incarceration. (Id.). Fletcher advised the counselor that doing so would break DOC rules, but the counselor nevertheless told Fletcher "to do it and arranged a special call" to allow Fletcher to arrange the interview for the counselor. (Id.).

         The Complaint alleges that after the counselor was interviewed, he returned to work upset because he was told there would be no job openings for four to five weeks. (D.I. 3-1 at 2). Fletcher alleges that the counselor was paranoid that Fletcher would tell someone what the counselor had done and thus orchestrated a write-up to get Fletcher kicked out of the program. (D.I. 3-1 at 2-3). Fletcher submitted a grievance after he was kicked out of the program that referred to the counselor and the car dealership employment. (D.I. 3-1 at 3). Fletcher was then interviewed by someone at Connections. (Id.). When there was no resolution, Fletcher submitted another grievance, but received no response. (D.I. 3-1 at 3-4).

         Next, Fletcher alleges that he spoke to DOC employees and wrote a letter to the warden. (Id.). After that, Fletcher was interviewed by Internal Affairs and was told that the counselor would not work at the DOC again. (D.I. 3-1 at 4-5). The counselor no longer works in the program. (Id.). At some point in time prior to his discharge, the counselor and others working for Connections at the DOC became aware of Fletcher's grievances. (D.I. 3-1 at 5). He alleges that after that his mental health care was neglected, he had strep throat and pneumonia, and went to medical every day for 35 days before he finally received treatment. (D.I. 3-1 at 5-6). In addition, Fletcher alleges that: (1) there have been repeated delays in the receipt of eye glasses; (2) he has skin cancer but Connections refuses to provide a biopsy; (3) medical personnel will not draw his blood and made him draw his own blood; (4) his ...

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