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Clark v. Coupe

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 26, 2019

ANGELO LEE CLARK, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT COUPE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

         Presently before me is the lengthy Report & Recommendation ("Report") of a United States Magistrate Judge. (D.I. 69). It addresses DOC Defendants'[1] Motion to Dismiss and Medical Defendants'[2] Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. (D.I. 32, 34). Plaintiff and DOC Defendants have filed objections to the Report. (D.I. 71, 72). DOC Defendants and Medical Defendants have responded to Plaintiffs objections. (D.I. 74, 76). Plaintiff has responded to DOC Defendants' objections. (D.I. 75).

         I. Background

         Plaintiff has been an inmate at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center ("JTVCC") since 2004. (D.I. 29 at ¶ 19). While at JTVCC, Plaintiff has been treated for serious mental illness ("SMI"). (Id. at ¶ 1). He was housed in solitary confinement for fifteen days in 2015 and for seven months in 2016. (Id. at ¶ 11). He alleges that his placement in solitary confinement was "in retaliation for [his] SMI, loud voice, or minor rule infractions." (Id. at ¶ 1).

         Plaintiff filed this Section 1983 lawsuit pro se on January 23, 2017. (D.I. 1). The Court appointed counsel for Plaintiff on September 12, 2017. (D.I. 22). With the aid of counsel, Plaintiff filed a first amended complaint (FAC) on January 12, 2018, alleging that Defendants violated his rights under the First, Fifth, [3] and Eighth Amendments of the United States Constitution applied through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (D.I. 29). He seeks damages and a permanent injunction. (Id. at 25). Defendants filed their motions to dismiss on April 2, 2018. (D.I. 32, 34).

         I referred the motions to dismiss to a Magistrate Judge on July 31, 2018. (D.I. 48). A Report was issued on December 28, 2018. (D.I. 69). The Report recommends dismissal of Count I, violation of the Eighth Amendment, as to all Defendants. (Id. at 25-26, 49). It recommends dismissal of all claims to the extent that they allege that DOC Defendants are liable for failure to provide adequate medical or mental health treatment. (Id. at 33). It recommends dismissal of Count II, inadequate medical care, as to Medical Defendants Lynch and Munoz. (Id. at 55). It recommends dismissal of Count III, retaliation, as to Medical Defendants. (Id. at 49 n.236). Finally, the Report recommends dismissal of all Counts against Defendant Metzger individually, as he was inappropriately named in his personal capacity. (Id. at 40 n.194).

         II. Legal Standard

         Magistrate Judges have authority to make recommendations as to the appropriate resolution of a motion to dismiss pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). In the event of an objection, this Court reviews the objected-to determinations de novo.

         When 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 Ail. 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)).

         "A defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs to be liable and cannot be held responsible for a constitutional violation which he or she neither participated in nor approved." Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 210 (3d Cir. 2007) (cleaned up). A defendant's personal involvement can be shown by particularly pleading "allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence." Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). Moreover, "[b]ecause vicarious liability is inapplicable to ... § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676.

         III. Discussion

         Plaintiff objects to the Report's recommendation that I grant DOC Defendants' and Medical Defendants' motions to dismiss Count I to the extent it alleges an Eighth Amendment violation because of Plaintiff s confinement to the solitary housing unit. (D.I. 71 at 3-5, 7-9; see D.I. 29 at ¶¶ 110-15 (Count I)). The Report recommends that the law does not support Plaintiffs claim "that housing a mentally ill inmate in solitary confinement for long periods of time violates a clearly established Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment." (D.I. 69 at 25). Accordingly, the Report recommends that DOC Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity and dismissal of Count I on this issue. (Id. at 25-26). Plaintiff argues that this is inconsistent with the Report's recommendation that Count III, alleging a violation of the First and Fifth Amendments, be maintained. (D.I. 71 at 5). I do not agree. It is not inconsistent that a right may be clearly established under one amendment, but not clearly established under another. Thus, I will adopt the Report's recommendation and dismiss Count I as to DOC Defendants to the extent it alleges an Eighth Amendment violation because of Plaintiff s confinement to the solitary housing unit.

         The Report also recommends that I dismiss Count I, violation of the Eighth Amendment via placement in solitary confinement, as to Medical Defendants. (See D.I. 69 at 49). The Report's recommendation is based on a finding that "Medical Defendants did not participate in the decision to place Clark in the [solitary housing unit], or the length of time he was housed there." (Id. at 47). This conclusion stems from an analysis of rules and statutes that place responsibility for establishing procedures and standards with the Department of Correction and prison officials. (Id. at 47-49). Plaintiff argues that this is not a correct basis for dismissing his claim that Medical Defendants had a decision-making role in housing determinations under the standards set by the Department of Correction. (D.I. 71 at 7-9). I do not agree. The rules under which the Department of Correction operates when deciding whether to place an inmate in solitary confinement suggest it is unlikely that Medical Defendants had a role in inmate housing determinations. More importantly, the allegations in the FAC regarding the housing decisions only refer to actions attributable to DOC Defendants. (D.I. 29 at ¶¶ 72-75). Thus, Plaintiffs claim that Medical Defendants violated the Eighth Amendment by placing him in solitary confinement, which is unsupported by any factual allegations, is implausible. I will adopt the Report's recommendation as to this Count and I will dismiss Count I as to Medical Defendants to the extent it alleges an Eighth Amendment violation because of Plaintiff s confinement to the solitary housing unit.[4]

         Plaintiff also objects to the Report's recommendation that I grant DOC Defendants' motion to dismiss Count I's allegations of inadequate medical care. (D.I. 71 at 5-6). "In order to establish a violation of [a prisoner's] constitutional right to adequate medical care, evidence must show (i) a serious medical need, and (ii) acts or omissions by prison officials that indicate deliberate indifference to that need." Natale v. Camden Cty. Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 582 (3d Cir. 2003). "[A]bsent a reason to believe (or actual knowledge) that prison doctors or their assistants are mistreating (or not treating) a prisoner, a non-medical prison official... will not be chargeable with the Eighth Amendment scienter requirement of deliberate indifference." Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 236 (3d Cir. 2004). The deliberate indifference standard may be satisfied, however, "when a prison official knows of a prisoner's need for medical treatment but intentionally refuses to provide it or delays necessary medical treatment based on a nonmedical reason." Pearson v. Prison Health Serv., 348 Fed.Appx. 722, 725 (3d Cir. 2009) (cleaned up).

         Plaintiffs allegations of deliberate indifference are sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. Plaintiff alleges that "Defendants are well-aware of Mr. Clark's serious mental illness," and that "Defendants deprived [him] of any meaningful mental health treatment." (D.I. 29 at ¶¶ 5, 9). He further alleges that he had "no access to therapy sessions or counselling, [that] he only saw a mental health provider who evaluated his medications once every few months," and that Defendants "ignored [his] need for and denied his requests for adequate counselling and proper medication." (Id. at ¶¶ 41, 62). As to each DOC Defendant, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant "denied him mental health treatment" or "authorized, approved of, or directed" such denial. (Id. at ΒΆΒΆ 91, 95, 97). The FAC also alleges that DOC Defendants ...


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