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Sullins v. Phelps

United States District Court, D. Delaware

June 14, 2019

PERRY PHELPS, et al., Defendants.

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



         Plaintiff Jerome Sullins, an inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] (D.I. 3). Plaintiff appears pro se and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (D.I. 5). The Court screens and reviews the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(a).


         As has been widely reported, in early February 2017, there was a prison uprising in the C-Building at the JTVCC that resulted in the death of correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd. The Complaint attempts to raise claims for actions that occurred following the February 2017 uprising. It contains three counts.

         Count I alleges all Defendants violated Plaintiff's right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment when they conspired and participated with intent to permit the brutalization of Plaintiff, knowing he would be injured by the actions of "the trooper," CERT (i.e., Correction Emergency Response Team), and correctional officers. (D.I. 3 at ¶ 12). Count I further alleges that Defendants "approved of the illegal corporal punishment [of Plaintiff, ] who had nothing [to do] with [the] February 1, 2017 incident." (Id.). Count II alleges Defendants conspired to deprive Plaintiff of his constitutional rights when they agreed among themselves to protect each other from liability "by permitting correctional staff [to] wear mask[s], deny Plaintiff needed medical attention as [a] result of the beating and deny Plaintiff food." (Id. at ¶¶ 13-14). Count III alleges that Defendants JTVCC Warden Dana Metzger, Deputy Warden Phil Parker, Deputy Warden-CERT Timothy Radcliff, Staff Lt. Charles Sennett, and other Defendants in "intermediate supervisory" positions failed to exercise due care in the training, supervision, investigation, and discipline of their subordinates to prevent them from abusing Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 15).

         As alleged, Plaintiff was housed in C-Building, but on the day in question he was in the infirmary receiving a flu shot. (D.I. 3 at ¶¶ 1, 10). Plaintiff alleges that he was beaten, denied food and medical attention, his property was destroyed, and he was tortured. (Id. at ¶ 1). Plaintiff alleges that DOC employees and agents came into SHU-18, where he was housed, and systematically tortured him although he "had nothing to do with the incident of February 1, 2017. (Id. at ¶ 6).

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Perry Phelps, as the Delaware Department of Correction Commissioner, is responsible for the overall operation of the DOC, including the operation of prison facilities. (Id. at ¶ 7). Plaintiff alleges that his constitutional rights were violated by Metzger, Parker, Radcliff, Sennett, and Defendants "Six Masked Unknown Correctional Officers" when they permitted the masked correctional officers to torture and abuse and deny him medical care. (Id. at ¶ 8). He also alleges that Defendants permitted the destruction of his personal property, which had nothing to do with the February 1, 2017 incident. (Id. at ¶ 9). Plaintiff alleges that on March 3, 2018, he was he was strip searched, required to bark like a dog, and then kicked in the backside. (Id. at ¶ 11).

         Plaintiffs seek injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages, and requests counsel. (Id. at 4)


         A federal court may properly dismiss an action sua sponte under the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A(b) if "the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 452 (3d Cir. 2013). See also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) (in forma pauperis actions); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (actions in which prisoner seeks redress from a governmental defendant). The Court must accept all factual allegations in a complaint as true and take them in the light most favorable to a pro se plaintiff. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 229 (3d Cir. 2008); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (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." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. at 94.

         An action is frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and § 1915A(b)(1), a court may dismiss a complaint as frivolous if it is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory" or a "clearly baseless" or "fantastic or delusional" factual scenario. Neitzke, 490 at U.S. 327-28; Wilson v. Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir. 1989).

         The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and § 1915A(b)(1) is identical to the legal standard used when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions. Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999). However, before dismissing a complaint or claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§1915 and 1915A, the Court must grant Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint unless amendment would be inequitable or futile. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 114 (3d Cir. 2002).

         A well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere labels and conclusions. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal,556 U.S. 662 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,550 U.S. 544 (2007). A plaintiff must plead facts sufficient to show that a claim has substantive plausibility. See Johnson v. City of Shelby, 574 U.S.10 (2014). A complaint may not dismissed, ...

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