Booze v. Wetzel, CIVIL NO. 1:13-CV-2139

Decision Date05 August 2015
Docket NumberCIVIL NO. 1:13-CV-2139
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania
PartiesJOSHUA BOOZE, Plaintiff v. JOHN WETZEL, et al., Defendants

(Judge Kane)

(Magistrate Judge Carlson)

I. Statement of Facts and of the Case

On August 13, 2013, the plaintiff, Joshua Booze, a state inmate, filed a pro se complaint naming 22 correctional officials, court officers, police and prosecutors as defendants. (Doc. 1.) Liberally construed, Booze's complaint seemed to allege, albeit in an inadequate fashion, that these officials retaliated against the plaintiff, interfered with his right of access to the courts, denied him due process, and conspired together to violate his constitutional rights.

Upon a screening review, it was recommended that the complaint be dismissed without prejudice to the filing of an amended complaint, (Doc. 10.), a recommendation which the district court adopted. (Doc. 11.) Booze then filed an amended complaint, (Doc. 14.), which is the operative pleading in this lawsuit. This amended complaintis a 20 page, 99 paragraph pleading, which contains a welter of claims against a diverse array of defendants. With respect to the corrections defendants, however, we can discern five distinct categories of claims that Booze appears to be making in this pleading.

First, Booze seems to allege that the defendants improperly placed and kept him in restricted housing, administrative custody (AC), and designated him for the Restricted Release List (RRL), a list of inmates who are housed on strict security conditions. Second, Booze asserts that a series of supervisory defendants, including defendants Wetzel, Klopotoski, Varano, Ellett, Miller, Luscavage, and Miller, violated his rights by refusing to act favorably upon various grievances which Booze lodged with these supervisory officials. Third, Booze then asserts, at some length, that correctional staff, including defendants Jellen, White, Keller, Moraski, Stetler and Long, have violated his First Amendment rights by stealing and tampering with his mail. Fourth, Booze seems to allege that some defendants denied him access to the courts, by delaying the filing of a pro se habeas corpus petition that Booze wished to submit complaining about the conditions of his confinement. Finally, Booze's amended complaint contains far-reaching, but poorly defined claims of retaliation against the plaintiff, and asserts that the defendants have participated in a broad, but amorphous, conspiracy to harm him.

Presented with this multi-faceted amended complaint, the correctional defendants have filed a motion to dismiss some of the claims and defendants named by Booze in his pleadings,1 arguing that the amended complaint, like the original pleading that was found inadequate by the court, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. (Doc. 40.) This motion is fully briefed by the parties, (Docs. 41 and 50.), and is, therefore, ripe for resolution.

For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that the motion to dismiss be granted, in part, and denied, in part.

II. Discussion
A. Motion to Dismiss, Standard of Review

The defendants have moved to dismiss this amended complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that a complaint should be dismissed for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). With respect to this benchmark standard for legal sufficiency of a complaint, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has aptly noted the evolving standards governing pleading practice in federal court, stating that:

Standards of pleading have been in the forefront of jurisprudence in recent years. Beginning with the Supreme Court's opinion in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) continuing with our opinion in Phillips [v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 230 (3d Cir. 2008)] and culminating recently with the Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal -U.S.-, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) pleading standards have seemingly shifted from simple notice pleading to a more heightened form of pleading, requiring a plaintiff to plead more than the possibility of relief to survive a motion to dismiss.

Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 209-10 (3d Cir. 2009).

In considering whether a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, the court must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom are to be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jordan v. Fox Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, Inc., 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). However, a court "need not credit a complaint's bald assertions or legal conclusions when deciding a motion to dismiss." Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Additionally a court need not "assume that a ... plaintiff can prove facts that the ... plaintiff has not alleged." Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). As the Supreme Court held in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), in order to state a valid cause of action a plaintiff must provide some factual grounds for relief which "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of actions will not do." Id. at 555."Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id.

In keeping with the principles of Twombly, the Supreme Court has underscored that a trial court must assess whether a complaint states facts upon which relief can be granted when ruling on a motion to dismiss. In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the Supreme Court held that, when considering a motion to dismiss, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 678. Rather, in conducting a review of the adequacy of complaint, the Supreme Court has advised trial courts that they must:

[B]egin by identifying pleadings that because they are no more than conclusions are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

Id. at 679.

Thus, following Twombly and Iqbal a well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere legal labels and conclusions. Rather, a complaint must recite factual allegations sufficient to raise the plaintiff's claimed right to relief beyond the level of mere speculation. As the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has stated:

[A]fter Iqbal, when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, district courts should conduct a two-part analysis. First, thefactual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The District Court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Second, a District Court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to "show" such an entitlement with its facts.

Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210-11.

As the court of appeals has observed: "The Supreme Court in Twombly set forth the 'plausibility' standard for overcoming a motion to dismiss and refined this approach in Iqbal. The plausibility standard requires the complaint to allege 'enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955. A complaint satisfies the plausibility standard when the factual pleadings 'allow[ ] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.' Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955). This standard requires showing 'more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.' Id. A complaint which pleads facts 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, [ ] 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of "entitlement of relief." ' "Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 220-21 (3d Cir. 2011) cert. denied, 132 S. Ct. 1861, 182 L. Ed. 2d 644 (U.S. 2012).

In practice, consideration of the legal sufficiency of a complaint entails a three-step analysis: "First, the court must 'tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must pleadto state a claim.' Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1947. Second, the court should identify allegations that, 'because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.' Id. at 1950. Finally, 'where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.' Id." Santiago v. Warminster Tp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010).

Judged against these benchmarks, for the reasons set forth below we find that Booze has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted with regard to a number of the allegations set forth by Booze in his amended complaint.

B. Booze Has Failed to State a Valid Due Process Claim With Respect to His Custodial Status

In this case, Booze has leveled far-reaching, yet amorphous, constitutional claims against the correctional defendants, alleging at the outset that his placement and retention in administrative custody (AC) and designation to a Restricted Release List (RRL) violated his due process rights. Booze's placement on the Restricted Release List and his confinement in AC are issues that lie at the heart of this amended civil rights complaint. Specifically, Booze seems to continue to complain that he never received...

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