Parkell v. Pierce, C.A. No. 17-157-LPS

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Delaware)
Writing for the CourtSTARK, U.S. District Judge
PartiesDONALD D. PARKELL, Plaintiff, v. DAVID PIERCE, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date22 June 2018
Docket NumberC.A. No. 17-157-LPS

DAVID PIERCE, et al., Defendants.

C.A. No. 17-157-LPS


June 22, 2018

James S. Green, Jared T. Green, SEITZ, VAN OGTROP & GREEN, P.A., Wilmington, DE

Attorneys for Plaintiff

Joseph C. Handlon, Deputy Attorney General, Adria B. Martinelli, Deputy Attorney General, STATE OF DELAWARE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Wilmington, DE

Attorneys for Defendant


June 22, 2018
Wilmington, Delaware

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STARK, U.S. District Judge:

Plaintiff Donald Parkell ("Plaintiff" or "Parkell") filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his and other inmates' rights under the Constitutions of the United States and Delaware.1 (D.I. 1) Pending before the Court is Defendants David Pierce ("Pierce"), Phillip Parker ("Parker"), Dana Metzger ("Metzger"), Perry Phelps ("Phelps"), Jack Markell ("Markell"), Robert Coupe ("Coupe"), and John and Jane Does 1-100's (collectively, "Defendants") Motion to Dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8 and 12(b)(6). (D.I. 42) For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendants' motion.


A. Uprising at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center

On the morning of February 1, 2017, a group of masked armed inmates staged an uprising in Building C ("C-Building") of the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center ("JTVCC"). (See D.I. 41 ("TAC") ¶ 2) During the 18-hour siege, the "attacker" inmates killed Sergeant Steven Floyd and severely injured two other correctional officers, Winslow Smith and Joshua Wilkinson. (See id.) The attacker inmates also held a correctional counselor, Patricia May ("May"), who was inside C-Building at the time of the uprising - as well as the rest of the C-Building inmates, including Parkell - hostage. (See id.)

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During the siege, Parkell and two other inmates "insinuate[d] themselves into the cell" in which May was being held captive and protected her for the duration of the takeover. (See id. ¶¶ 33-36, 40-43, 50-54) While carrying May to the bathroom, Parkell suffered a separated rib. (See id. ¶ 40) As the siege wore on, the hostage inmates packed up their belongings, securing them with electrical cords and placing them on top of their assigned bed racks, fearing the Delaware Department of Corrections ("DOC") might "destroy[] everyone's property." (Id. ¶ 45) Inmates were later told the DOC planned to destroy their property. (See id. ¶ 61)

On the morning of February 2, 2017, police stormed C-Building and ended the standoff. (See id. ¶ 50) As the joint task force retook C-Building and pulled May to safety, May called out to officers not to hurt Parkell and the two other inmates who had protected her. (See id. ¶¶ 51-52) One officer, Sergeant Bane, assured Parkell and the others that they would not be hurt and told officers, "Don't hurt these three. Make sure everyone knows not to hurt them." (See id. ¶¶ 53-54) Other inmates, however, were "thrown to the pavement and pummeled," "beaten while their hands were zip-tied behind their backs . . . face down and peacefully compliant," and "kicked, stomped, and . . . knee[d]" by officers, despite never resisting. (See id. ¶ 55) "Eyeglasses were punched off" inmates' faces and intentionally stomped on by officers. (Id.) Officers stripped off inmates' clothing and then "sped [inmates] through a one minute [medical] triage," where - despite the beatings they had just endured - no injuries were reported. (See id. ¶ 56)

B. Alleged Reprisals

After the takeover, Parkell and the other C-Building inmates, who had been housed in a medium security building, were moved to maximum security housing. (See id. ¶ 57) Once there,

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Parkell and the others were denied clothes, shoes, linens, soap, toothpaste, and showers. (See id. ¶ 58) Inmates were placed in air-conditioned cells - without any sheets or blankets - despite the fact that it was the middle of winter. (See id. ¶ 58) Parkell was confined to his cell except for one hour every two days for a shower or recreation. (See id. ¶ 59) For a week after arriving in secure housing, Parkell was denied Kosher meals and other inmates were denied meals that accommodated their religious beliefs and allergies. (See id. ¶¶ 60, 119) For an extended time, inmates' meals were reduced by half. (See id. ¶ 64) For approximately two months after the takeover, Parkell and the other C-Building inmates were denied medical, mental health, and dental care, despite great need for such care. (See id. ¶¶ 65-68, 119) Over time, these restrictions were lightened, but Parkell's meals are still routinely tampered with; his PTSD and rib injuries, incurred during the uprising, have gone untreated; and he remains in maximum security housing, despite having a much lower security classification. (See id. ¶¶ 69-78, 119) Further, teams of officers now roam JTVCC, "terroriz[ing] the incarcerated," including many C-Building inmates. (See id. ¶ 78)

C. Parkell Files Suit

Two weeks after the uprising, Parkell sued Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his and the other hostage inmates' constitutional rights under the United States and Delaware Constitutions.3 (See D.I. 1) Since filing his original complaint, Parkell has been appointed counsel and has subsequently filed a Third Amended Complaint ("TAC"). (See D.I. 30, 31, 48) Parkell has also been transferred from JTVCC to SCI Camp Hill in Camp Hill,

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Pennsylvania. (See C.A. 17-1496-LPS D.I. 23 at 1)

Parkell raises numerous claims, including excessive use of force and deliberate indifference (Count I); denials of medical, mental health, and dental treatment (Count I); unconstitutional conditions of confinement (Count I); due process violations related to seizure of his property and transfer to maximum security housing (Count II); failure to protect (Count III); failure to address known security risks (Count IV); and denials of medical and mental health care in violation of the Delaware Constitution (Count V). (See id. ¶¶ 123-42) Pierce, Parker, Metzger, Phelps, and John and Jane Does 1-100 are sued in their individual and official capacities. (See id. ¶¶ 14-17, 20) Markell and Coupe are sued in their individual capacities only. (See id. ¶¶ 18-19) Parkell seeks injunctive relief and compensatory damages. (See id. ¶¶ 129-30, 135-36)

On December 29, 2017, Defendants moved to dismiss the TAC under Rules 8 and 12(b)(6). (See D.I. 42) The motion is fully briefed. (See D.I. 43, 45, 47)


Evaluating a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) requires the Court to accept as true all material allegations of the complaint. See Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 223 (3d Cir. 2004). "The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1420 (3d Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, the Court may grant such a motion to dismiss only if, after "accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true, and viewing them in the light most favorable to plaintiff, plaintiff is not entitled to relief." Maio v. Aetna, Inc., 221 F.3d 472, 482 (3d Cir. 2000) (internal

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quotation marks omitted).

However, "[t]o 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 Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). 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). At bottom, "[t]he complaint must state enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [each] necessary element" of a plaintiff's claim. Wilkerson v. New Media Tech. Charter Sch. Inc., 522 F.3d 315, 321 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted).

The Court is not obligated to accept as true "bald assertions," Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks omitted), "unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences," Schuylkill Energy Res., Inc. v. Pennsylvania Power & Light Co., 113 F.3d 405, 417 (3d Cir. 1997), or allegations that are "self-evidently false," Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 69 (3d Cir. 1996).


A. Markell Is Protected by Legislative Immunity

Parkell alleges that Markell violated his Eighth Amendment rights by implementing a "vacant positions policy" that required 90% of positions at the DOC to go unfilled, thereby requiring an excessive amount of overtime to staff JTVCC and doubling the overtime budget in order to do so. (See TAC ¶¶ 100-02, 106-10) Markell, the former Governor of Delaware, is

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generally alleged to have continued constitutionally deficient policies of his predecessor, former Governor Ruth Ann Minner. (See TAC ¶¶ 100-07) Markell, who is sued only in his individual capacity, contends he is entitled to legislative immunity for his involvement in appropriations decisions about the funding and staffing of JTVCC. (See TAC ¶ 18; D.I. 43 at 8-9)

"Absolute legislative immunity attaches to all actions taken 'in the sphere of legitimate legislative activity.'" Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195-96 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Bogan v. Scott-Harris, 523 U.S. 44, 54 (1998)). The doctrine's protection extends not only to legislators, but to the actions of "public officials outside of the legislative branch when they perform legislative functions." Id. An executive function that is an "integral step[] in the legislative process" is typically considered a legislative act. Bogan, 523 U.S. at 55.

The Court agrees with...

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