Ulrich v. Corbett, CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:CV-14-1025

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtMagistrate Judge Blewitt
Decision Date28 July 2014
PartiesRICHARD ULRICH Plaintiff v. TOM CORBETT, et. al, Defendants
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 1:CV-14-1025

al, Defendants



July 28, 2014

(Judge Rambo)

(Magistrate Judge Blewitt)



On May 28, 2014, Plaintiff Richard Ulrich, currently an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Benner Township ("SCI-Benner Township"), Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, filed, pro se, the instant civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985(3).1 (Doc. 1). Plaintiff also filed a Motion to Appoint Counsel on May 28, 2014. (Doc. 2). On June 6, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Motion for a temporary restraining order without a support brief. (Doc. 7). Plaintiff further filed an in forma pauperis Motion. (Doc. 9). Finally, Motions to Intervene as Plaintiffs under Rule 24 were filed in this case by SCI-Benner Township inmates Sam Rose, Maurice Elijah Ray, and Anthony Autwell since they aver they were "fed sodium pentothal in the prison food and commissary items"

Page 2

similar to Plaintiff Ulrich's allegations in his Complaint. (Docs. 6, 8 & 13). On July 14, 2014, we issued an Order (Doc. 15) denying Plaintiff's Doc. 2 Motion to Appoint Counsel and the Docs. 6, 8 &13 Motions to Intervene. In the same Order, we also deemed Plaintiff's Doc. 7 Motion for a temporary restraining order as withdrawn, since Plaintiff did not file a support brief as is required.

Plaintiff's rambling and disjointed Complaint consists of fourteen (14) single-spaced, typed pages with 123 paragraphs. Plaintiff indicates in his caption and "Plaintiffs" section that his Complaint is filed on behalf of "others similarly situated," i.e., as a class action. (Doc. 1, p. 1). It appears Plaintiff is essentially alleging that Defendants Corbett and Wetzel have violated 61 Pa.C.S. § 4304(a), Method of Execution. Additionally, Plaintiff claims a plethora of civil rights violations due to "the use of sodium pentothal in the prison foods and commissary items since 2011" and he alleges that he complained to Correctional Officers, medical personnel and the prison psychologist. (Doc. 1, p. 4).

Plaintiff also attaches a number of Exhibits to his Complaint (Doc. 1, pp. 15-53), including: letters from "Andrea P. from Mary Mother of Captives," "with inferences in relations to his current criminal case and the use of sodium pentothal" (Doc. 1, pp. 15-16); cash slips regarding Plaintiff's sick calls (Id. at 17-19); a Chuck E. Cheese advertisement where Plaintiff seemingly notes inferences such as, "mouse placed into daughter's hair," "teddy bear," "frog," "ground hog with #7 on nose," "State of PA," "dove," "forms of seals," "pirate symbol, possibly Pittsburgh" (Id. at p. 20); a declaration from another inmate who states that Defendant Eakin called Plaintiff a "nut" when the inmate asked about paperwork filed against Defenant Eakin (Id. at 21); Plaintiff's withdrawal of his criminal complaint against Defendant Eakin (Id., p. 22); two declarations from Plaintiff (Id., pp. 23

Page 3

& 25) regarding his averments that the prison has experimented with him and other inmates as to how the mind reacts to the use of sodium pentothal ; and another declaration from an inmate who states "Officer Nash confirmed that thier (sic) is in fact sodium pentothal in the DOC's food and commisarry (sic) items." (Id., p. 24).

Plaintiff names as Defendants: (1) Tom Corbett, Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; (2) John E. Wetzel, Secretary of the PA Department of Corrections ("DOC"); and (3) David Pickens, Superintendent of SCI-Benner Township. In his Supplement, Plaintiff adds as his fourth Defendant M.E. Eakin, Correctional Officer at SCI-Benner Township. (Doc. 1-1, p. 1). Plaintiff indicates that Defendants are being sued individually and in their official capacity. Plaintiff is correct in stating this Court has jurisdiction over his § 1983 and § 1985(3) civil rights case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343(a).

We will now screen Plaintiff's Complaint in accordance with § 1915 of the PLRA. See Abdul-Akbar v. McKelvie, 239 F. 3d 307, 314 (3d Cir. 2001); Banks v. County of Allegheny, 568 F.Supp.2d 579, 589 (W.D. Pa. 2008).



The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995,2 (the "PLRA"), obligates the Court to engage in a screening process when a prisoner wishes to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915. Specifically, § 1915(e)(2), which was created by § 805(a)(5) of the Act, provides:

(2) Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any

Page 4

portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that (A) the allegation of poverty is untrue; or (B) the action or appeal (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.

B. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

In a § 1983 civil rights action, the Plaintiff must prove the following two essential elements: (1) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and (2) that the conduct complained of deprived the Plaintiff of rights, privileges or immunities secured by the law or the Constitution of the United States. Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527 (1981); Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F. 3d 176, 184 (3d Cir. 1993). Further, Section 1983 is not a source of substantive rights. Rather, it is a means to redress violations of federal law by state actors. Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 284-85 (2002); see also Holocheck v. Luzerne County Head Start, Inc., 385 F. Supp. 2d 491, 498-499 (M. D. Pa. 2005); Slater v.Susquehanna County, 613 F. Supp. 2d 653, 660 (M.D. Pa. 2009) (citations omitted); Stankowski v. Farley, 487 F. Supp. 2d 543, 550 (M.D. Pa. 2007) ("only those who act under color of state law are liable to suit under section 1983."). "In order to satisfy the second prong [of a §1983 civil rights action], a Defendant does not have to be a state official, but can also be held liable as a state actor." Slater v. Susquehanna County, 613 F. Supp. 2d at 660(citations omitted).

It is well-established that personal liability under section 1983 cannot be imposed upon a state official based on a theory of respondeat superior. See, e.g., Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976); Hampton v. Holmesburg Prison Officials, 1546 F.2d 1077, 1082 (3d Cir. 1976); Parratt,

Page 5

supra. It is also well-settled in the Third Circuit that personal involvement of defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a requirement in a § 1983 case and that a complaint must allege such personal involvement. Id. Each named defendant must be shown, through the complaint's allegations, to have been personally involved in the events or occurrences upon which Plaintiff's claims are based. Id. As the Court stated in Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1998):

A defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs . . . . [P]ersonal involvement can be shown through allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence. Allegations of participation or actual knowledge and acquiescence, however, must be made with appropriate particularity. (Citations omitted).

A civil rights complaint must state time, place, and responsible persons. Id. Courts have also held that an allegation seeking to impose liability on a defendant based on supervisory status, without more, will not subject the official to section 1983 liability. See Rode, 845 F.2d at 1208.

The Court uses the same standard to screen a complaint as it does for a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. See Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999).

C. Motion to Dismiss

In Reisinger v. Luzerne County, 712 F.Supp. 2d 332, 343-344 (M.D. Pa. 2010), the Court stated:

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently set out the appropriate standard applicable to a motion to dismiss in light of the United States Supreme Court's decisions Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 433 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ----, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009). "[T]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true to 'state a claim that relief is plausible on its face.' " Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949

Page 6

(citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The Court emphasized that "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 1950. Moreover, it continued, "[d]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will ... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. (citation omitted). McTernan v. City of York, 577 F.3d 521, 530 (3d Cir.2009). The Circuit Court discussed the effects of Twombly and Iqbal in detail and provided a road map for district courts presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim in a case filed just a week before McTernan, Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203 (3d Cir.2009).

[D]istrict courts should conduct a two-part analysis. First, the factual 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

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT