Judge dismisses pro se complaint filed by state prison inmate

By Jon Campisi | Mar 23, 2012

A federal judge in Philadelphia has granted a dismissal sought by Pennsylvania officials in a pro se prisoner rights case, although the ruling left open the opportunity for the inmate to file an amended complaint against the defendants.

U.S. District Judge Edmund V. Ludwig granted a request by the commonwealth to dismiss a lawsuit against it initiated by William D. Turner, an inmate serving a life sentence at the State Correction Institute-Mahoney.

The lawsuit, which was filed at the federal court in Philadelphia, claimed that Pennsylvania officials and prison personnel violated Turner’s Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by disciplining him for disobeying an order to be housed with a cellmate, returning him to general prison population with a cell with a roommate and a top bunk assignment despite a doctor’s note granting him lower bunk status, and not adequately treating certain physical injuries.

In dismissing the complaint, Ludwig wrote that Turner’s lawsuit failed to state a claim against the defendants.

Furthermore, the judge wrote that the defendants in the suit, including Gov. Tom Corbett, are protected by sovereign immunity, and that they have no liability as for any civil rights claims because they are not alleged to have personally participated in, intentionally assisted, directed or knowingly acquiesced in any action that may have violated the plaintiff’s rights.

The judge also wrote that the due process and equal protection claims contained within the suit are not specific enough to satisfy the pleading requirements governing those claims.

The allegations as to the lack of medical care also do not comport with the pleading requirements, the judge wrote. In order to state an Eighth Amendment claim as to inadequate medical care, a plaintiff must point to evidence that demonstrates both a serious medical need and acts or omissions by prison officials that indicate deliberate indifference to that need.

“The amended complaint falls far short,” Ludwig wrote. “Though it states that injuries were sustained, they are not described, nor is the source of the injury identified. The existence of a serious medical need, therefore, is not adequately pleaded.”

As for the non-assignment to a lower cell bunk, the judge wrote, the lawsuit fails to state a claim in this respect since it is not alleged that any particular defendant or defendants knew of the doctor’s note granting Turner lower bunk status and disregarded the directive.

“Further, though there are some allegations that plaintiff is ‘disabled,’ the disability is not described,” the judge wrote. “The nature and extent of the risk posed by a top bunk assignment cannot be evaluated.”

While granting the commonwealth’s motion to dismiss, the ruling also states that Turner can file an amended complaint by April 6.


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