Judge allows stomped-on prisoner to refile claim against prison after he retained legal counsel

By Jon Campisi | Apr 22, 2014

A prisoner who filed a pro se federal complaint against members of the

Berks County Prison System over injuries he says he sustained after a corrections officer stomped on his neck has had his complaint dismissed without prejudice because he failed to comply with procedural rules.

U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson, however, granted Hakeem Wilson leave to file an amended complaint in light of the fact that the plaintiff has since retained legal counsel.

Wilson filed suit back in May 2011 against prison guard Dennis Shupp and Warden George Wagner over an incident that occurred the month prior in which Wilson claims he was injured after another corrections officer stomped, “with all of his weight,” on the side of the plaintiff’s neck while he was lying on the ground handcuffed, the record shows.

At the time, Wilson and others were made to lie on the floor because of an altercation that had broken out between several inmates.

Wilson is suing for emotional distress, humiliation, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life due to loss of sleep, and future medical costs relating to his injured neck.

He also seeks a court order for the Berks County district attorney to file criminal charges against Defendant Shupp.

After the suit was filed, Wagner, the prison warden, filed a motion to dismiss arguing that the complaint fails to plead allegations showing that he was personally involved in or knowingly acquiesced to the alleged unconstitutional conduct.

Wagner also argued that Wilson failed to meet his burden to show any violation by the warden in his official capacity, since the lawsuit doesn’t identify a challenged policy or demonstrate a causal link between any alleged policy and the injury suffered by the plaintiff.

Wilson counter-argued that his allegation that Wagner continuously allowed prison guards to harm inmates satisfies his burden at the pleadings stage and also that the complaint provides Wagner with fair notice of the claims against him and the allegations in support of those claims.

Specifically, Wilson argued that his complaint alleges that Wagner knowingly acquiesced in corrections officers’ assaults on inmates.

The plaintiff further stressed that it is possible to infer an allegation that Wagner acted with deliberate indifference from the allegation that he continued to allow such behavior to occur.

In granting the defense’s petition to dismiss, Baylson wrote that Wilson’s allegations against Wagner amount to a “threadbare recital of a cause of action’s elements, supported by mere conclusory statements,” meaning the plaintiff failed to satisfy procedural Rule 8(a)(2), which requires a plaintiff to provide fair notice of the constitutional claims against him and the grounds upon which the claims are based.

The judge dismissed the action without prejudice, however, allowing Wilson to file an amended complaint in light of the fact that the plaintiff has since retained an attorney to represent him in the civil matter.

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