CONSTITUTIONAL LAW

§1983 Claim • Motion Practice • Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)

Ellison v. Crump, PICS Case No. 14-0297 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 10, 2014) Pratter, J. (8 pages).

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted defendants’ motion to dismiss as to plaintiff’s §1983 claim for excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment and denied the motions to dismiss plaintiff’s punitive damage claim, the state law assault and battery claim, and his §1983 claim for excessive force in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Ellison was incarcerated at the George Hill Correctional Facility as a pretrial detainee. At approximately noon on September 9, 2011, Ellison was taken to administrative segregation because he refused to be locked in his cell after lunch. According to the allegations of the complaint, correctional officer Crump swung his fist at Ellison, and another office sprayed Ellison with mace. While Ellison was on the ground, Crump and other correctional officers allegedly kicked him, causing blood to flow from his nose. When Ellison was placed in administrative segregation he was wearing only a pair of boxer shorts. After waiting an hour for Crump to bring him some clothes, Ellison popped the sprinkler head in his cell. McCreary and several other correctional officers then assaulted Ellison by punching and kicking him about the face. Ellison alleged that he did nothing to provoke the beatings, that he posed no safety threat, and that he did not attempt to assault the officers. As the result of the assaults, Ellison asserted that he suffered a severe laceration above his eye, a laceration of his lip and two broken teeth. He was taken to a hospital where he received thirteen sutures to close the laceration above his eye. The injuries to Ellison’s teeth required dental restoration.

Ellison’s amended complaint alleged four causes of action, only two of them against the moving parties, Crump and McCreary. Ellison alleged against those two defendants a §1983 claim for excessive force in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments and a state law claim for assault and battery. Crump and McCreary both moved to dismiss the claims against them under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim.

Because the Eighth Amendment does not apply to pretrial detainees, the district court dismissed that portion of Ellison’s amended complaint. A pretrial detainee may claim excessive force in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The pivotal inquiry is whether force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or whether force was used maliciously and sadistically to cause harm. Because Ellison alleged McCreary and Crump punched and kicked him, resulting in broken teeth and lacerations requiring sutures, the court held that Ellison’s claim must survive at this stage of the litigation. His state law claim for assault and battery also survived the motion to dismiss because Ellison had alleged he was punched and kicked in the face.

Crump and McCleary also asserted Ellison’s punitive damage claim should have been dismissed. The court held that at this point in the proceeding, the allegations regarding the assaults Ellison claimed to have suffered at the hands of Crump and McCleary supported a claim for punitive damages against them.