United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
November 8, 2005.
ERNEST SANDERS, Plaintiff
SUSQUEHANNA COUNTY JAIL, ET AL., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHARD CONABOY, Senior District Judge
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Ernest Sanders initiated this pro se civil rights action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on November 2, 2005. Since the
required filing fee has been paid, Plaintiff's request for leave
to proceed in forma pauperis will be denied as moot. For
the reasons set forth below, Sanders' complaint will be
dismissed, without prejudice, as legally frivolous pursuant to
the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.
Named as Defendants are the Susquehanna County Jail, Montrose,
Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania State Police and Susquehanna
County. Plaintiff generally states that "they have falsely
imprisoned me 3 times so far." Doc. 1, ¶ 3. Attached to the
complaint is a copy of criminal complaint (CR. 31-04) filed
against the Plaintiff in 2004. Sanders has also submitted a copy
of a letter wherein he alleges that Susquehanna officials have
subjected him to harassment over the past four (4) years. His letter indicates that on one occasion he was jailed for ninety
(90) days on charges which were eventually dropped. Next, Sanders
asserts that he was incarcerated for approximately ten (10)
months until he was acquitted following a jury trial. Plaintiff
adds that he is presently facing criminal charges (CR. 31-04)
which are also allegedly baseless. His complaint also claims that
his court appointed public defender has been providing him with
ineffective assistance and is insisting that he enter a guilty
plea to CR. 31-04. As relief, Sanders seeks "a serious
investigation into this county and there [sic] officials." Id.
at ¶ 4.
As previously noted, Plaintiff has paid the required filing
fee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A provides in pertinent part:
(a) Screening. The court shall review . . . a
complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks
redress from a governmental entity or officer or
employee of a governmental entity.
(b) Grounds for dismissal. On review, the court
shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the
complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the
(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a
claim upon which relief may be granted; or
(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is
immune from such relief.
A district court may determine that process should not be
issued if the complaint is malicious, presents an indisputably
meritless legal theory, or is predicated on clearly baseless
factual contentions. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319
, 327-28 (1989); Wilson v. Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772
, 774 (3d Cir.
The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has
added that "the plain meaning of `frivolous' authorizes the
dismissal of in forma pauperis claims that . . . are of
little or no weight, value, or importance, not worthy of serious
consideration, or trivial." Deutsch v. United States,
67 F.3d 1080
, 1083 (3d Cir. 1995). "The frivolousness determination is a
discretionary one," and trial courts "are in the best position"
to determine when an indigent litigant's complaint is appropriate
for summary dismissal. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33
A plaintiff, in order to state a viable civil rights claim
under § 1983, must plead two essential elements: (1) that the
conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under
color of state law, and (2) that said conduct deprived the
plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the
Constitution or laws of the United States. Groman v. Township of
Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 638 (3d Cir. 1995); Shaw by Strain v.
Strackhouse, 920 F.2d 1135, 1141-42 (3d Cir. 1990).
Pennsylvania State Police
The United States Supreme Court has ruled that a § 1983 action
brought against a "State and its Board of Corrections is barred
by the Eleventh Amendment unless [the State] has consented to the filing of such a suit." Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781,
782 (1978). The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has
likewise concluded that the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and
Parole could not be sued because "it is not a `person' within the
meaning of Section 1983." Thompson v. Burke, 556 F.2d 231, 232
(3d Cir. 1977).
In Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58
(1989), the Supreme Court reiterated its position that state
agencies are not "persons" subject to liability in § 1983 actions
brought in federal court. The Court noted that a § 1983 suit
against a state official's office was "no different from a suit
against the State itself." Id. at 71. "Will establishes that
the State and arms of the State, which have traditionally enjoyed
Eleventh Amendment immunity, are not subject to suit under § 1983
in either federal or state court." Howlett v. Rose,
496 U.S. 356, 365 (1990). See also Bolden v. Southeastern
Pennsylvania Transp. Auth., 953 F.2d 807, 818 (3d Cir. 1991).
It is clear that under Will and Bolden, the Pennsylvania
State Police is not a "person" for the purpose of § 1983 and,
therefore, not a properly named defendant.
Susquehanna County Jail
A prison or correctional facility is also not a person within
the meaning of § 1983. See Fischer v. Cahill, 474 F.2d 991,
992 (3d Cir. 1973); Philogene v. Adams County Prison, Civ. No.
97-0043, slip op. at p. 4 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 30, 1997) (Rambo, C.J.);
Sponsler v. Berks County Prison, Civ. A. 95-1136, 1995 WL
92370, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 28, 1995). Pursuant to the above standards, the
Susquehanna County Jail is likewise not a person and may not be
sued under § 1983. See Thompkins v. Doe, No. 99-3941, slip
op. at 3 (3d Cir. March 16, 2000).
A municipal body or other local governmental unit, not part of
a state for Eleventh Amendment purposes, is a "person" subject to
suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Monell v. Department of Social
Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978) ("Congress did intend
municipalities and other local government units to be included
among those persons to whom § 1983 applies.") "Local governing
bodies, like every other § 1983 `person,' by the very terms of
the statute, may be sued for constitutional deprivations visited
pursuant to governmental `custom' even though such a custom has
not received formal approval through the body's official
decisionmaking channels." Id. See also Board of County
Comm'rs of Bryan County, OK v. Brown, 520 U.S. 398, 403-07
(1997); Roman v. Jeffes, 904 F.2d 192, 196-97 (3d Cir. 1990);
Illiano v. Clay Township, 892 F. Supp. 117, 121 (E.D. Pa.
However, it has been repeatedly held that a municipality may
not be subjected to § 1983 liability on a theory of respondeat
superior. Bryan County, 520 U.S. at 403; City of Canton v.
Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 392 (1989); Pembaur v. Cincinnati,
475 U.S. 469, 478-79 (1986); Monell, 436 U.S. at 691; Beck v. City
of Pittsburgh, 89 F.3d 966, 971 (3d Cir. 1996); Andrews v. City
of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469, 1480 (3d Cir. 1990). Rather,
". . . a plaintiff seeking to impose liability on a municipality under § 1983 [is required]
to identify a municipal `policy' or `custom' that caused the
plaintiff's injury." Bryan County, 520 U.S. at 403; Beck,
89 F.3d at 971. In Bryan County, the United States Supreme Court
elaborated on the showing required for municipal liability under
§ 1983, stating:
. . . [I]t is not enough for a § 1983 plaintiff
merely to identify conduct properly attributable to
the municipality. The plaintiff must also demonstrate
that through its deliberate conduct, the municipality
was the `moving force' behind the injury alleged.
That is, a plaintiff must show that the municipal
action was taken with the requisite degree of
culpability and must demonstrate a direct causal link
between the municipal action and the deprivation of
Id. at 404; see Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199
, 1213 (3d
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has
held that a municipality can be held liable under § 1983 "only
when `execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made
by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be
said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury.'"
Andrews, 895 F.2d at 1480 (citing Monell,
436 U.S. at 694).*fn2 A review of the present complaint establishes that Sanders has
not set forth any claim that his constitutional rights were
violated as the result of any Susquehanna County policy or
custom. Consequently, the county is also entitled to entry of
As noted earlier, the only relief sought by the Plaintiff is
that "a serious investigation" be undertaken into the actions of
Susquehanna County and its officials. Doc. 1, ¶ 4. Furthermore,
Sanders indicates that he is the subject of an ongoing criminal
prosecution in Susquehanna County.
In Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1981), the United States
Supreme Court "held that principles of federalism and comity
require district courts to abstain from enjoining pending state
criminal proceedings absent extraordinary circumstances." Port
Auth. Police Benevolent Assoc., Inc. v. Port Auth. of N.Y. and
N.J. Police Dep't., 973 F.2d 169, 173 (3d Cir. 1992). Under
Younger, the test for federal court abstention is whether "(1)
there are ongoing state proceedings that are judicial in nature; (2) the
state proceedings implicate important state interests; and (3)
the state proceedings afford an adequate opportunity to raise
federal claims." Id.*fn3
Indeed, "[i]n no area of the law is the need for a federal
court to stay its hand pending completion of state proceedings
more evident than in the case of pending criminal proceedings."
Evans v. Court of Common Pleas, 959 F.2d 1227, 1234 (3d Cir.
1992). This civil rights action does not raise the type of
extraordinary circumstances contemplated under Younger, thus,
intervention by this Court into the ongoing state criminal
prosecution of the Plaintiff is not warranted at this juncture.
Furthermore, there is nothing in Sanders' complaint which
suggests that he cannot litigate the merits of his present
allegations in his ongoing state criminal proceeding, or present
his claims to the Pennsylvania state appellate courts. Abstention
is required in this case out of deference to the integrity of the
state judicial process.
Since Plaintiff's complaint is "based on an indisputably
meritless legal theory," it will be dismissed, without prejudice,
as legally frivolous. Wilson, 878 F.2d at 774. An appropriate
Order will enter. AND NOW, THEREFORE, THIS 8th DAY OF NOVEMBER, 2005, IT IS
HEREBY ORDERED THAT:
1. Plaintiff's in forma pauperis application is
dismissed as moot.
2. The Plaintiff's complaint is dismissed without
prejudice as frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.
3. The Clerk of Court is directed to close the case.
4. Any appeal from this order will be deemed
frivolous, without probable cause and not taken in
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