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Wivell v. Pennsylvania State Police

October 16, 2007

JAY A. WIVELL, PLAINTIFF
v.
PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McClure

MEMORANDUM

Background

Jay A. Wivell ("Plaintiff"), an inmate presently confined at the Adams County Correctional Facility, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, filed this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His complaint is accompanied by an in forma pauperis application. For the reasons set forth below, Wivell's action will be dismissed, without prejudice, as legally frivolous under 28 U.S.C. § 1915.

Named as Defendants are the Pennsylvania State Police, and two of its employees, Troopers Ivan Taylor and Curtis Whitmoyer. Plaintiff indicates that on January 18, 2007, he walked out of a work release program without permission.

As a result, the Pennsylvania State police filed escape charges against him. Wivell alleges that the Defendants went to his place of residence, the Emmitsburg, Maryland area, where they subjected members of his family and friends to threats, harassment, and illegal conduct. Moreover, it is asserted that the Defendants exceeded the scope of their authority and jurisdiction by initiating an illegal traffic stop while searching for the Plaintiff in Maryland. Wivell claims that his mother died shortly after he was "illegally trapped" and arrested by the Defendants in Maryland. Record document no. 1, ¶ IV(3). Plaintiff concludes that he seeks monetary relief for the wrongful death and abuse of his mother and everyone else in the State of Maryland that was subjected to harassment.

Discussion

28 U.S.C. § 1915 imposes obligations on prisoners who file civil actions in federal court and wish to proceed in forma pauperis. § 1915(e)(2) provides:

(2) Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any 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.

Consequently, federal courts reviewing civil rights complaints filed by persons wishing to proceed in forma pauperis 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. 1989).*fn1 In Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1083 (3d Cir. 1995), the Third Circuit 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." "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 (1992).

It is initially noted that a plaintiff in order to state a viable § 1983 claim, 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. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 638 (3d Cir. 1995).

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 United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit similarly 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 such as the state police 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).

After Will, our Court of Appeals held that in determining whether a state agency is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity, a federal court should consider: whether the state would be responsible for the payment of any judgment rendered against the agency; the source of the agency's funding; and the degree of autonomy enjoyed by the agency, as well as other similar factors. Bolden v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Auth., 953 F.2d 807, 818 (3d Cir. 1991).

In the instant case, payment of any judgment rendered against the Pennsylvania State Police would have to be paid out of the Pennsylvania state treasury. Furthermore, that Defendant receives all of its funding from the state and does not enjoy any measure of autonomy. Therefore, it is clear under Will and Bolden that the Pennsylvania State Police is ...


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