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Salley v. Rendell

April 14, 2008

ALFONZO SALLEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
EDWARD RENDELL, ET AL, AND JEFFREY A. BEARD, ET AL. DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Amy Reynolds Hay

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER*fn1

Alfonso Salley ("Plaintiff"), is currently incarcerated at SCI-Mahanoy and has been there since October 3, 2006. The Court takes judicial notice of the fact that SCI-Mahanoy is located at 301 Morea Road, Frackville, PA 17932*fn2 and of the fact that Frackville Pennsylvania is located in Schuylkill County.*fn3 The court takes further judicial notice of the fact that Schuylkill County is located within the United States Judicial District for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. 28 U.S.C. § 118.

Plaintiff has sought and been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP) in order to file this civil rights complaint. He has filed a civil rights complaint naming 2 defendants by name in the caption but adding "et al.", after each, and naming a whole host of individuals in the body of the complaint. The complaint also recounts many separate and distinct incidents that allegedly occurred over the course of roughly 10 years from 1997 to 2007 and allegedly took place in nine different prisons. Plaintiff has consented to have the Magistrate Judge exercise plenary jurisdiction. Dkt. [4].

The present complaint is duplicative of a complaint Plaintiff had filed in Salley v. Beard, No. 06-538 (W.D. Pa. executed April 15, 2006 and formally docketed on 12/14/2006) (hereinafter "the prior suit"). The Court dismissed the prior suit because the complaint had "nam[ed] 61 defendants, complaining of many separate and distinct incidents that allegedly occurred over the course of roughly nine years from 1997 to 2006 and allegedly took place in four or five different prisons," id., (Dkt. 4, at 1)(footnote omitted), and such violated the joinder rules. The Court had ordered Plaintiff to amend his complaint in order to comply with the federal rules of civil procedure but Plaintiff failed to do so and hence, the court dismissed the prior suit as a sanction for failure to obey court orders after affording him many opportunities to comply. Id., (Dkt. 20). Plaintiff took an appeal and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. Id., (Dkt. 30).

The current complaint Plaintiff has filed is duplicative of the one dismissed in the prior suit. In the current complaint Plaintiff complains of many of the same separate and distinct incidents that allegedly occurred over the course of roughly ten years from 1997 to 2007 and which took place in nine prisons. In the current complaint, in contrast to the prior suit, it appears that Plaintiff listed only two defendants in the caption, namely Governor Rendell and Secretary Beard, although as noted above, Plaintiff put "et al." after both Governor Rendell and Secretary Beard.

The current complaint alleges violations of Plaintiff's First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Dkt. [3] at 2, ¶ III. Although the complaint does not specifically invoke 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a liberal reading of the complaint requires us to infer that Plaintiff is suing the Defendants under Section 1983. Accordingly, the court construes the complaint to be bringing a claim arising under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Section 1983). Arpin v. Santa Clara Valley Transp. Agency, 261 F.3d 912, 925 (9th Cir. 2001)("a litigant complaining of a violation of a constitutional right does not have a direct cause of action under the United States Constitution but must utilize 42 U.S.C. § 1983."); Pauk v. Board of Trustees of City University of New York, 654 F.2d 856 (2d Cir 1981)(where a federal statute governing civil action for deprivation of rights provides a remedy, i.e., 42 U.S.C. § 1983, an implied cause of action grounded on Constitution is not available), overruling on other grounds as recognized in, Brandman v. North Shore Guidance Center, 636 F.Supp. 877, 879 (E.D.N.Y. 1986).

Applicable Legal Principles

In the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), Congress adopted major changes affecting civil rights actions brought by prisoners in an effort to curb the increasing number of frivolous and harassing law suits brought by persons in custody. See Santana v. United States, 98 F.3d 752, 755 (3d Cir. 1996). The PLRA in relevant part added Section 1915A, entitled "Screening," to Title 28 U.S.C. to provide that "[t]he court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, 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 complaint-- (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." Here, Plaintiff is a prisoner within the meaning of Section 1915A.*fn4 The Defendants are employees of a governmental entity from whom Plaintiff seeks redress. Thus, Section 1915A Screening is applicable herein. Moreover, under Section 1915A, not only is a court permitted to sua sponte dismiss a complaint which fails to state a claim but is required to do so. Nieves v. Dragovich, No. CIV.A.96-6525, 1997 WL 698490, at *8 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 3, 1997)("Under provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act codified at 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A, 1915(e) and 42 U.S.C. S 1997e(c), the district courts are required, either on the motion of a party or sua sponte, to dismiss any claims made by an inmate that are frivolous or fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted."), aff'd, 175 F.3d 1011 (3d Cir. 1999)(Table).

In addition, the PLRA significantly amended the statutory provisions with respect to actions brought by prisoners who are proceeding in forma pauperis. The amended version of the statute now reads that "[n]otwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid [by a prisoner granted IFP status], 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." 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2). Here, Plaintiff has been granted IFP status, Dkt. [2], and is a prisoner within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. §1915.*fn5 Thus, Section 1915(e)(2) is also applicable herein. Moreover, not only is a court permitted to sua sponte dismiss a complaint which fails to state a claim, but it is required to do so by the mandatory language of "the court shall dismiss" utilized by Section 1915(e). See, e.g., Keener v. Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, 128 F.3d 143, 145 n.2 (3d Cir. 1997) (describing 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) as "the PLRA provision mandating sua sponte dismissal of in forma pauperis actions that are frivolous or fail to state a claim."); Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 (9th Cir. 2000); Nieves v. Dragovich, 1997 WL 698490 at *8.

In addition, the PLRA amended the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e, to provide that "[t]he court shall on its own motion or on the motion of a party dismiss any action brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility if the court is satisfied that the action is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1). The same definition of prisoner is applicable to Section 1997e as is to Sections 1915(e) and 1915A.*fn6

The statutory phrase "action brought with respect to prison conditions" is very broad and includes any condition found in a prison or jail. See, e.g., Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516 (2000); Nyhuis v. Reno, 204 F.3d 65 (3d Cir. 2000); Booth v. Churner, 206 F.3d 289, 294-295 (3d Cir. 2000), aff'd, 532 U.S. 731 (2001). Given the broad definition of "action with respect to prison conditions," Plaintiff's complaint comes within that statutory definition.

In addition, Courts are required under Section 1997e to dismiss an action sua sponte if the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Nieves v. Dragovich, 1997 WL 698490, at *8. Because Plaintiff is a "prisoner" and the instant suit is "an action brought with respect to prison conditions," 42 U.S.C. §1997e applies herein.*fn7 Thus, if Plaintiff's action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted the court is required to dismiss the action.

In performing a court's mandated function of sua sponte reviewing complaints under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A & 1915(e), and 42 U.S.C. 1997(e), to determine if they fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, a federal district court applies the same standard applied to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See, e.g., Anyanwutaku v. Moore, 151 F.3d 1053 (D.C. Cir. 1998); Mitchell v. Farcass, 112 F.3d 1483, 1484 (11th Cir. 1997); Powell v. Hoover, 956 F. Supp. 564, 568 (M.D. Pa. 1997)(applying Rule 12(b)(6) standard to claim dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii)); Neal v. Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, No. CIV. A. 96-7923, 1997 WL 338838 at *1 (E.D. Pa. June 19, 1997) ("The Court adopts the familiar standard for Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in determining whether the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1)."); Tucker v. Angelone, 954 F. Supp. 134, 135 (E.D. Va.) ("Under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A, 1915(e) and 42 U.S.C. S 1997e(c) the courts are directed to dismiss any claims made by inmates that 'fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted'. This is the familiar standard for a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)."), aff'd, 116 F.3d 473 (Table) (4th Cir. 1997).

In reviewing complaints as mandated by 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A & 1915(e), and by 42 U.S.C. §1997e, and, consequently, utilizing the standards for a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the complaint must be read in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff and all well-pleaded, material allegations of fact in the complaint must be taken as true. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976). However, the court need not accept as true any legal averments or conclusions contained in the complaint. Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)("Although for the purposes of this motion to dismiss we must take all the factual allegations in the complaint as true, we are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation."); Labovitz v. Washington Times Corp., 172 F.3d 897, 898 (D.C. Cir. 1999)(the court "need not accept purely legal conclusions masquerading as factual allegations.") (some internal quotations omitted). Neither does the court have to accept as true anything in the complaint which contradicts facts of which the court ...


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