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Goode v. Sempa

July 11, 2008

ROBERT GOODE, SR., PLAINTIFF
v.
FRANCIS SEMPA, ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, THE TIMES TRIBUNE OF SCRANTON, EDITOR IN CHIEF AND REPORTER THAT CAUSED HARM, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James M. Munley United States District Court

(Judge Munley)

MEMORANDUM

Before the court is plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. 2). The court here provides a preliminary screening to determine whether process should issue.

Background

This case arises out of newspaper reporting concerning plaintiff's plea of guilty in the United States District for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. (See Complaint (hereinafter ("Complt.") (Doc. 1)). The Defendants in the case are the Assistant United States Attorney who prosecuted plaintiff*fn1 and the newspaper and newspaper reporter who reported on that prosecution. According to the plaintiff, Defendant Sempa made defamatory statements to the newspaper about plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ IV1).

Sempa told a reporter that plaintiff had acted as an informant and cooperated with the United States Attorney's office. (Id. at ¶ IV6). Plaintiff contends that this claim is untrue, and that Defendant Sempa made it to "punish" him for refusing to become a confidential informant. (Id.). The newspaper printed those statements without any attempt to verify them. (Id. at ¶ IV2). Both of these actions placed plaintiff in danger during his present incarceration. Plaintiff contends that the publication of these statements have caused him to live "in fear and under ridicule." (Id. at ¶ IV5).

Plaintiff filed his complaint and motion to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. 2) on June 27, 2008. He seeks an injunction directing the newspaper to print a retraction of its statement that plaintiff cooperated with the United States Attorney, compensatory damages for the mental anguish, pain and emotional suffering defendants caused and punitive damages.

Jurisdiction

Because plaintiff brings his complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, we have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."). We have jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) ("In any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction, the district courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article II of the United States Constitution.").

Legal Standard

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d), we are permitted "to consider whether an in forma pauperis complaint is frivolous or malicious before authorizing issuance of the summons and service of the complaint." Urrutia v. Harrisburg County Police Dept., 91 F.3d 451, 453 (3d Cir. 1996). We may "dismiss as frivolous claims based on an indisputably meritless legal theory and whose factual contentions are clearly baseless." Roman v. Jeffes, 904 F.2d 192, 194 (3d Cir. 1990). We undertake such an evaluation before service of the complaint.

Discussion

Plaintiff contends that Defendant Sempa's defamatory statements subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Such an allegation, if possible to prove with the facts alleged by the plaintiff, would state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, since "[t]he first inquiry in any § 1983 suit . . . is whether the plaintiff has been deprived of a right 'secured by the Constitution and laws.'" Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 140 (1979); see also Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 172 (1961) (finding that Congress, in passing what is now Section 1983, "meant to give a remedy to parties deprived of constitutional rights, privileges and immunities by an official's abuse of his position."). The statute "is not itself a source of substantive rights, but a method for vindicating rights elsewhere conferred by those parts of the United States Constitution and federal statutes that it describes." Id. at 145 n.3.

Plaintiff's claim here is that the Assistant United States Attorney's statement to the press about plaintiff's willingness to cooperate in a future investigation has subjected him to recriminations from his fellow inmates, who apparently now consider him a "snitch" and expose him to ridicule which makes him fear for his safety. The Assistant United States Attorney, plaintiff alleges, had to know his comments to the press would expose plaintiff to this threatening response from other ...


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