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Harcum v. Leblanc

September 2, 2009

DARREN HARCUM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MARCEL LEBLANC, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Yohn, J.

Memorandum

Presently before the court is plaintiff Darren Harcum's motion to proceed in forma pauperis. Upon review of his statement in support of his motion, the court will grant the motion. However, because the court finds that as to certain claims plaintiff fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, the court will dismiss in part the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

I. Factual Background

At the time relevant to his allegations, plaintiff was a prisoner at SCI-Graterford. (Compl. ¶ 1.) At approximately 10 p.m. on November 16, 2008, plaintiff asked defendant, who was a correctional officer at SCI-Graterford, to bring plaintiff a plunger because plaintiff's toilet was clogged. (Id. ¶ 2.) Defendant did not return until after 11 p.m. and did not bring plaintiff a plunger. (Id. ¶ 4.) In fact, defendant told plaintiff that because plaintiff had yelled at defendant, defendant would not get plaintiff the plunger. (Id.) Defendant proceeded to walk away from plaintiff's cell. (Id. ¶ 5.) As defendant walked away, plaintiff reached through the food slot of his cell door, grabbed hold of a chair, and pulled the chair toward his cell. (Id.) Defendant attempted to pry the chair from plaintiff's hand. (Id. ¶ 7.) When his initial effort failed, defendant grabbed plaintiff's left arm and stabbed at it with his prison keys. (Id. ¶ 9.) Defendant then released plaintiff's arm, and prior to backing away, kicked plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 10.)

Plaintiff suffered numerous cuts and abrasions on his left forearm as a result of the altercation. (Id. ¶ 11.) He began to yell out for help, telling prison officials that he was bleeding and wanted medical attention. (Id. ¶ 12.) No officers responded. (Id. ¶ 13.) Instead, the on-duty officers, presumably including defendant, dimmed the lights in the control booth and ignored plaintiff's calls for help. (Id.) Defendant's shift ended at 2:30 a.m. (Id. ¶ 14.) At approximately 7 a.m., after another shift change, a prison official visited plaintiff, listened to plaintiff's explanation of the event, and sent plaintiff to receive medical treatment. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.)

Invoking 42 U.S.C. § 1983,*fn1 plaintiff asserts that defendant violated his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when defendant used unreasonable force to pry the chair away from plaintiff and when defendant delayed plaintiff from accessing medical care.

II. Discussion

A. Standard of Review

As mentioned above, upon review of plaintiff's submissions, the court will grant plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis. Actions in forma pauperis are governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Pursuant to § 1915(e)(2)(B), a court must dismiss a case if it determines the action: "(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."

The frivolousness prong of § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) "accords judges not only the authority to dismiss a claim based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, but also the unusual power to pierce the veil of the complaint's factual allegations and dismiss those claims whose factual contentions are clearly baseless." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989). The failure to state a claim on which the court may grant relief and the defendant's immunity prongs of, respectively, § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and (iii), require courts to apply the same standard as applied when considering a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000). Thus, the court must "accept as true the factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom." Id. To avoid dismissal, the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations and footnote omitted); see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949-50 (2009).

B. Excessive Force

Plaintiff asserts that defendant used excessive force to regain control of the chair plaintiff was holding. Because plaintiff is a prisoner, the court's review of plaintiff's excessive force claim is governed by the Eighth Amendment.*fn2 See Graham v. Conner, 490 U.S. 396, 395 n.10 (1989). "The test for whether a claim of excessive force is constitutionally actionable is 'whether force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline or maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.'" Giles v. Kearney, 571 F.3d 318, 326 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986)). In making this determination, the court must consider the following factors:

(1) the need for the application of force; (2) the relationship between the need and the amount of force that was used; (3) the extent of injury inflicted; (4) the extent of the threat to the safety of staff and inmates, as reasonably perceived by the responsible officials on the basis of the facts known ...


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