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Cidone v. Shabazz

October 20, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rambo


Plaintiff Pierre Cidone ("Cidone"), an inmate currently confined at the Lackawanna County Prison in Scranton, Pennsylvania, filed this amended civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on October 2, 2009.*fn1 (Doc. 10.) Named as Defendants are Sameerah Shabazz; Berks County Welfare Department Officer Melissa; and Supervisor Jennifer Shaffer. The amended complaint is presently before the court for preliminary review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).*fn2 For the reasons that follow, the claims against Defendant Shabazz will be dismissed and she will be terminated as a party, and Cidone will be directed to file a second amended complaint. Failure to file a second amended complaint will result in closure of this case.

I. Background

Initially, the court notes that Cidone references no dates whatsoever in either his initial or amended complaint. However, the facts, as alleged by Cidone, are as follows. Defendant Sameerah Shabazz filed a false claim of parentage against Cidone in a Berks County, Pennsylvania court, asserting that Cidone is the father of her child. (Doc. 10 at 2.) According to Cidone, Defendant Melissa from the Berks County Welfare Department denied Cidone access to that Berks County court, where he planned to present a paternity test proving that he is not the parent of the child. (Id. at 3.) Further, Defendant Shaffer deducted funds from Cidone's paycheck without his authorization or consent. (Id.) As relief, Cidone seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

II. Discussion

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e),*fn3 the court is 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). The court 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).

A. State Actors

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). For § 1983 purposes, actions taken "under color of law" are the equivalent of "state action" under the Fourteenth Amendment. Leshko v. Servis, 423 F.3d 337, 339 (3d Cir. 2005). "Thus, to state a claim of liability under § 1983, [a plaintiff] must allege that she was deprived of a federal constitutional or statutory right by a state actor." Id. at 339. "A person may be found to be a state actor when (1) he is a state official, (2) 'he has acted together with or has obtained significant aid from state officials,' or (3) his conduct is, by its nature, chargeable to the state." Angelico v. Lehigh Valley Hosp., Inc., 184 F.3d 268, 277 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 937 (1982)). Further, a private individual is considered to be acting "under color of law" for § 1983 purposes if he or she engages in a conspiracy with state actors for the purpose of violating a plaintiff's protected civil rights. See Dennis v. Sparks, 449 U.S. 24, 27-28 (1980) (citations omitted) ("Private persons, jointly engaged with state officials in the challenged action, are acting see 'under color' of law for purposes of § 1983 actions.").

Here, there is nothing in the amended complaint to suggest that Defendant Shabazz's act of filing an allegedly false parentage claim is "conduct, by its nature, chargeable to the state." Angelico, 184 F.3d at 277. See also Weisman v. Sherry, 514 F. Supp. 728, 734 (M.D. Pa. 1981) (filing of private criminal complaint by a private individual was not state action for § 1983 purposes). Moreover, even construing the amended complaint liberally, there is nothing to suggest that Defendant Shabazz conspired with any state actors in filing the parentage claim. As such, the complaint will be dismissed as to Defendant Shabazz.

B. Amended Complaint

Although there is no heightened pleading standard in § 1983 cases,*fn4 a § 1983 complaint must bear some relation to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Here, Cidone's complaint fails to comply with Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which states, in pertinent part:

(a) Claim for Relief. A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain:

(2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief; and

(3) a demand for the relief sought, which may include relief in the alternative or ...

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