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Kerce v. Lappin

August 12, 2010

WILLIAM GEORGE KERCE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HARLEY LAPPIN, ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge

(Magistrate Judge Carlson)

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

(Judge Kosik)

The Plaintiff, a Federal inmate housed at the United States Penitentiary, Lewisburg, commenced this action by filing a pro se complaint on August 9, 2010. (Doc. 1). In his complaint Kerce names the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Harley Lappin; the Warden at the Lewisburg Penitentiary, B.A. Bledsoe; and an SIS Technician, identified only as "N. Dreese", as Defendants. (Id.)

Kerce's complaint recites that he is housed in the Special Management Unit (SMU) at Lewisburg, and alleges in a summary fashion that the practice of housing two inmates in each cell in this unit constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United states Constitution. Kerce's complaint goes on to premise the liability of Defendants Lappin and Bledsoe upon their supervisory roles within the federal prison system, alleging that Defendant Lappin is liable because he approved the Bureau of Prisons program statement governing special management units, and that Warden Bledsoe's liability springs from the fact that he is in charge of overall operations at the Lewisburg Penitentiary. Kerce then demands relief from the Defendants in the form of an injunction directing that prisoners in the Special Management Unit "be housed, without exception, on single-cell status, one inmate per cell."(Id.)

Along with his complaint, Kerce has filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Doc. 2.) We will GRANT this motion, but having examined the Plaintiff's complaint we are notifying the Plaintiff that many of these allegations are subject to summary dismissal and we are directing the Plaintiff to file an amended complaint or otherwise respond to this order for the reasons set forth below.

This Court has a statutory obligation to conduct a preliminary review of pro se complaints which seek redress against government officials. Specifically, we are obliged to review the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A which provides, in pertinent part:

(a) Screening. - The 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.

Under Section 1915A, the Court must assess whether a pro se complaint "fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." This statutory text mirrors the language of Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that a complaint should be dismissed for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).

With respect to this benchmark standard for legal sufficiency of a complaint, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has recently aptly noted the evolving standards governing pleading practice in federal court, stating that:

Standards of pleading have been in the forefront of jurisprudence in recent years. Beginning with the Supreme Court's opinion in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (12007) continuing with our opinion in Phillips [v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 230 (3d Cir. 2008)]and culminating recently with the Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal --U.S.--, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) pleading standards have seemingly shifted from simple notice pleading to a more heightened form of pleading, requiring a plaintiff to plead more than the possibility of relief to survive a motion to dismiss.

Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 209-10 (3d Cir. 2009).

In considering whether a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, the Court must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom are to be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jordan v. Fox Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, Inc., 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). However, a court "need not credit a complaint's bald assertions or legal conclusions when deciding a motion to dismiss." Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Additionally a court need not "assume that a ... plaintiff can prove facts that the ... plaintiff has not alleged." Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). As the Supreme Court held in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), in order to state a valid cause of action a plaintiff must provide some factual grounds for relief which "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of actions will not do." Id. at 555. "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. In keeping with the principles of Twombly, the Supreme Court recently underscored that a trial court must assess whether a complaint states facts upon which relief can be granted when ruling on a motion to dismiss. In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, __U.S. __, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009), the Supreme Court held that, when considering a motion to dismiss, a court should "begin by identifying ...


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