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HENRY UNSELD WASHINGTON v. JAMES GRACE

November 9, 2010

HENRY UNSELD WASHINGTON,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
JAMES GRACE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

Magistrate Judge Carlson

(Judge Jones)

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

I. Introduction

This case, which has been referred to the Court for case management and pre-trial screening, presents an illustration of the limitations of the court system as a vehicle for addressing the intractable problems of prisoners struggling with acknowledged mental health issues. The Plaintiff, Henry Unseld Washington, is one such inmate, a state prisoner whose many and varied pleadings have disclosed that he has been undergoing longstanding mental health care while in custody.

Over the past two years, Washington made repeated, voluminous filings with this Court. These pleadings have been hundreds of pages in length, have frequently contained more than 300 separate factual averments, and have at different times named more than 150 Defendants in what Washington perceives to be a wide-ranging conspiracy that spans decades and entails coordinated conduct by hundreds of actors. In some instances, Washington has expressly premised his claims against prison officials on assertions that he has engaged in secret meetings with senior state corrections officials while housed in a psychiatric holding cell in a state prison, and reported misconduct to them. (Doc. 40 , ¶¶ 359, 360; Doc. 47 ¶¶357-362.)

In an effort to assist Washington in framing his issues and concerns in a fashion which would allow the courts to address them in an intelligible fashion, we have repeatedly explained to Washington the necessity of complying with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which require that a complaint be a "short and plain statement" of a cause of action. We have also counseled Washington that we may only consider claims that fall within the period of the statute of limitations, and that he may not bring claims in this Court that relate to events that allegedly occurred in prisons outside the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Finally, we have repeatedly advised Washington that he may not rely upon mere labels and conclusory assertions to state a claim against state officials.

Despite this repeated guidance and advice, Washington has now filed a document, his third amended complaint in this case, (Doc. 47) which still fails to comply with the basic requisites for a valid complaint in federal court. Presented with this latest pleading, we are compelled to conclude that Washington is unable to conform his pleadings to the requirements set by the law, and that dismissal of this action without further leave to amend is now necessary.

II. Statement of Facts and of the Case

The background of this troubled litigation brought by an admittedly troubled litigant began more than two years ago, on July 7, 2008, when the Plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, commenced this action by filing a complaint in federal court.(Doc. 1.) Eleven months later, on June 29, 2009, Washington elaborated upon these claims when he filed an amended complaint further detailing his claims and concerns. (Doc. 22.)

The Plaintiff's 2009 amended complaint was a confusing, prolix document. It named approximately 132 Defendants, and set forth 320 factual averments of alleged violations of the Plaintiff's rights. Many of the alleged acts which were the subject of the Plaintiff's July 2009 amended complaint were more than 10 years old, spanning conduct that reached as far back as 1997, and in many instances it was impossible to determine which of the more than 130 named Defendants were alleged to have committed the acts set forth in the complaint. The complaint then alleged that these actions constituted Eighth Amendment violations relating to lack of medical care and use of excessive force by prison officials, due process violations, negligence and medical malpractice.

This Court was initially assigned responsibility to oversee this case on June 23, 2010. After examining the Plaintiff's first amended complaint, on June 24, 2010, we notified the Plaintiff that many of these allegations were subject to dismissal and directed the Plaintiff to file an amended complaint. Our screening order was expressly intended to simplify and add clarity and focus to Washington's complaints. (Doc. 33). Regrettably, the order had just the opposite effect upon Washington.

Washington initially responded to this order by requesting a six-month extension of time in which to file an amended complaint. (Doc. 34.) When we denied this request, (Doc. 35), Washington filed a second amended complaint on August 19, 2010. (Doc. 40.) Far from addressing the concerns originally cited by the Court, Washington's second amended complaint actually exacerbated and compounded those concerns. The second amended complaint named 159 Defendants and contained 368 separately numbered paragraphs. These allegations were detailed in a voluminous 135 pages.*fn1

Our scrutiny of these allegations revealed that many of these claims fell far outside the two-year statute of limitations for civil rights matters, an issue previously noted for Washington, but a defect which remained unaddressed in his latest pleading. Indeed, it appeared that well over one hundred of the separately numbered claims set forth in this second amended complaint involve conduct which preceded July of 2006 and were, therefore, time-barred.

Furthermore, many of Washington's claims appeared to involve a litany of alleged misdeeds at either SCI Greene or SCI Fayette, two state institutions located in the Western District of Pennsylvania. Thus, of the 159 Defendants named in this second amended complaint, approximately 50 Defendants were staff in these prisons which are remote from this Court.

Because Washington's second amended complaint actually compounded the deficiencies previously cited by the Court, and did not provide an intelligible basis for adjudicating any of these constitutional claims, on August 25, 2010 we submitted a report and recommendation which recommended that Washington's second amended complaint be dismissed. (Doc. 41.) That report and recommendation outlined for Washington, once again, the many shortcomings in his pleadings, providing the Plaintiff with a detailed description of those matters which he must correct. (Id.)

Washington's response to this report and recommendation was to file yet another complaint. (Doc. 47.) This complaint is the fourth complaint filed by Washington in the course of this litigation, and constitutes Washington's third amended complaint in this matter. (Id.)

On November 8, 2010, the district court entered an order adopting our report and recommendation and dismissing in its entirety Washington's second amended complaint. (Doc. 48.) After noting that Washington had filed yet another amended complaint while this the report and recommendation was under review, the district court then remanded this matter to us for a review of Washington's latest amended complaint.

We have now reviewed this pleading, and find that it provides graphic confirmation of Washington's apparent inability to conform to the requirements of the law when filing pleadings in federal courts. While Washington's third amended complaint has fewer pages than his second amended complaint, Compare (Doc. 48, pp.82) with (Doc. 40, pp.135), this result appears to be largely a function of Washington's use of smaller print in drafting the complaint. Thus, the two complaints are substantively identical and the third amended complaint retains all of the fundamental flaws which were previously cited by the court as grounds for dismissal of Washington's prior complaints.

Thus, the third amended complaint, like the second amended complaint and all of Washington's prior pleadings, is a confused, confusing and prolix document. This third amended complaint, like Washington's prior pleadings, attempts to name 159 correctional officials as Defendants. (Doc. 48). Like the prior fatally flawed complaints in this case, this third amended complaint also contains 368 separately numbered paragraphs setting forth various factual averments. (Id.) As was the case with Washington's prior pleadings, many of these averments relate to alleged conduct which falls far beyond the applicable statute of limitations. (Id.) Furthermore, the third amended complaint continues to name defendants and recite claims relating to dozens of alleged events which occurred outside this district, and over which venue is entirely lacking. (Id.) Finally, like his prior complaints, Washington's third amended complaint contains an odd array of assertions and claims, many of which are nothing more than labels and conclusions, and the formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of actions. As for the remaining averments in the complaint, many of these assertions are either bizarre sexually explicit recitals which are subject to being stricken under Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or accounts of various secret meetings that Washington recalls having conducted with prison supervisors while undergoing psychiatric treatment.*fn2

Taken together, these assertions do not state a viable cause of action. Rather, they remain the same assortment of fundamentally flawed claims, which we previously found wanting and which compelled dismissal of this action. Therefore, it is recommended that Washington's third amended complaint (Doc. 48), like his prior similar complaints, be dismissed

II. Discussion

A. Screening of Pro Se Civil Complaints-The Legal Standard

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 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 has 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 pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id. at 1950. According to the Supreme Court, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 1949. Rather, in conducting a review of the adequacy of complaint, the Supreme Court has advised trial courts that they must:

[B]egin by identifying pleadings that because they are no more than conclusions are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and ...


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