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Comoniti Thomas v. City of Philadelphia

May 31, 2011


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


Plaintiff Comoniti Thomas, a prisoner in the custody of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, moves pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) for relief from our August 5, 2010 Order, which dismissed his Complaint as frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i). For the reasons that follow, the Motion is denied.


The Complaint alleged the following facts. On August 12, 2008, Plaintiff, who was handcuffed, boarded a bus belonging to the Philadelphia City and County Sheriff's Department (the "Sheriff's Department") at the Criminal Justice Center at 1301 Filbert Street in Philadelphia.*fn1 A van, also belonging to the Sheriff's Department, was parked in front of the bus and was blocking the exit. Defendant John Doe, an employee of the Sheriff's Department, got into the van and began to back up. The van and the bus collided. Plaintiff was injured in the collision and was subsequently transported to Temple Hospital, where he received treatment and a prescription for pain medication. Thereafter, Plaintiff sometimes feared that he would be involved in another similar collision.

The Complaint asserted claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against John Doe, the Sheriff's Department, and the City of Philadelphia (the "City"). The Complaint alleged that John Doe's conduct violated Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment right to the substantive due process of law and his Eighth Amendment right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. The Complaint also alleged, pursuant to Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), that both the Sheriff's Department and the City caused the deprivation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights by adopting policies that permitted John Doe's conduct and by failing to properly train John Doe, and other Sheriff's Department employees, in connection with the transportation of prisoners.

In our August 5, 2010 Order granting Plaintiff's Application for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis, we dismissed the Complaint as frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) because "[n]egligent conduct which causes unintended injury to an inmate does not amount to a constitutional violation" and "[t]he facts asserted in this complaint fail[ed] to indicate anything more than negligence."*fn2 (8/05/10 Order at 2 (citations omitted).)


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) provides that relief from a judgment may be granted on the following grounds:

(1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect; (2) newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under rule 59(b); (3) fraud (whether previously called intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party; (4) the judgment is void; (5) the judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged; it is based on an earlier judgment that has been reversed or vacated; or applying it prospectively is no longer equitable; or (6) any other reason that justifies relief.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b). The general purpose of Rule 60(b) is "to strike a proper balance between the conflicting principles that litigation must be brought to an end and that justice must be done." Boughner v. Sec'y of Health, Educ. and Welfare, 572 F.2d 976, 977 (3d Cir. 1978) (citation omitted). "[R]elief from a judgment under Rule 60(b) should be granted only in exceptional circumstances." Id. (citations omitted). Thus, a "Rule 60(b) motion may not be used as a substitute for appeal, and . . . legal error, without more, cannot justify granting a Rule 60(b) motion." Smith v. Evans, 853 F.2d 155, 158 (3d Cir. 1988) (citations omitted).

Plaintiff seeks relief from our August 5, 2010 Order, which dismissed his Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B)(i). Because Plaintiff brought this civil action in forma pauperis, that provision required us to "dismiss the case" if we determined that the action was "frivolous." See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i). A claim is frivolous if it is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory" or its "factual contentions are clearly baseless." Roman v. Jeffes, 904 F.2d 192, 194 (3d Cir. 1990) (citing Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989)). We review the sufficiency of the pleadings under § 1915(e)(2)(B) using the same standard applicable to a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Walker v. Hensley, Civ. A. No. 08-685, 2009 WL 5064357, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 23, 2009) ("The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Section 1915(e)(2)(B) . . . is identical to the legal standard used when ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion." (citing Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000), and Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999))).

When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), we take the factual allegations of the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)). Legal conclusions, however, receive no deference, and the court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986), cited with approval in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A plaintiff's pleading obligation is to set forth "a short and plain statement of the claim," Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), which gives the defendant "fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quotation omitted). The "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

"'[A] pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976), and citing Fed. Rule Civ. P. 8(f)). "Pro se complaints, especially from civil rights plaintiffs, should be read liberally." Murray v. Allen, Civ. A. No. 10-1014, 2010 WL 4159261, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 21, 2010) (citing Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 234 (3d Cir. 2004)). "Prisoners in particular are often at an ...

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