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Edward J. Houston v. Richard Southers

June 20, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. John E. Jones III



Plaintiff Edward J. Houston ("Plaintiff" or "Houston"), a former state inmate, initiated the above action pro se by filing a civil rights Complaint under the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1.) At the time of filing, Houston was confined at the State Correctional Institution Houtzdale ("SCI Houtzdale") in Houtzdale, Pennsylvania. He alleges that he was subjected to a strip search in violation of his civil rights upon his intake in 2011 at the State Correctional Institution Camp Hill ("SCI Camp Hill"). Named as Defendants are Richard Southers, the Superintendent of SCI Camp Hill, and John Murray, the Deputy Secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC"), Camp Hill Central Office. For the reasons set forth below, this action will be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) for failure to follow a court order.


Service of the Complaint was directed by Order dated March 6, 2012. (Doc. 7.) On May 14, 2012, a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint was filed on behalf of Defendants Murray and Southers. (Doc. 11.) A supporting brief was filed on May 17, 2012. (Doc. 12.) Therefore, Houston's opposition brief would have been due on or before May 31, 2012. See Middle District of Pennsylvania Local Rule ("LR") 7.6. Houston neither filed an opposition brief nor requested an extension of time in which to do so, and therefore, by Order dated June 7, 2012, we directed Houston to file his opposition to the Motion on or before June 21, 2012, and warned that his failure to file his opposition within the required time would result in the Motion being deemed unopposed and addressed on the merits. (Doc. 13.) Although the deadline for filing opposition to the Motion has not yet passed, on June 18, 2012, our June 7 Order was returned in the mail as undeliverable with a notation "Return to Sender- Inmate Paroled." (Doc. 14.)

The Court's Standing Practice Order, which was mailed to Houston on February 28, 2012, specifically states that "[a] pro se plaintiff has the affirmative obligation to keep the court informed of his or her current address. If the plaintiff changes his or her address while this lawsuit is being litigated, the plaintiff shall immediately inform the court of the change, in writing. If the court is unable to communicate with the plaintiff because the plaintiff has failed to notify the court of his or her address, the plaintiff will be deemed to have abandoned the lawsuit." (Doc. 5 at 4.)


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) provides that an action may be involuntarily dismissed "[i]f the plaintiff fails to prosecute or to comply with these rules or a court order." Further, the rule permits sua sponte dismissals by the court. Link v. Wabash R.R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 630-31 (1962); Hewlitt v. Davis, 844 F.2d 109, 114 (3d Cir. 1998) (same). In determining whether to exercise its discretion to dismiss as a sanction for failure to prosecute and failure to comply with court orders, a district court must balance the six (6) factors set forth in Poulis v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 747 F.2d 863, 868 (3d Cir. 1984): (1) the extent of the party's personal responsibility; (2) the prejudice to the adversary caused by the failure to meet scheduling orders and respond to discovery; (3) a history of dilatoriness; (4) whether the conduct of the party or the attorney was willful or in bad faith; (5) the effectiveness of sanctions other than dismissal, which entails an analysis of alternative sanctions; and (6) the meritoriousness of the claim or defense. Ware v. Rodale Press, Inc., 322 F.3d 218, 221 (3d Cir. 2003); see also Adams v. Trustees of N.J. Brewery Employees' Pension Trust Fund, 29 F.3d 863, 873-78 (3d Cir. 1994) (applying Poulis factors to dismissal under Rule 41(b)). The court must consider all six factors. Ware, 322 F.3d at 221-22; United States v. $8,221,877.16 in United States Currency, 330 F.3d 141, 162 (3d Cir. 2003).

A. Analysis of the Poulis Factors

1. The extent of the party's personal responsibility

Pursuant to the Court's Standing Practice Order, a pro se plaintiff has the obligation to inform the court of address changes. (Doc. 5.) The Court's June 7, 2012 Order, which provided Houston with an opportunity to file his overdue opposition to the Motion to Dismiss filed on behalf of Defendants before the Court deems the Motion unopposed, was returned as undeliverable. A review of Vinelink*fn1 , a website which provides the custody status of inmates in the custody of Pennsylvania correctional facilities, confirms that Houston has been released from DOC custody on parole. Houston has failed to notify the Court of his new address, and it therefore only can be concluded that he is personally responsible for failing to comply with the Standing Practice Order.

2. The prejudice to the adversary

"Evidence of prejudice to an adversary would bear substantial weight in support of a dismissal or default judgment." Adams, supra, 29 F.3d at 873-74 (internal quotations and citations omitted). Generally, prejudice includes "the irretrievable loss of evidence, the inevitable dimming of witnesses' memories or the excessive and possibly irremediable burdens or costs imposed on the opposing party." Id. at 874. A consideration of this factor in the instant case weighs in favor of dismissal where Defendants already have been burdened with responding to the Complaint, and Houston's failure to comply with ...

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