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Gadra-Lord v. Varano

United States District Court, Third Circuit

June 20, 2013

DAVID VARANO, et al., Defendants.


MARTIN C. CARLSON, Magistrate Judge.

I. Statement of Facts and of The Case

This is a pro se civil rights case that was first brought by Jonathon Gadra-Lord, a state inmate, through the filing of a complaint on December 5, 2012. (Doc. 1.) The plaintiff's initial pro se complaint was a spare, terse document. (Id.) It named nineteen correctional defendants, ranging from the prison superintendent to various supervisors, majors, captains, lieutenants, and other correctional staff. (Id.) The complaint then contained a one paragraph hand written narrative, which simply listed a series of legal claims, unadorned by any supporting facts, alleging that unidentified prison officials improperly confiscated Gadra-Lord's property, including legal property; interfered with Gadra-Lord's access to courts by seizing unidentified legal materials; and retaliated against Gadra-Lord in ways that were not further described. ( Id., Section IV.)

Nowhere in this pleading did Gadra-Lord identify who committed these alleged acts. Thus, Gadra-Lord's complaint did not allege any facts linking any of the named defendants to any of these alleged violations. Nor did Gadra-Lord state when these acts were alleged to have occurred. (Id.) Indeed, the only factual averment that was pleaded with any specificity in the complaint was Gadra-Lord's statement that he was provided with a grievance procedure to challenge this property confiscation, and fully exhausted his grievances regarding the seizure of this property. ( Id., Section II.) Gadra-Lord then demanded compensatory damages of $100, 000 from the defendants jointly and severally. (Id.)

Along with his complaint, the plaintiff sought leave to proceed in forma pauperis. While we granted this motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, (Doc. 2.), as part of our legally-mandated screening of pro se, in forma pauperis cases, we carefully reviewed this complaint, and concluded that, in its current form, the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Accordingly, we recommended that the complaint be dismissed, without prejudice to the plaintiff endeavoring to file an amended complaint which addressed the deficiencies noted in this Report and Recommendation, provided that the plaintiff acts within 20 days of any dismissal order. (Doc. 8.) The district court adopted this recommendation, dismissed this original complaint, and referred this matter to us for evaluation of Gadra-Lord's amended complaint. (Doc. 13.)

Gadra-Lord has filed an amended complaint, (Doc. 9.), which provides further factual detail regarding some of Gadra-Lord's allegations, thus addressing our primary threshold concern in this case. However, as to three defendants-David Varano, Major Miller, and Grievance Coordinator Kelley-Gadra-Lord's amended complaint remains fatally flawed in our view.

With respect to these three defendants, Gadra-Lord's allegations in his amended complaint can be simply stated: First, while the amended complaint identifies a Deputy Superintendent Miller and a Captain Miller as defendants and makes factual averments regarding these officials, it contains no factual references to a Major Miller. To these extent that this individual is a defendant separate and apart from the other named defendants who share the surname Miller, this defendant should, therefore, be dismissed from this action. As for Superintendent Varano, the amended complaint simply states that he is "legally responsible for operation of SCI-Coal Township, " is "directly... involved with the grievance process, " and received complaint in the past from Gadra-Lord. (Doc. 9, p.4.) Likewise, Grievance Coordinator Kelley is named in this amended complaint simply because Gadra-Lord feels that she did not handle his grievance regarding this property dispute with sufficient dispatch under corrections policy. (Id.)

In our view these spare allegations are insufficient to state a claim against any of these supervisory defendants. Therefore, it is recommended that the complaint be dismissed, with prejudice, as to these defendants, but served upon the remaining named defendants.

II. Discussion

A. Screening of Pro Se In forma Pauperis Complaints-Standard of Review

This court has a statutory obligation to conduct a preliminary review of pro se complaints brought by plaintiffs given leave to proceed in forma pauperis in cases which seek redress against government officials. Specifically, we are obliged to review the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 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 ...

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