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Herman v. Lackawanna County

United States District Court, Third Circuit

August 1, 2013

RANDY HERMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
LACKAWANNA COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

MARTIN C. CARLSON, Magistrate Judge.

I. Statement of Facts and of the Case

The plaintiff, who is proceeding pro se, filed this particular complaint on June 21, 2013, which named Lackawanna County, Lackawanna County Domestic Relations, and two individual staff members of the Lackawanna County Domestic Relations office as defendants. Herman's complaint is devoid of any factual recitals, beyond a general assertion that the actions of the defendants were improper and unreasonable. Instead, in lieu of reciting facts, Herman simply refers to a prior lawsuit which he filed, Herman v. Lackawanna, No. 3:09-CV-1238, a case which was dismissed by this court for failure to prosecute some three years ago in 2010. That prior case, in turn, alleged matters spanning from 2005 through 2008, and thus recited factual matters which are now 4-to-8 years old.

Along with this complaint, Herman has filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Doc. 2.) For the reasons set forth below, we will grant this motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. 2.) but recommend that the court dismiss Herman's complaint for failure to timely state a claim upon which relief can be granted, without prejudice to allowing Herman to attempt to correct the deficiencies noted in this complaint by filing an amended complaint which sets forth claims within the period of the statute of limitations.

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 persons who seek leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Specifically, we are obliged to review the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) which provides, in pertinent part: "[T]he court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that - (A) the allegation of poverty is untrue; or (B) the action or appeal-(i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (e). 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 (2007) 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 from the complaint 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 , 556 U.S. 662, 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 then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

Id. at 1950.

Thus, following Twombly and Iqbal a well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere legal labels and conclusions. Rather, a complaint must recite factual allegations sufficient to raise the plaintiff's claimed right to relief beyond the level of mere speculation. ...


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