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Brown v. Lyons

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 16, 2013

ALTON D. BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
R. LYONS, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, District Judge.

Plaintiff Alton Brown, proceeding in forma pauperis, asks the Court to serve his Second Amended Complaint upon the Defendants. Pl.'s Req. Ct. Order Requiring Service Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 20 ("Second Am. Comp."); Pl.'s Second Req. Ct. Order, ECF No. 22. He has also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction (ECF No. 21), as well as a supplemental motion to that effect (ECF No. 24). For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny the motions and dismiss the complaint, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A.

I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Brown, a serial pro se prison litigant, [1] initiated this action on June 21, 2010, by filing a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP"). Pl.'s Mot. Proceed IFP, ECF No. 1. He also filed an initial complaint, which he labeled the "Amended Complaint" (ECF No. 4), and a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction (ECF No. 5). Judge Renee M. Bumb of the District of New Jersey, serving by designation in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, denied IFP status on February 1, 2011, on the grounds that Brown had three previous "strikes" against him and had failed to produce evidence that he was in "imminent danger of serious physical injury."[2] Brown v. Lyons, No. 10-3458, 2011 WL 338824, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 1, 2011) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Judge Bumb therefore administratively dismissed the case, and later denied Brown's motion for reconsideration of the dismissal order. Mem. Order, Feb. 22, 2011, ECF No. 11.

Brown appealed, and, on January 24, 2013, the Third Circuit reversed Judge Bumb's orders. Third Circuit Order, Jan. 24, 2013, ECF No. 16. The court explained that, although many of the allegations in Brown's complaint do not meet the imminent danger standard, "some of [his] claims invoke[] the imminent danger exception to the three strikes rule." Id. at 2. Emphasizing that it "express[ed] no opinion about the merits of [Brown's] lawsuit, " the court remanded the case and directed the district court to grant Brown IFP status. Id . Judge Bumb did so on February 14, 2013.[3] Order, Feb. 14, 2013, ECF No. 17, at 3. The case was then reassigned to this Court, as it relates to another matter before the Court. Order, Feb. 20, 2013, ECF No. 19.

Upon receiving IFP status, Brown filed an amended complaint, labeled the "Second Amended Complaint, " and requested a court order requiring that the complaint be served upon Defendants. Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 20. Brown also filed another motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction on June 5, 2013. Second Mot. TRO & Prelim. Inj., ECF No. 21.

While those motions were still pending, Brown was transferred from SCI-Graterford to SCI-Smithfield, located in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. Notice Change Address, ECF No. 23. On July 12, 2013, he again requested service of his Second Amended Complaint and a "Supplemental Complaint" that includes new allegations of unlawful conduct taking place at SCI-Smithfield. Pl.'s Second Req. Ct. Order, ECF No. 22. He also filed a supplemental motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction on July 15, 2013.[4] Pl.'s Supp. Mot. TRO & Prelim. Inj., ECF No. 24.

The Court must now determine whether Brown's Second Amended Complaint can properly be brought IFP, and, if so, whether it can survive the prescreening requirements of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A and 1915(e)(2)(B). In accordance with the Third Circuit's order, the Court concludes that Brown is entitled to IFP status on certain of his claims. Nevertheless, because each of those claims "is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, " the Court will dismiss this action in its entirety. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A; see also id. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

II. LEGAL STANDARD

The IFP statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915, allows indigent litigants to bring an action in federal court without prepayment of filing fees, ensuring that such persons are not prevented "from pursuing meaningful litigation" because of their indigence. Abdul-Akbar v. McKelvie , 239 F.3d 307, 312 (3d Cir. 2001) (en banc) (internal quotation marks omitted). But, as Congress has recognized, people who obtain IFP status are "not subject to the same economic disincentives to filing meritless cases that face other civil litigants, " and thus the provision is susceptible to abuse. Id . (citing 141 Cong. Rec. S7498-01, S7526 (daily ed. May 25, 1995) (statement of Sen. Kyl)). In particular, the number of meritless claims brought IFP by prisoners grew "astronomically" from the 1970s to the 1990s, id. (quoting 141 Cong. Rec. S14408-01, S14413 (daily ed. Sept. 27, 1995) (statement of Sen. Dole)), and "[p]risoner litigation continues to account for an outsized share of filings in federal district courts, " Jones v. Bock , 549 U.S. 199, 203 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted).

"[I]n response to the tide of substantively meritless prisoner claims that have swamped the federal courts, " Congress enacted the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") in 1996. Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 452 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Shane v. Fauver , 213 F.3d 113, 117 (3d Cir. 2000)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Among other things, the PLRA implemented the so-called "three strikes rule, " which provides:

In no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action or appeal a judgment in a civil action or proceeding under this section if the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury.

28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) (emphasis added). Put more simply, under the PLRA, a prisoner with three prior "strikes" can obtain IFP status only if he is in imminent danger of serious physical injury. Courts must consider a pro se prisoner's allegations of imminent danger "under our liberal pleading rules, construing all allegations in favor of the complainant." Gibbs v. Cross , 160 F.3d 962, 966 (3d Cir. 1998).

In addition to the three strikes rule, the PLRA established "prescreening' provisions that require a court to dismiss an action or appeal sua sponte if, " at any time, the court determines that "the action is frivolous' or malicious, ' fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, ' or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.'" Ball, 726 F.3d at 452 (quoting 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), (ii), and 1915A(b)). Section 1915A instructs courts to conduct that inquiry "as soon as ...


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