United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
LISA PUPO LENIHAN, Chief Magistrate Judge.
This case is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant Orlando Harper, Warden of the Allegheny County Jail ("ACJ"), (ECF No. 17), and Plaintiff's response in opposition thereto, (ECF No. 23). For the reasons stated herein, Defendant's Motion will be granted.
I. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS
Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit on or about March 18, 2013. In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges a violation of his right to access the courts under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. First, Plaintiff alleges that the law library at the ACJ is inadequate because it does not provide inmates with access to copy machines. He therefore had to create copies of his motions by hand. Second, Plaintiff alleges that the law library at the ACJ is inadequate because it does not provide inmates with necessary forms. He claims that he did not have the proper forms to alert the court that he did not have counsel in his criminal case. As a result, he claims (1) he was forced to represent himself from August 20, 2012, through December 8, 2012, for the purposes of filing pre-trial motions; (2) the court ignored his handwritten motions and letters because it believed him to be represented even though he was not; and (3) he was appointed an attorney late, which caused a delay in his trial and a violation of his right to a speedy trial under Pa. R. Crim. P. 600. Third, Plaintiff alleges that the ACJ jail liaisons were told to ignore him, so when he approached one about the issues he was facing with representation in his criminal case, he was told to contact his attorney even though that was the issue at hand. Plaintiff alleges that the jail liaisons could have contacted the court to inform them about his problem. Finally, he alleges that the ACJ limits one computer per every 200 inmates and does not provide them with assistance on how to use it. He claims that the ACJ should provide inmates with access to the same legal materials as those available to the public defenders and district attorneys. Because it does not, he claims that inmates are at an unfair disadvantage given that public defenders often do not talk to their clients until two hours before trial. He seeks compensatory relief of $300.00 a day for every day he had to represent himself. He also seeks to bring this action on behalf of all inmates at the ACJ.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Defendant has filed a Motion to Dismiss For Failure to State a Claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Federal Courts require notice pleading, as opposed to the heightened standard of fact pleading. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds on which it rests.'" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)).
Building upon the landmark United States Supreme Court decisions in Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit explained that a District Court must undertake the following three steps to determine the sufficiency of a complaint:
First, the court must "tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim." Second, the court should identify allegations that, "because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Third, "whe[n] there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief." This means that our inquiry is normally broken into three parts: (1) identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the Complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the Complaint and evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged.
Malleus v. George , 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 675, 679).
The third step of the sequential evaluation requires this Court to consider the specific nature of the claims presented and to determine whether the facts pled to substantiate the claims are sufficient to show a "plausible claim for relief." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside , 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a Complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Id . at 210-11; see also Malleus , 641 F.3d at 560.
This Court may not dismiss a Complaint merely because it appears unlikely or improbable that Plaintiff can prove the facts alleged or will ultimately prevail on the merits. Twombly , 550 U.S. at 563 n.8. Instead, this Court must ask whether the facts alleged raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary elements. Id . at 556. Generally speaking, a Complaint that provides adequate facts to establish "how, when, and where" will survive a Motion to Dismiss. Fowler , 578 F.3d at 212; see also Guirguis v. Movers Specialty Servs., Inc. , 346 F.Appx. 774, 776 (3d Cir. 2009). In short, a Motion to Dismiss should not be granted if a party alleges facts, which could, if established at trial, entitle him/her to relief. Twombly , 550 U.S. at 563 n.8.
Finally, a court must employ less stringent standards when considering pro se pleadings than when judging the work product of an attorney. Haines v. Kerner , 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). When presented with a pro se complaint, the court should construe the complaint liberally and draw fair inferences from what is not alleged as well as from what is alleged. Dluhos v. Strasberg , 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir. 2003). In a section 1983 action, the court must "apply the applicable law, irrespective of whether the pro se litigant has mentioned it by name." Higgins v. Beyer , 293 F.3d 683, 688 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Holley v. Dep't of Veteran Affairs , 165 F.3d 244, 247-48 (3d Cir. 1999)). See also Nami v. Fauver , 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996) ("Since this is a § 1983 action, the [pro se] plaintiffs are entitled to relief if their complaint sufficiently alleges deprivation of any right secured by the Constitution.") (quoting Higgins , 293 F.3d at 688). Notwithstanding this liberality, pro se litigants are not relieved of their obligation to allege sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal claim. See, e.g., Taylor v. Books A Million, Inc. , 296 F.3d 376, 378 (5th Cir. 2002); Riddle v. Mondragon , 83 F.3d 1197, 2102 (10th Cir. 1996).
Plaintiff claims that he has suffered a violation of his right to access the courts under the First Amendment. Since 1977, the United States Supreme Court has recognized that inmates have a constitutional right of access to the courts. Bounds v. Smith , 430 U.S. 817 (1977). As the Supreme Court initially observed, this right of access to the courts is satisfied when corrections officials facilitate "meaningful" access for those incarcerated, either through legal materials or the assistance of those trained in the law. Id . at 827 ("[T]he fundamental constitutional right of access to the courts requires prison authorities to assist inmates in the preparation and filing or meaning legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law."). Two decades later, in 1996, the Supreme Court provided further definition and guidance regarding the scope and nature of this right of access to the ...