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Williams v. Barkman

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

February 18, 2014

DARNELL WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
KATE BARKMAN, Director, Clerk of Court Records, and ALL UNKNOWN CLERKS, individual and official capacity of the Office of the Clerk of Courts Records of Allegheny County, PA, Defendants.

Maurice B. Cohill, Senior United States District Judge.

MAGISTRATE JUDGE’S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

Cynthia Reed Eddy United States Magistrate Judge.

I. RECOMMENDATION

It is recommended that, pursuant to the authority granted courts by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), the Complaint in this matter be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

II. REPORT

Darnell Williams (“Plaintiff”), an inmate currently incarcerated at SCI-Mercer, has filed a pro se a civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, in which he alleges that Defendants have violated his rights under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. (ECF No. 5). Plaintiff alleges, inter alia, that Defendants “have arbitrarily, knowingly and actively fraudulently concealed and failed to provide the full and complete records and dockets necessary for the [Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the Pennsylvania Superior Court] any meaningful review. . . .” Complaint at ¶ VI(5). Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, as well compensatory and punitive damages. Id. at ¶ 11.

Defendants Court Administrator Kate Barkman and all unnamed Clerks of Courts of Allegheny County are absolutely immunized from a suit for damages under the doctrine of quasi-judicial immunity. Therefore, it is recommended that the Complaint be sua sponte dismissed in its entirety.

A. Applicable Legal Principles

In the PLRA, Congress adopted major changes affecting civil rights actions brought by prisoners in an effort to curb the increasing number of often times frivolous and harassing lawsuits brought by persons in custody. See Santana v. United States, 98 F.3d 752, 755 (3d Cir. 1996). The PLRA significantly amended the statutory provisions with respect to actions brought by prisoners who are proceeding in forma pauperis and permitted courts to sua sponte screen such prisoner complaints and dismiss pre-service such complaints or portions of complaints if they are, inter alia, frivolous or fail to state a claim. In the instant case, Plaintiff has been granted IFP status (ECF No. 4) and is a prisoner within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1915.[1] Thus, Section 1915(e)(2) screening is applicable herein.

Moreover, not only is a court permitted to sua sponte dismiss a complaint which fails to state a claim, but it is required to do so by the mandatory language of “the court shall dismiss” utilized by Section 1915(e). See., e.g., Keener v. Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, 128 F.3d 143, 145 n.2 (3d Cir. 1997) (describing 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) as “the PLRA provision mandating sua sponte dismissal of in forma pauperis actions that are frivolous or fail to state a claim.”)

In addition, because Plaintiff is a prisoner suing Kate Barkman, a court administrator, and “all unknown Clerks” of Allegheny County, who are all government officers or employees, the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), apply as well. Moreover, under § 1915A, not only is a court permitted to sua sponte dismiss a complaint which fails to state a claim or that is frivolous but the court is required to do so. Nieves v. Dragovich, No. Civ. A. 96-6525, 1997 WL 698490, at *8 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 3, 1997) (“Under provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act codified at 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A, 1915(e), and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c), the district courts are required, either on the motion of a party or sua sponte, to dismiss any claims made by an inmate that are frivolous or fail to state a claim upon which could be granted, ”), aff’d, 175 F.3d 1101 (3d Cir. 1999) (Table).

In performing a court’s mandated function of sua sponte reviewing complaints under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) and § 1915A to determine if they fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, a federal district court applies the same standard as applied to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See, e.g., Powell v. Hoover, 956 F.Supp. 565, 568 (M.D. Pa. 1997) (applying Rule 12(b)(6) standard to claim dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii)).

In reviewing complaints as mandated by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) and § 1915A and, consequently, utilizing the standards for a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the complaint must be read in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff and all well-pleaded, material allegations of fact in the complaint must be taken as true. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976). In addition to the complaint, courts may consider matters of public record and other matters of which a court may take judicial notice, court orders, and exhibits attached to the complaint when adjudicating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), and hence, also under the PLRA screening provisions. Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1385 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994).

The question to be resolved is: whether, taking the factual allegations of the complaint, which are not contradicted by exhibits and matters of which judicial notice may be had, and taking all reasonable inferences to be drawn from those contradicted factual allegations of the complaint, are the “factual allegations . . . enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, . . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true even if doubtful in fact[.]” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Or put another way, a complaint may be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. Dismissal is proper under Rule 12(b)(6), and hence, under the PLRA screening provisions, where the court ...


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