United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
SYLVIA H. RAMBO, District Judge.
In this Section 1983 civil rights action, Plaintiffs have sued several individuals asserting violations of their rights protected by the Fourth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Presently before the court is a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6) (Doc. 29) and a motion for involuntary dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) (Doc. 48), each filed by Defendants. Because the court finds that the favorable termination requirement of Heck v. Humphrey , 512 U.S. 477 (1994), bars Plaintiffs' claims, it concludes that the motion to dismiss may be granted. Additionally, because the court finds that Plaintiffs have continually willfully disregarded court orders and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, it concludes that the motion for involuntary dismissal may be granted.
Although the court finds that dismissal may be warranted under either Rule 12(b)(1) and (6) or Rule 41(b), the court will address both motions for the sake of thoroughness and dismiss on the basis of Plaintiffs' failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Nevertheless, the fact that the court reaches disposition of Defendants' motion to dismiss should not be interpreted as condoning Plaintiffs' repeated failures to comply with this court's orders despite being given ample time and instructions.
I. Motion For Involuntary Dismissal
As the court's disposition of the motion for involuntary dismissal depends heavily on the history of this action, the court will recite the pertinent procedural events before addressing the facts underlying the action.
A. Procedural History
Plaintiffs, state inmates acting pro se, initiated this action by filing a complaint on July 12, 2013, naming the following Defendants: Gary Hibner, a state police officer employed at the State Police Barracks in McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania; and Charles Gleichman and William Baker, both supervising corporals employed at the State Police Barracks in McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 5-7.) Plaintiffs asserted their claims against each of the named Defendants in both their official and individual capacities. ( Id . at ¶ 8; Doc. 47, ¶ 1.)
Following several months of a cooperative effort by the court and the Clerk of Court to guide Plaintiffs' filings of the appropriate documents, the court granted Plaintiffs' motions for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and directed that a summons be prepared and issued on October 7, 2013 (Doc. 21). Defendants timely waived service. (Doc. 31.)
On November 22, 2013, Defendants filed a joint motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Doc. 29.) Plaintiff Kearney filed a motion for entry of default three days thereafter (Doc. 30), which the court denied by memorandum and order on December 2, 2013 (Docs. 35 & 36). That same day, Defendants filed a brief in support of their motion to dismiss. (Doc. 34.) Over the course of the next month, Plaintiff Kearney filed a plethora of papers, requesting that the court give him guidance, duplicate copies of filings, and grant him the ability to file an amended complaint. ( See, e.g. , Doc. 37, 38, 40 & 42.) Recognizing the difficulties facing a pro se plaintiff, the court provided direction to Plaintiffs regarding their options, instructing them that they may respond to the motion to dismiss or file a motion seeking leave to amend their complaint, and that the latter must include the proposed amended complaint as an attachment and must be signed by both parties. (Docs. 39 & 41.) Additionally, the court extended the deadline by which Plaintiffs could file their response and ordered that Plaintiffs' response be filed by January 12, 2014 (ten days after the Clerk of Court re-mailed Defendant's brief in support of their motion to dismiss). (Doc. 39.) On January 8, 2014, Plaintiff Kearney filed a motion seeking clarification of the court's previous order (Doc. 40), to which the court responded on January 9, 2014, restating Plaintiffs' options and again advising Plaintiffs of the requirement that all documents must be signed by both parties lest they be stricken for failure to comply with Rule 11 (Doc. 41). Additionally, the court extended the deadline by which Plaintiffs could respond to the pending motion to dismiss or file a motion for leave to file an amended complaint to January 15, 2014. ( Id .)
Despite the court's leniency, Plaintiffs failed to respond to the motion to dismiss or file a motion for leave to file an amended complaint. Rather, on January 28, 2014, nearly two weeks after the previous extended deadline had run, Plaintiff Kearney filed a motion requesting a stay of the proceedings due to extraordinary circumstances, in which he alleged that he had been placed - and remained - in a restricted housing unit and was unable to access the courts. (Doc. 43.) While expressing skepticism of Plaintiff Kearney's proffered reasons, the court granted in part the motion and extended the deadline by which Plaintiffs were to respond to February 14, 2014. (Doc. 44.) Significantly, the court again advised Plaintiffs that, pursuant to Local Rule 7.6, a party's failure to respond to a motion to dismiss shall be deemed not to oppose such a motion and indicated that Plaintiffs' continued failure to file an opposing brief indicates that Plaintiffs may have lost a genuine interest in prosecuting the lawsuit. ( Id ).
Despite the court's continued leniency, on February 14, 2014, Plaintiff Kearney filed another motion for extension of time, wherein he again requested an extension of time due to his recently being transferred to the State Correctional Institution at Houtzdale. (Doc. 45.) The court, after again advising Plaintiff that the continued extensions demonstrate a lack of genuine interest in prosecuting the case and that no further extensions of time would be granted, granted in part the motion and extended the deadline by which Plaintiffs were required to respond to February 28, 2014. (Doc. 46.) On March 5, 2014, Plaintiff Kearney filed a document titled "Amended Complaint, " which provided, in part, as follows:
1. Plaintiffs move to correct paragraph (8) eight of the Third Section of the original complaint titled "Defendants". The original complaint paragraph (8) eight states: "Each defendant is sued individually and his official capacity", Plaintiffs seek to "correct and amend to reflect as follows: Each defendant is sued individually and in their "official" and as well as their "individual" capacity. This complaint is AMENDED to reflect the correction.
2. Plaintiffs move to AMEND, the FIFTH SECTION, titled "LEGAL CLAIMS" of the original complaint to reflect as follows:
V. LEGAL CLAIMS
3. Plaintiffs reallege and incorporate by reference by the original complaint paragraphs 1-24.
(Doc. 47.) Despite being previously advised that the court's local rules require an amended complaint to be complete in and of itself, the proposed amended complaint as filed referenced and incorporated portions of the original complaint. ( See id. ) Thus, the amended complaint was inadequate and deserves to be stricken due to operation of Local Rule 15.1(a). Moreover, and, in the court's view, more significantly, the amended complaint entirely disregarded the court's repeated forewarning that, because this was a multi-plaintiff action, any filings had to be filed by both plaintiffs. ( See, e.g. , Docs. 39 & 41 (citing Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 and stating that "[a] pleading that purports to be filed on behalf of more than one party must be signed by each party").) Indeed, this amended pleading is entirely unsigned. (Doc. 47, pp. 10-11 of 12.) Lastly, the document is neither a motion for leave to amend nor a response to the motion to dismiss and, therefore, is unresponsive and inappropriate.
On March 6, 2014, Defendants filed a motion for involuntary dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil procedure 41(b), which was accompanied by a brief in support. (Docs. 48 & 49.) In the motion, Defendants highlight the inadequacies of this filing and argue that: (1) the amended complaint is unsigned despite unambiguous language from the court directing Plaintiffs that each filing must be signed by both plaintiffs; (2) the filing does not comply with court orders inasmuch as it is neither a motion to amend the complaint nor a response to Defendants' motion to dismiss; and (3) the filing is untimely. (Doc. 48.) On March 14, 2014, Plaintiff Kearney filed an opposition to Defendants' motion, which provides, in part, as follows:
1. It appears that defendants had erroneously reviewed the record, and had asserted that Plaintiff Kearney and Dorce, who are Co-Plaintiffs in civil action KEARNEY, et al., [sic] V. HIBNER, et al., 1:13-cv-1892 (2013), due to an [sic] separation in [sic] January 2, 2014, as an [sic] result of Defendant's [sic] representatives informing S.C.I. BENNER ADMINISTRATION, of an order from Fulton County, which Fulton County "pro se" was not enforcing themselves, therefore, an [sic] reasonable inference could be drawn that "person(s)" other then [sic] than Fulton County who had an [sic] substantial "interest" in the separation of Co-Plaintiffs, had instigated the attention of S.C.I. BENNER ADMINISTRATION, to obtain the results that would follow which was the subsequent separation of Plaintiffs, in order to "handicap communications between Co-Plaintiffs.
* * *
3. Plaintiff Kearney had exercise [sic] due diligence to obtain correspondence with Dorce since the separation of Co-Plaintiffs, which ultimately terminated communications between Co-Plaintiffs.
4. Defendants assertion that Plaintiff had not complied with the deadline of February 28, 2014 is "erroneous" as any delay in this honorable court not receiving AMENDED COMPLAINTS, untimely is at no fault to Plaintiff, therefore the PRISON MAILBOX RULE, applies, and defendant's MOTION FOR INVOLUNTARY DISMISSAL should be denied as "MOOT" due to AMENDED COMPLAINTS being "TIMELY FILED".
(Doc. 50, ¶¶ 1, 3-4.) Thus, a fair reading of Plaintiff Kearney's submission demonstrates that: (1) he confirms that he and Dorce are both plaintiffs in this action; (2) he confirms that Dorce did not sign the complaint; (3) he represents that communication between he and Plaintiff Dorce has been terminated; (4) he believes that his filing is timely by operation of the prison mailbox rule; and (5) he alleges that Defendants' conspired to prevent him and Plaintiff Dorce from ...