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Rollins v. O'Donnell

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 3, 2014



RICHARD P. CONABOY, District Judge.


This pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 was initiated by Trent Rollins (Plaintiff), an inmate presently confined at the Mahanoy State Correctional Facility, Frackville, Pennsylvania (SCI-Mahanoy). Plaintiff has also submitted an application requesting leave to proceed in forma pauperis. For the reasons outlined below, Rollins' Complaint will be dismissed as frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i).

Named as Defendants are three SCI-Mahanoy employees: Superintendent John Kerestes; Sergeant O'Donnell; and Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) D. Bunner. Plaintiff states that on April 1, 2013 he was issued an institutional misconduct by Sgt. O'Donnell charging him with threatening another person and using abusive, obscene or inappropriate language to or about an employee. See Doc. 1, Exhibit A. Following an April 10, 2013 disciplinary hearing before DHO Bunner Rollins was found guilty of both charges and was sanctioned to serve a thirty (30) day term of disciplinary custody.

The findings of guilt were upheld by Superintendent Kerestes following an administrative appeal. See id. at Exhibit C. Following a further administrative appeal to the DOC's Chief Hearing Examiner, the finding of guilt with respect to the charge of threatening another person was overturned. However, the finding of guilt on the remaining charge as well as the disciplinary sanction imposed were upheld. See id. at Exhibit D.

Rollins' pending complaint contends that the disciplinary charge was filed in retaliation for his exercise of his right of freedom of speech. He adds that the subsequent decisions rendered by DHO Bunner and Superintendent Kerestes violated his constitutional due process rights. As relief, Plaintiff seeks an award of compensatory and punitive damages.


Standard of Review

28 U.S.C. § 1915 imposes obligations on prisoners who file civil actions in federal court and wish to proceed in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, e.g., that the full filing fee ultimately must be paid (at least in a non-habeas suit) § 1915(e)(2) provides:

(2) Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the 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.

When considering a complaint accompanied by a motion to proceed in forma pauperis, a district court may rule that process should not be issued if the complaint is malicious, presents an indisputably meritless legal theory, or is predicated on clearly baseless factual contentions. Neitzke v. Williams , 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989); Wilson v. Rackmill , 878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir. 1989). Indisputably meritless legal theories are those "in which either it is readily apparent that the plaintiff's complaint lacks an arguable basis in law or that the defendants are clearly entitled to immunity from suit...." Roman v. Jeffes , 904 F.2d 192, 194 (3d Cir. 1990) (quoting Sultenfuss v. Snow , 894 F.2d 1277, 1278 (11th Cir. 1990)).

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has added that "the plain meaning of frivolous' authorizes the dismissal of in forma pauperis claims that... are of little or no weight, value, or importance, not worthy of serious consideration, or trivial." Deutsch v. United States , 67 F.3d 1080, 1083 (3d Cir. 1995). It also has been determined that "the frivolousness determination is a discretionary one, " and trial courts "are in the best position" to determine when an indigent litigant's complaint is appropriate for summary dismissal. Denton v. Hernandez , 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992).

Personal Involvement

With respect to the due process claim raised against Superintendent Kerestes, civil rights claims cannot be premised on a theory of respondeat superior. Rode v. Dellarciprete , 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). Rather, each named defendant must be shown, via the complaint's allegations, to have been personally involved in the events or occurrences which underlie a claim. See Rizzo v. Goode , 423 U.S. ...

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