United States District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
MARTIN C. CARLSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
I. Statement of Facts and of the Case
This case, which comes before the Court for a second screening review, is a pro se, in forma pauperis action that was first brought by Keynen Guider against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Dauphin County and the City of Harrisburg. (Doc. 1.) In his initial pro se complaint, Guider recited that he was convicted on his guilty plea of theft offenses in the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County in 1999. (Id.) Guider alleged that the state court erred in its 1999 restitution order in this case, and then compounded that error both in probation revocation proceedings, and in ruling on various post-conviction motions filed by Guider. (Id.) Citing these alleged state court errors, Guider asserted that he had been subjected to “malicious prosecution, unlawful confinement, manifest injustice and various United States and Pennsylvania Constitutional Rights violations.” (Id.) Guider then sued the state, the county, and the City of Harrisburg, seeking more than $3, 500, 000, and as much as $38, 500, 000, in damages. (Id.) Notably absent, however, from Guider’s civil rights lawsuit was any allegation that the plaintiff’s state conviction has ever been reversed or set aside in any fashion.
Along with his complaint, Guider filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. We granted this motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, but recommended that this complaint be dismissed without prejudice to the filing of an amended complaint which would endeavor to address the deficiencies cited in this Report and Recommendation. (Doc. 5.) On March 18, 2014, the district court adopted this Report and Recommendation. (Doc. 6.)
Guider has now filed an amended complaint, (Doc. 7.), which repeats the essence of his initial claims but substitutes two state court judges, Scott Evans and Lawrence Clark, as the defendants in this matter in lieu of the institutional defendants previously named by the plaintiff. This choice of defendants is puzzling since we had notified Guider in our prior Report and Recommendation that state judges are immune from liability for their role as judicial officers. (Doc. 5.) Having reviewed this amended complaint, we conclude that it is also flawed in fundamental and profound ways. Therefore, for the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that this amended complaint also be dismissed, with prejudice.
A. Screening of Pro Se In Forma Pauperis Complaints–Standard of Review
This Court has a statutory obligation to conduct a preliminary review of pro se complaints brought by plaintiffs given leave to proceed in forma pauperis in cases which seek redress against government officials. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). Specifically, the Court must assess whether a pro se complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, since Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a complaint should be dismissed for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In addition, when reviewing in forma pauperis complaints, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) specifically enjoins us to “dismiss the complaint at any time if the court determines that . . . the action . . . fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. This statutory text mirrors the language of Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that a complaint should be dismissed for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).
With respect to this benchmark standard for legal sufficiency of a complaint, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has aptly noted the evolving standards governing pleading practice in federal court, stating that:
Standards of pleading have been in the forefront of jurisprudence in recent years. Beginning with the Supreme Court's opinion in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) continuing with our opinion in Phillips [v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 230 (3d Cir. 2008)]and culminating recently with the Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal –U.S.–, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) pleading standards have seemingly shifted from simple notice pleading to a more heightened form of pleading, requiring a p[arty] to plead more than the possibility of relief to survive a motion to dismiss.
Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 209-10 (3d Cir. 2009).
In considering whether a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, the court must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the complaint are to be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jordan v. Fox Rothschild, O’Brien & Frankel, Inc., 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). However, a court “need not credit a complaint’s bald assertions or legal conclusions when deciding a motion to dismiss.” Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Additionally a court need not “assume that a ... p[arty] can prove facts that the ... p[arty] has not alleged.” Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). As the Supreme Court held in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), in order to state a valid cause of action a party must provide some factual grounds for relief which “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of actions will not do.” Id. at 555. “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id.
In keeping with the principles of Twombly, the Supreme Court has underscored that a trial court must assess whether a complaint states facts upon which relief can be granted when ruling on a motion to dismiss. In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the Supreme Court held that, when considering a motion to dismiss, a court should “begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. at 679. According to the Supreme Court, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory ...