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Imhoff v. Disalle

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 9, 2014

DAVID C. IMHOFF, Plaintiff,
v.
JUDGE JOHN DISALLE, Washington County Courthouse, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

MAUREEN P. KELLY, Magistrate Judge.

I. RECOMMENDATION

It is respectfully recommended that, pursuant to the screening provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Plaintiff's Complaint be dismissed before being served because the Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

II. REPORT

David C. Imhoff ("Plaintiff") is currently incarcerated at the Washington County Jail. Plaintiff has filed a civil rights complaint (the "Complaint") naming one Defendant, i.e., the Honorable John Disalle, a judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County. Plaintiff makes one claim. Plaintiff claims that Judge Disalle, who is presiding over Plaintiff's criminal proceedings, violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights to due process when Judge Disalle permitted Plaintiff's attorney to withdraw but failed to appoint new counsel thereafter and when Judge Disalle failed to rule on motions filed by Plaintiff.

It is recommended that the Complaint be dismissed for failure to state a claim before service because Judge Disalle is entitled to absolute judicial immunity, or, in the alternative, because this case is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

A. RELEVANT PROCEDURAL HISTORY

At the time of the initiation of this civil action, Plaintiff was a prisoner at the Washington County Jail. Plaintiff is proceeding pro se. Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (the "IFP Motion"), was granted. ECF No. 5. Thereafter, Plaintiff's Complaint was filed. ECF No. 6.

B. APPLICABLE LEGAL PRINCIPLES

In the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), Congress adopted major changes affecting civil rights actions brought by prisoners, in an effort to curb the increasing number of frivolous and harassing lawsuits brought by persons in custody. The PLRA permits courts to screen complaints filed by prisoners and dismiss them before they are served if the complaints fail to state a claim or are frivolous or malicious. See Santana v. United States , 98 F.3d 752, 755 (3d Cir. 1996). Because Plaintiff is a prisoner who has been granted IFP status, and/or because Plaintiff is a prisoner suing government employees, the screening provisions of the PLRA apply. See 28 U.S.C. §1915(e) ("[n]otwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid [by a prisoner granted IFP status], 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."); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A ("[t]he court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.").

In performing the Court's mandated function of sua sponte review of 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 applied to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See, e.g., Brodzki v. Tribune Co., 481 F.Appx. 705 (3d Cir. 2012) (applying Rule 12(b)(6) standard to claim dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)); Courteau v. United States , 287 F.Appx. 159, 162 (3d Cir. 2008) ("the legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to § 1915A is identical to the legal standard employed in ruling on 12(b)(6) motions.").

As the United States Supreme Court explained in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544 (2007), a complaint may properly be dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12 (b)(6) if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id . at 570 (rejecting the traditional 12 (b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). Under this standard, the court must, as a general rule, accept as true all factual allegations of the complaint and all reasonable inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Angelastro v. Prudential-Bache Securities, Inc. , 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir. 1985). 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). Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman , 38 F.3d 1380, 1385 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994). Moreover, under the 12(b)(6) standard, a "court need not... accept as true allegations that contradict matters properly subject to judicial notice or by exhibit." Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors , 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001), amended by, 275 F.3d 1187 (9th Cir. 2001). The court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp. , 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist. , 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997)). In addition, the Court does not need to accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Papasan v. Allain , 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

The question to be resolved is: whether, taking the factual allegations of the Complaint, which are not contradicted by the exhibits and matters of which judicial notice may be had, and taking all reasonable inferences to be drawn from those uncontradicted 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[.]" Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555. Or put another way, a complaint may be dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 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.

Furthermore, because Plaintiff is pro se, courts accord an even more liberal reading of the Complaint, employing less stringent standards when considering pro se pleadings than when judging the work product ...


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