United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
CHRISTOPHER A. BARRETT, Plaintiff,
DETECTIVE MONG, et al., Defendants
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
THOMAS M. BLEWITT, Magistrate Judge.
On June 23, 2014, Plaintiff Christopher A. Barrett, currently an inmate at the Lebanon County Correctional Facility ("LCCF"), filed, pro se, this instant civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff also simultaneously filed a Motion to Proceed in forma pauperis. (Doc. 2). However, since Plaintiff failed to sign his Motion to Proceed in forma pauperis, he was directed to file another such Motion. (Doc. 6). Plaintiff then filed a signed Motion to Proceed in forma pauperis on July 7, 2014. (Doc. 7).
Plaintiff's form civil rights Complaint consists of four (4) handwritten pages. (Doc. 1, pp. 1-4). As Defendants, Plaintiff names: (1) Det. Ryan Mong, Lebanon Police; and (2) Det. Walton, Lebanon Police. ( Id., p. 1). Instead of stating his claim in the Statement of Claim Section of his Complaint (Doc. 1, p. 2) as required, Plaintiff simply refers to one of his Exhibits attached to his Complaint, namely, his Lebanon Bureau of Police Complaint Against Police Officers dated March 31, 2014. ( Id., pp. 5-6). In his Lebanon Bureau of Police Complaint Against Police Officers, an internal Complaint alleging mistreatment by an officer of the Lebanon Bureau of Police, Plaintiff claimed that excessive force was against him by Defendant Mong of the Lebanon County Drug Task Force during his arrest in a friend's house. Plaintiff stated that the force Defendant Mong used on him was unprovoked and unnecessary, and that if Defendant Walton had not intervened, he would have been more seriously injured. Plaintiff claimed that he did sustain injuries to the back of his head and to his ribs. Plaintiff also stated in his internal Complaint that drugs (cocaine) were planted on him by Detectives Mong and Walton, and that Mong has a vendetta against him since he has prevailed in court against Mong in the past. ( Id., pp. 5-6).
Additionally, with respect to his instant Statement of Claim, Plaintiff refers to his other Exhibit attached to his Complaint, namely, his notarized letter to the Lebanon Chief of Police (Doc. 1, p. 7), in which Plaintiff stated that two police officers went to LCCF to interview him about his internal Police Bureau Complaint regarding his claims of police brutality and planting of drugs on him by Detective Mong. Plaintiff also stated that the officers tried to talk to him without his counsel being present, namely, the Lebanon County Public Defender's Office, and that the officers commented that "this planting of drugs on you by Det. Mong won't fly in court." It appears that Plaintiff's interview by the two officers ended when Plaintiff indicated that he wanted his counsel present. Plaintiff further stated in his letter that he would speak with the officers at another time with his counsel present.
Based on his Exhibits, it appears that Plaintiff is alleging a claim of excessive force by Detective Mong as well as claims of malicious prosecution and false arrest under §1983 against both Defendants Mong and Walton. Finally, Plaintiff appears to be raising a violation of his Miranda rights and his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. ( Id., p. 7).
This Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's § 1983 civil rights case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343(a). We will now screen Plaintiff's Complaint in accordance with §1915 of the PLRA. See Abdul-Akbar v. McKelvie, 239 F.3d 307, 314 (3d Cir. 2001); Banks v. County of Allegheny, 568 F.Supp.2d 579, 589 (W.D. Pa. 2008).
II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW.
The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995,  (the "PLRA"), obligates the Court to engage in a screening process when a prisoner wishes to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915. Specifically, § 1915(e)(2), which was created by § 805(a)(5) of the Act, 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.
B. 42 U.S.C. § 1983
In a § 1983 civil rights action, the Plaintiff must prove the following two essential elements: (1) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and (2) that the conduct complained of deprived the Plaintiff of rights, privileges or immunities secured by the law or the Constitution of the United States. Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527 (1981); Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 184 (3d Cir. 1993). Further, Section 1983 is not a source of substantive rights. Rather, it is a means to redress violations of federal law by state actors. Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 284-85 (2002); see also Holocheck v. Luzerne County Head Start, Inc., 385 F.Supp.2d 491, 498-499 (M. D. Pa. 2005); Slater v. Susquehanna County, 613 F.Supp.2d 653, 660 (M.D. Pa. 2009) (citations omitted); Stankowski v. Farley, 487 F.Supp.2d 543, 550 (M.D. Pa. 2007) ("only those who act under color of state law are liable to suit under section 1983."). "In order to satisfy the second prong [of a §1983 civil rights action], a Defendant does not have to be a state official, but can also be held liable as a state actor." Slater v. Susquehanna County, 613 F.Supp.2d at 660(citations omitted).
It is well-established that personal liability under section 1983 cannot be imposed upon a state official based on a theory of respondeat superior. See, e.g., Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976); Hampton v. Holmesburg Prison Officials, 1546 F.2d 1077, 1082 (3d Cir. 1976); Parratt, supra . It is also well-settled in the Third Circuit that personal involvement of defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a requirement in a § 1983 case and that a complaint must allege such personal involvement. Id. Each named defendant must be shown, through the complaint's allegations, to have been personally involved in the events or occurrences upon which Plaintiff's claims are based. Id. As the Court stated in Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1998):
A defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs.... [P]ersonal involvement can be shown through allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence. Allegations of participation or actual knowledge and acquiescence, however, must be made with appropriate particularity. (Citations omitted).
A civil rights complaint must state time, place, and responsible persons. Id. Courts have also held that an allegation seeking to impose liability on a defendant based on supervisory status, without more, will not subject the official to section 1983 liability. See Rode, 845 F.2d at 1208.
The Court uses the same standard to screen a complaint as it does for a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. See Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999) .
C. Motion to Dismiss
In Reisinger v. Luzerne County, 712 F.Supp.2d 332, 343-344 (M.D. Pa. 2010), the Court stated:
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently set out the appropriate standard applicable to a motion to dismiss in light of the United States Supreme Court's decisions Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 433 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ___ U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009). "[T]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true to state a claim that relief is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The Court emphasized that "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 1950. Moreover, it continued, "[d]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. (citation omitted). McTernan v. City of York, 577 F.3d 521, 530 (3d Cir.2009). The Circuit Court discussed the effects of Twombly and Iqbal in detail and provided a road map for district courts presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim in a case filed just a week before McTernan, Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203 (3d Cir.2009).
[D]istrict courts should conduct a two-part analysis. First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The District Court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. [ Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949.] Second, a District Court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." Id. at 1950. In other words, a complaint must do more than allege a plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to "show" such an entitlement with its facts. See Philips [v. Co. of Allegheny], 515 F.3d [224, ] 234-35 [ (3d Cir.2008)]. As the Supreme Court instructed in Iqbal, "[w]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not show[n]'-that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. This "plausibility" determination will be "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id . Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210-11.
The Circuit Court's guidance makes clear that legal conclusions are not entitled to the same deference as well-pled facts. In other words, "the court is not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'" Guirguis v. Movers Specialty Services, Inc., No. 09-1104, 2009 WL 3041992, at *2 ...