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Diaz v. Smith

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 9, 2014

JOHN DIAZ, Plaintiff,
K. SMITH, et al., Defendants


WILLIAM W. CALDWELL, District Judge.

I. Introduction and Procedural History

This matter is before the court on the defendants' motion to dismiss the second amended complaint (Doc. 90). The pro se plaintiff, John Diaz, a Massachusetts inmate formerly housed at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) in Smithfield, Pennsylvania, filed this action on August 4, 2010, alleging a series of constitutional violations that occurred at Smithfield between April 2007 and February 2009. (Doc. 1, Compl.) The original Complaint named twenty employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC).

Upon a motion to dismiss, only one claim remained, an access-to-courts claim against two correctional officers, defendants Smith and Sullivan. This claim arises from the alleged confiscation of Plaintiff's legal materials on November 1, 2008, from the cell of Walter May, another inmate, and from Plaintiff's cell on December 31, 2008. Diaz was given leave to file an amended complaint on this claim, as he had failed to allege an actual injury, an essential element of an access-to-courts claim.

Diaz filed an Amended Complaint (Doc. 40), and the defendants filed a motion to dismiss (Doc. 42). In the interim, Diaz filed a motion for reconsideration of our order dismissing the original complaint. (Doc. 41). He then filed two proposed amended complaints (Docs. 45 and 56).

On January 10, 2012, the court granted in part and denied in part Diaz's motion for reconsideration. The court reinstated that part of Diaz's access-to-courts claim relating to a third alleged confiscation of Diaz's legal materials from May's cell on July 9, 2008, concluding that it was not time-barred after all, the rationale for denying it initially. (Doc. 59, ECF p. 5). The motion was otherwise denied. ( Id. )

Smith and Sullivan's motion to dismiss the amended complaint was denied, and Diaz was directed to file a second amended complaint relating to their alleged confiscation of his legal materials on July 9, 2008, November 1, 2008, and December 31, 2008. ( Id. )

On January 25, 2013, the court accepted yet a third proposed Second Amended Complaint as the standing complaint. (Doc. 88). That complaint is document number 88. As noted, presently before the court is the defendants' motion to dismiss that complaint. (Doc. 90)

II. Standard of Review

In considering a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), "[w]e accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'" Byers v. Intuit, Inc., 600 F.3d 286, 291 (3d Cir. 2010)(quoted case omitted).

A complaint need only contain "a short and plain statement of the claim, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and detailed factual allegations are not required, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Nonetheless, a complaint has to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570, 550 U.S. at 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955 at 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d 929. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65), and a court "is not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'" Id., 127 S.Ct. at 165 (quoted case omitted).

The Third Circuit has described the Rule 12(b)(6) inquiry as a three-part process:

First, the court must take note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim. Second, the court should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.

Connelly v. Steel Valley Sch. Dist., 706 F.3d 209, 212 (3d Cir. 2013)(quoted cases omitted).

In resolving a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court generally should consider only the allegations in the complaint, "exhibits attached to the complaint, [and] matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents." Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010)(citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)).

Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by attorneys and are to be liberally construed. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007); Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 244-45 (3d Cir. 2013). Pro se litigants are to be granted leave to file a curative amended complaint even when a plaintiff does not seek leave to amend, unless such an amendment would be inequitable or futile See Connelly v. Steel Valley Sch. Dist., 706 F.3d 209, 217 (3d Cir. 2013)(quoting Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 236 (3d Cir. 2008)). However, a complaint that sets forth facts which affirmatively demonstrate that the plaintiff has no right to recover is properly dismissed without leave to amend. Grayson v. Mayview State Hospital, 293 F.3d 103, 106 (3d Cir. 2002). Likewise, where the "plaintiff has already amended his complaint once" in an effort to cure an identified deficiency, a "District Court is not obliged to give [plaintiff] leave to amend." Bearam v. Wigen, 542 F.Appx. 91, 93 n.4 (3d Cir. 2013)(nonprecedential).

With this standard in mind, we set forth the background of this litigation, as Plaintiff alleges it in ...

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