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Johnson v. Allegheny County-City of Pittsburgh

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

October 8, 2014

DAVID S. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,


LISA PUPO LENIHAN, Chief Magistrate Judge.


It is respectfully recommended that Plaintiff's Complaint in the above-captioned case be dismissed with prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(iii).[1]


Plaintiff, David S. Johnson ("Plaintiff"), is an inmate incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview, Pennsylvania. (ECF No. 3 at p. 1). He initiated this civil rights action by filing a Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis, which was granted by the Court on July 7, 2014. (ECF Nos. 1-2). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Complaint should be dismissed pursuant to the screening provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act.

A. Plaintiff's allegations

Plaintiff alleges that on March 10, 2010, he was arrested and placed in the Pennsylvania state prison in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. (ECF No. 3 p. 2). Plaintiff states that on June 6, 2010, he filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus with the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, challenging his imprisonment. Id. at pp. 2-3. He contends that upon receipt of his petition for writ of habeas corpus, Defendant Kate Barkman ("Barkman"), a representative of the Allegheny County government and in her capacity as the Clerk of Courts for the Allegheny County Court, conspired with Defendant Judge Kathleen A. Durkin ("Judge Durkin"), by refusing to file his habeas petition. Id. at p. 5. Plaintiff further avers that:

Ms. Barkman did conspire with the Honorable Judge Kathleen A. Durkin, a representative of the judicial administration of Allegheny County, to obstruct the Plaintiff's right to file a petition for writ of habeas corpus by illegally acting in her official and individual capacity to transform the petition for writ of habeas corpus into a petition for post conviction relief, depriving Plaintiff of his rights in violation of federal law and Pennsylvania law. The refusal to file the Plaintiff's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Relief as a habeas corpus action did also deny the Plaintiff his right to effective access to courts and the right to procedural due process of law and equal protection of the law as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.

(ECF No. 3 at pp. 5-6). Plaintiff contends that by converting his state habeas petition into one under Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa.C.S. § 9541 et seq., his state court filing did not meet the PCRA criteria, which resulted in his claim being denied by the state court as meritless. Id. at p. 7.

Thereafter, Plaintiff alleges that he filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (ECF No. 3 at pp. 7-8). In this § 2254 petition, Plaintiff challenged the state court's decision to construe his state habeas petition as a PCRA petition. Id. at pp. 8-9. Plaintiff contends that Defendant United States Magistrate Judge Robert C. Mitchell ("Magistrate Judge Mitchell") ignored his "actual" claim and treated it as a claim challenging the legality of his parole revocation. Id. at p. 9. On February 22, 2012, Magistrate Judge Mitchell issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order denying Plaintiff's § 2254 petition. See Johnson v. Lamas, 2012 WL 592090 (W.D.Pa. 2012).[2] Plaintiff alleges that by construing his § 2254 petition as challenging his parole revocation, Magistrate Judge Mitchell "assist[ed] the Allegheny County Defendants" by denying him his "fundamental legal rights" and "depriving him of the ability to defend his liberty." (ECF No. 3 at p. 10).

B. Screening

This Court is required to review Plaintiff's Complaint in accordance with the amendments promulgated in the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), Pub.L. No. 104-34, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996). Pertinent to the case at bar is the authority granted to federal courts for sua sponte screening and dismissal of prisoner claims. Specifically, Congress significantly amended Title 28 of the United States Code, section 1915, which establishes the criteria for allowing an action to proceed in forma pauperis, i.e., without the prepayment of costs. Section 1915(e) (as amended) requires the federal courts to review complaints filed by persons who are proceeding in forma pauperis and to dismiss, at any time, and notwithstanding any portion of the filing fee that may have been paid, any action that is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).[3] A complaint is frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact, " Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989), and is legally baseless if it is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory." Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1085 (3d Cir. 1995).

In determining whether a claim fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted for purposes of § 1915(e)(2)(B), courts apply the same standard applied to motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. D'Agostino v. CECOM RDEC, 436 F.App'x 70, 72 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999)). A complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (rejecting the traditional 12(b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citing Twombly ). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has expounded on this standard in light of its decision in Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224 (3d Cir.2008) (construing Twombly in a civil rights context), and the Supreme Court's decision in Iqbal:

After Iqbal, it is clear that conclusory or "bare-bones" allegations will no longer survive a motion to dismiss: "threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. To prevent dismissal, all civil complaints must now set out "sufficient factual matter" to show that the claim is facially plausible. This then "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 1948. The Supreme Court's ruling in Iqbal emphasizes that a ...

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