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Maldonado v. Karnes

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 8, 2014



RICHARD P. CONABOY, District Judge.


William Maldonado (Plaintiff), an inmate presently confined at the Lebanon County Correctional Facility, Lebanon, Pennsylvania, initiated this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Accompanying the complaint is an in forma pauperis application.[1] For the reasons set forth below, Maldonado will be granted temporary in forma pauperis status for the sole purpose of the filing of this matter. However, Plaintiff's complaint will be dismissed, without prejudice.

Named as Defendants are three employees of the Lebanon County Correctional Facility: Warden Robert Karnes; Deputy Warden for Operations Timothy Clements; and Correctional Counselor Tina Verna. Plaintiff indicates that he is presently serving concurrent sentences imposed by the Lebanon County Court of Common Pleas and the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas.

Maldonado's initial claim vaguely asserts that the Warden "told the honorable judges that i [sic] was considered a problem [sic] prisoner which was totally a lye [sic]." Doc. 1, ¶ IV(1). Plaintiff contends that his statement was false he has been confined at the prison for four (4) months without any disciplinary violations. The only other allegation set forth regarding Warden Karnes is a general allegation that the Warden also stated that Maldonado had requested protective custody.[2]

With respect to Deputy Warden Clements, the Complaint contends that said Defendant incorrectly stated that the Lehigh County Prison refused to take custody of Plaintiff, which Maldonado concludes is incorrect because he was sentenced to serve concurrent sentences at the Lehigh County Prison. See id. at ¶ 2.

While Plaintiff was being held in the prison's protective custody unit, Corrections Counselor Verna purportedly made verbal threats towards the prisoner for filing grievances, refused to let him contact his attorney, or do anything for him "as she's required to as a corr counselor." Id. at ¶ 3. Maldonado seeks injunctive relief, specifically a transfer to the Lehigh County Prison; placement on work release, removal from protective custody and that the warden be directed to prepare a statement admitting that he is not a problem prisoner.


When considering a complaint accompanied by a motion to proceed in forma pauperis, a district court may rule that process should not issue if the complaint is malicious, presents an indisputably meritless legal theory, or is predicated on clearly baseless factual contentions. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989), Douris v. Middleton Township, 293 Fed.Appx. 130, 132 (3d Cir. 2008). Indisputably meritless legal theories are those "in which either it is readily apparent that the plaintiff's complaint lacks an arguable basis in law or that the defendants are clearly entitled to immunity from suit...." Roman v. Jeffes, 904 F.2d 192, 194 (3d Cir. 1990) (quoting Sultenfuss v. Snow, 894 F.2d 1277, 1278 (11th Cir. 1990)).

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has added that "the plain meaning of frivolous' authorizes the dismissal of in forma pauperis claims that... are of little or no weight, value, or importance, not worthy of serious consideration, or trivial." Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1083 (3d Cir. 1995). It also has been determined that "the frivolousness determination is a discretionary one, " and trial courts "are in the best position" to determine when an indigent litigant's complaint is appropriate for summary dismissal. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992).

Verbal Threats

Plaintiff alleges in part that Warden Karnes and Deputy Warden Clements made false statements and that Correctional Counselor Verna verbal threatened him. There is no assertion that any of those purported comments were accompanied by any physical abuse.

The use of words generally cannot constitute an assault actionable under § 1983. Johnson v. Glick, 481 F.2d 1028, 1033 n.7 (2d Cir.); Maclean v. Secor, 876 F.Supp. 695, 698-99 (E.D. Pa. 1995); Murray v. Woodburn, 809 F.Supp. 383, 384 (E.D. Pa. 1993) ("Mean harassment... is insufficient to state a constitutional deprivation."); Prisoners' Legal Ass'n v. Roberson, 822 F.Supp. 185, 189 (D.N.J. 1993) ("[V]erbal harassment does not give rise to a constitutional violation enforceable under § 1983.").

Mere threatening language and gestures of a custodial officer do not, even if true, amount to constitutional violations. Balliet v. Whitmire, 626 F.Supp. 219, 228-29 (M.D. Pa.) ("[v]erbal abuse is not a civil rights violation..."), aff'd, 800 F.2d 1130 (3d Cir. 1986) (Mem.). A constitutional claim based only on verbal threats will fail regardless of whether it is asserted under the Eighth Amendment's cruel and unusual punishment ...

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