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Jones v. Scanlon

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 21, 2014

RAHEEM JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
SHANE M. SCANLON, ET AL., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

RICHARD P. CONABOY, District Judge.

Background

Raheem Jones, an inmate presently confined at the Lackawanna County Prison, Scranton, Pennsylvania, filed this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] Plaintiff has also submitted an in forma pauperis application. See Doc. 5. For the reasons set forth below, Jones' action will be dismissed, without prejudice, as legally frivolous pursuant to the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915.

Named as Defendants are Lackawanna County Assistant District Attorney (ADA) Shane M. Scanlon; Lackawanna County Detective Thomas Davis; and John Doe who is described as being a confidential informant (CI). See Doc. 1, ¶ III. According to the Complaint, on May 2, 2013, Detective Davis received authorization from ADA Scanlon to conduct electronic surveillance on CI Doe's communications. The CI allegedly consented to the use of electronic monitoring. As a result of the subsequent interception of a telephone conversation between Plaintiff and the CI regarding a controlled purchase of crack cocaine, Davis obtained an arrest warrant which led to the arrest of Plaintiff on August 20, 2013.

Jones contends that there were no reasonable grounds to conduct said surveillance as required under Pennsylvania state law. It is also alleged that proper procedures were not carried out with respect to the authorization and the conducting of the electronic surveillance. Jones further contends that the illegal interception of his communication constituted an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. The Complaint also raises a pendent state law tort claim. As relief, Plaintiff seeks injunctive and declaratory relief as well as an award of punitive and compensatory damages. It is noted that Plaintiff specifically seeks an injunction barring the use of the intercepted communication as evidence in his criminal prosecution. See Doc. 1, ¶ 40.

Discussion

28 U.S.C. § 1915 imposes obligations on prisoners who file civil actions in federal court and wish to proceed in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, e.g., that the full filing fee ultimately must be paid (at least in a non-habeas suit) § 1915(e)(2) 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.

When considering a complaint accompanied by a motion to proceed in forma pauperis, a district court may rule that process should not be issued 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); Wilson v. Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir. 1989). 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, 504 U.S. at 33.

State Actor

The Complaint in part seeks to purse a claim against a private unidentified individual, Defendant John Doe, who is described as being a confidential informant. A plaintiff, in order to state an actionable civil rights claim, must plead two essential elements: (1) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of law, and (2) that said conduct deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. See Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 638 (3d Cir. 1995); Shaw by Strain v. Strackhouse, 920 F.2d 1135, 1141-42 (3d Cir. 1990).

Plaintiff raises no allegations that the CI was acting under color of state law. Furthermore, there is no clear allegation that the CI was a non-state actor who conspired with state officials to deprive Plaintiff of his constitutional rights. See Dennis v. Sparks, 449 U.S. 24, 27-8. Since CI John Doe was not acting under color of law he is not a properly named defendant in a Section 1983 civil rights action. In addition, the claim ...


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