United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
MARTIN C. CARLSON, Magistrate Judge.
I. Statement of Facts and of the Case.
This is a pro se civil action brought by James David Harman, against a private utility company, PPL Electric, a company which Harman identifies as Pennsylvania Power and Light in his pleadings. Harman's initial complaint is a somewhat obscure document which lists a series of grievances that Harman has with this private utility, grievances that are set forth without any factual chronology or context. (Doc. 1.) Indeed, Harman's complaint never explains when any of the events that allegedly trouble him occurred. (Id.) Instead, Harman asserts in general terms that PPL has unfair billing practices; fails to pay interest on security deposits paid to it; provides consumers with unclear and fraudulent bills; denies consumers electric power choice; unfairly terminates electrical service; and has placed power lines on Mr. Harman's property without his permission. (Id.) Alleging that he has been harmed by these utility practices, Harman then demands $3, 000, 000 in compensatory damages, and an unspecified amount of punitive damages from PPL as redress for these injuries. (Id.) While he makes these claims against this private utility Harman's complaint is entirely unclear as to the basis for federal jurisdiction in this matter, simply referring to an array of federal criminal statutes, an assortment of civil statutes and the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. (Id.)
PPL has now moved to dismiss this complaint, (Doc. 6), arguing that in its current form Harman's complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. This motion is fully briefed by the parties, (Docs. 7, 10 and 11), and is therefore ripe for resolution. For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that the motion to dismiss be granted.
A. Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss-Standard of Review
The defendant has moved to dismiss this pro se complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that a complaint should be dismissed for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).
With respect to this benchmark standard for legal sufficiency of a complaint, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has aptly noted the evolving standards governing pleading practice in federal court, stating that:
Standards of pleading have been in the forefront of jurisprudence in recent years. Beginning with the Supreme Court's opinion in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) continuing with our opinion in Phillips [v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 230 (3d Cir. 2008)]and culminating recently with the Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal ___ U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) pleading standards have seemingly shifted from simple notice pleading to a more heightened form of pleading, requiring a plaintiff to plead more than the possibility of relief to survive a motion to dismiss.
Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 209-10 (3d Cir. 2009).
In considering whether a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, the Court must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom are to be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jordan v. Fox Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, Inc., 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). However, a court "need not credit a complaint's bald assertions or legal conclusions when deciding a motion to dismiss." Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Additionally a court need not "assume that a... plaintiff can prove facts that the... plaintiff has not alleged." Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). As the Supreme Court held in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), in order to state a valid cause of action a plaintiff must provide some factual grounds for relief which "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of actions will not do." Id. at 555. "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id.
In keeping with the principles of Twombly, the Supreme Court has underscored that a trial court must assess whether a complaint states facts upon which relief can be granted when ruling on a motion to dismiss. In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the Supreme Court held that, when considering a motion to dismiss, a court should "begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id. at 679. According to the Supreme Court, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 678. Rather, in conducting a review of the adequacy of complaint, the Supreme Court has advised trial courts that they must:
[B]egin by identifying pleadings that because they are no more than conclusions are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their ...