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Fallin v. Mueller

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 5, 2015

GLEN FALLIN, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVID MUELLER, ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

MARTIN C. CARLSON, Magistrate Judge.

I. Statement of Facts and of the Case

The plaintiff in this case, Glenn Fallin, acting pro se, filed this lawsuit against an assistant district attorney in York County. (Doc. 1.) According to Fallin's complaint, this lawsuit arises out of a prosecution of Fallin's son in 2012 and - on criminal trespass charges. (Id.) That state criminal case ultimately concluded with Fallin's son's enrollment and completion of an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program, and form of pre-trial diversion. (Id.) In the course of this state criminal case, however, Fallin apparently endeavored to communicate with the assistant district attorney, the judge, and the alleged victims, communications that Fallin contends were misconstrued by all parties. As a result, the assistant district attorney assigned to Fallin's son' case sent Fallin a letter warning Fallin that he should refrain from acts that could be construed as the unauthorized practice of law on behalf of his son, and generally declined to speak directly with Fallin about his son's case in the future. Alleging that these actions violated his constitutional rights, and caused him emotional and economic harm, Fallin now seeks to sue the assistant district attorney under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for unspecified civil rights violations, and demands compensatory damages of $100, 000, punitive damages of $50, 000, along with declaratory and injunctive relief. (Id.)

Along with his complaint, Fallin seeks leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Doc. 2.) For the reasons set forth below, we will GRANT Fallin leave to proceed in forma pauperis but as part of our legally-mandated duty to screen pro se in forma pauperis pleadings, we recommend that this complaint be dismissed.

II. Discussion

A. Screening of Pro Se In Forma Pauperis Complaints-Standard of Review

This Court has a statutory obligation to conduct a preliminary review of complaints filed by plaintiffs who seek leave to proceed in forma pauperis, and seek redress against government officials. See 28 U.S.C. §§1915 and 1915A. Specifically, we must assess whether a pro se, in forma pauperis complaint "fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." This statutory text, in turn, mirrors the language of 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 ...

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