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Harris v. Harper

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 14, 2015

ERNEST HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
ORLANDO HARPER, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

CYNTHIA REED EDDY, Magistrate Judge.

Presently pending is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, with brief in support (ECF No. 13). For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be granted.[1]

Factual Background

Plaintiff, Ernest Harris, is a federal inmate presently confined at FCI Gilmer. Harris initiated this action on August 14, 2014, with the filing of a motion to proceed in forma pauperis and an accompanying complaint. (ECF No. 1). The motion to proceed in forma pauperis was granted (ECF No. 2), and the complaint was filed. (ECF No. 3). The original complaint remains the operative complaint. Orlando Harper, the Warden of Allegheny County Jail ("ACJ") is the sole defendant, who is identified only in the caption of the complaint. Harris' claim is based upon an assault by fellow inmates, which allegedly occurred on March 13, 2014, while Harris was confined at ACJ. The Complaint does not specify whether Plaintiff was a convicted inmate or a pretrial detainee at the time of the assault.

The Complaint is far from a model of clarity as it lacks specificity in its details. The Statement of the Claim is comprised of two sentences, to wit :

On 3-13-14 at 4:26 Pm I was jumped (assaulted) by several inmates inside my cell. Then I was jumped (assaulted) again by several inmates.

The Complaint states that "deliberate indifference" is the federal law that was violated. Plaintiff does not specifically mention the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in his Complaint, but nevertheless the Complaint appears to seek vindication of Plaintiff's federal constitutional rights. Because Plaintiff does not have a cause of action directly under the Constitution, the Court will construe the Complaint as one invoking the Court's jurisdiction pursuant to Section 1983. Kaucher v. Cnty of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 145 n.3 (1979).

Standard Of Review

1. Pro Se Litigants

Pro se pleadings, "however inartfully pleaded, " must be held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-521 (1972). If the court can reasonably read pleadings to state a valid claim on which the litigant could prevail, it should do so despite failure to cite proper legal authority, confusion of legal theories, poor syntax and sentence construction, or the litigant's unfamiliarity with pleading requirements. Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364 (1982); United States ex rel. Montgomery v. Bierley, 141 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir.1969) (petition prepared by a prisoner may be inartfully drawn and should be read "with a measure of tolerance").

In a § 1983 action, the court must liberally construe the pro se litigant's pleadings and "apply the applicable law, irrespective of whether a pro se litigant has mentioned it by name." Higgins v. Beyer, 293 F.3d 683, 688 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Holley v. Dep't of Veteran Affairs, 165 F.3d 244, 247-48 (3d Cir. 1999)). See also Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996) ("Since this is a § 1983 action, the [pro se] plaintiffs are entitled to relief if their complaint sufficiently alleges deprivation of any right secured by the Constitution.") (quoting Higgins, 293 F.3d at 688). Under our liberal pleading rules, during the initial stages of litigation, a district court should construe all allegations in a complaint in favor of the complainant. Gibbs v. Roman, 116 F.3d 83 (3d Cir. 1997). See, e.g., Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir.1996) (discussing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) standard); Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990) (same). Notwithstanding this liberality, pro se litigants are not relieved of their obligation to allege sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal claim. See, e.g., Taylor v. Books A Million, Inc., 296 F.3d 376, 378, (5th Cir. 2002).

2. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) - The Legal Standard

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiently of the complaint. When reviewing a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all well-pleaded facts and allegations, and must draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the plaintiff. Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 62 F.3d 212, 220 (3d Cir. 2011), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 1861 (2012) (citing In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010)). However, as the Supreme Court of the United States made clear in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, such "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (holding that, while the Complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must contain more than a "formulaic recitation of the elements" of a constitutional claim and must state a claim that is plausible on its face) (quoting Twombly, and providing further guidance on the standard set forth therein).

To determine the legal sufficiency of a complaint after Twombly and Iqbal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit instructs that a district court must conduct a three-step analysis when considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 n.7 (3d Cir. 2010) (noting that although Iqbal describes the process as a "two-pronged approach, " it views the case as outlining three steps) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675). First, "the court must tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.'" Id. at 130 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675) (alteration in original). Second, the court "should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.'" Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). ...


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