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Hamilton v. Bromley

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 15, 2015

NICOLE BROMLEY, et al., Defendants.



This is a civil action filed by pro se litigant, Harry E. Hamilton, appearing in forma pauperis. [1] For the reasons provided herein, it is recommended that Plaintiff's complaint (Doc. 1), be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), and the above-captioned case be closed.


Plaintiff Harry E. Hamilton, proceeding pro se, filed the instant civil rights action on November 24, 2014, seeking injunctive and declaratory relief against Nicole Bromley of the Centre County Office of Children and Youth Services, Judge Bradley Lunsford, the Director/Owner/Operator of Youth Haven, and John Doe Defendants. (Doc. 1). In his complaint, Hamilton alleges that the above-named Defendants violated his constitutional rights under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, and the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, by placing his minor child into shelter care during the pendency of a child abuse investigation involving the child's mother, rather than allow Plaintiff custody of his minor child. (Doc. 1, at 3). He alleges that the Defendants failed to ensure that the shelter was a suitable environment for his minor child, as his minor child was subjected to "psychological and emotional abuse... by having [to] change clothing in front of incompletely covered windows, [and] causing [him] to endure inappropriate jokes and taunts, " as well as required to share a living space with other residents "who made inappropriate statements" to him, and assigned daily responsibilities such as chores. (Doc. 1, at 4). He additionally alleges that the shelter refused to allow contact between Plaintiff and his minor child during the child's stay at the youth shelter.

The Court deferred screening this complaint for six months in light of Plaintiff's representations to the Court that he was in the process of retaining counsel to represent him in the instant matter. However, Plaintiff was unable to obtain counsel in the timeline provided by the Court. On May 5, 2015, the Court conducted a telephone conference with the parties to determine the status of the instant action. (Doc. 21). It was revealed at that time that Plaintiff had obtained physical custody of his minor child pursuant to an ongoing child-custody dispute. Having heard from the parties at the teleconference, the Court entered a Show Cause Order on May 8, 2015, directing both parties to submit, on or before June 5, 2015, an affidavit, declaration, or other documentation addressing why the case should not be dismissed on abstention or mootness grounds. (Doc. 23). On June 4, 2015, and June 5, 2015, the Defendants responded to the Show Cause Order.


Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court is statutorily required to review the complaint of a plaintiff proceeding in forma pauperis prior to service of process. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). In performing this mandatory screening function, a district court applies the same standard applied to motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir.1999).

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes a defendant to move to dismiss for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has 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 (3d Cir. 2008)] and culminating recently with the Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (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, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). 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). 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 action will not do." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). When ruling on a motion to dismiss, a trial court must assess whether a complaint states facts upon which relief can be granted, and should "begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). "[T]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court may consider the facts alleged on the face of the complaint, as well as "documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice." Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007). Additionally, while a pro se complaint, "however inartfully pleaded, " must be held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, " Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972), "[ p]ro se attorneys... typically cannot claim the special consideration which the courts customarily grant to pro se parties." Allegrino v. Conway E & S, Inc., No. 09-1507, 2010 WL 2035658, at *2 (W.D.Pa. May 18, 2010) (internal quotations omitted); see also Heller v. Emanuel, No. 07-1393, 2007 WL 1491081, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. May 21, 2007). The Third Circuit has instructed that if a complaint is vulnerable to dismissal for failure to state a claim, the district court must permit a curative amendment, unless an amendment would be inequitable or futile. Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002).


Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, includes numerous allegations within his complaint that appear to seek vindication of his minor child's constitutional rights. Indeed, but for an allegation that Plaintiff was deprived of emergency custody of and contact with his minor child at the direction of the court throughout the duration of the minor's stay at a youth shelter pending the conclusion of an investigation into an incident of alleged child abuse involving the minor child's mother, the complaint primarily sets ...

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