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Farrow v. PA Department of Labor

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

December 14, 2016

RIKEA FARROW, Plaintiff,
v.
PA DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          LISA PUPO LENIHAN United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. RECOMMENDATION

         It is respectfully recommended that Plaintiff's Complaint, which was commenced in forma pauperis, be dismissed with prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), as frivolous, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, and because it seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.

         II. REPORT

         A. Plaintiff's Claims

         Rikea Farrow (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, filed this action alleging the Pennsylvania Department of Labor[1] violated Plaintiff's due process rights. It appears the Defendant, according to the Plaintiff, did not receive notice from Plaintiff's employer that she resigned, which led to her mistakenly receiving unemployment compensation. Due to this apparent confusion, Defendant seemingly realized Plaintiff was not eligible to receive unemployment compensation and subsequently imposed an overpayment lien on Plaintiff. (ECF No. 3, ¶ II. A.) By not requiring Plaintiff's employer to submit direct evidence of Plaintiff's resignation, Plaintiff alleges Defendant violated Plaintiff's due process rights. (ECF No. 3, ¶ III.)

         Plaintiff claims the Defendant owes $900 to the Plaintiff, seeks to require the Defendant to “remove the lien, ” and asks the Court to grant “relief of the judgment of the lien.” (ECF No. 3, ¶ IV.)

         B. Legal Standards

         The court must liberally construe the factual allegations of Plaintiff's Complaint because pro se pleadings, “however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (internal quotation omitted); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). In addition, the court should “‘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 Veterans Affairs, 165 F.3d 244, 247-48 (3d Cir. 1999)).

         This Court must review Plaintiff's Complaint in accordance with the amendments promulgated in the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996). Although Plaintiff's claims do not appear to arise from an incarceration, the amendments to the PLRA codified as 28 U.S.C. § 1915 apply to non-incarcerated individuals who have been granted in forma pauperis (“IFP”) status. See Powell v. Hoover, 956 F.Supp. 564, 566 (M.D. Pa. 1997) (holding that federal in forma pauperis statute is not limited to prisoner suits); Floyd v. United States Postal Serv., 105 F.3d 274, 276 (6th Cir. 1997) (holding that non-prisoners have the option to proceed in forma pauperis), superseded on other grounds by Callihan v. Schneider, 178 F.3d 800 (6th Cir. 1997). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a), Plaintiff is eligible for and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Thus her allegations must be reviewed in accordance with the directives provided in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e).

         Pertinent to the case at bar is the authority granted to federal courts for the sua sponte dismissal of claims in IFP proceedings. Specifically, § 1915(e), as amended, requires the federal courts to review complaints filed by persons who are proceeding in forma pauperis and to dismiss, at any time, any action that is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). “[A] complaint . . . is frivolous where it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Hawkins v. Coleman Hall, C.C.F., 453 F. App'x 208, 210 (3d Cir. 2011) (“An appeal is frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or fact.”) (citing Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 325). Thus, under § 1915(e)(2)(B), courts are “authorized to dismiss a claim as frivolous where ‘it is based on an indisputable meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless.'” O'Neal v. Remus, No. 09-14661, 2010 WL 1463011, at *1 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 17, 2010) (quoting Price v. Heyrman, No. 06-C-632, 2007 WL 188971, at *1 (E.D. Wis. Jan. 22, 2007) (citing Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327)).

         A complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12 (b)(6)[2] if it does not allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 556 (2007) (rejecting the traditional 12(b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). The court must accept as true all allegations of the complaint and all reasonable factual inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Angelastro v. Prudential-Bache Sec., Inc., 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir. 1985). “To the extent that a complaint filed in forma pauperis which fails to state a claim lacks even an arguable basis in law, Rule 12(b)(6) and § 1915(d) both counsel dismissal.” Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 328 (footnote omitted).

         C. Discussion

         The Eleventh Amendment bars civil rights suits against a State in federal court by private parties where the State has not consented to such action. Laskaris v. Thornburgh, 661 F.2d 23, 25 (3d Cir. 1981) (citing Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781 (1978)). The Supreme Court of the United States has consistently held that an un-consenting State is immune from suits brought in federal courts by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another State. Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 662-63 (1974); Employees v. Dep't of Pub. Health and Welfare, 411 U.S. 279, 280 (1973). This immunity applies regardless of the relief sought by a party. Id.; Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984) (holding Eleventh Amendment immunity applies “regardless of the relief sought.”). The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, by way of statutory authority, has expressly withheld consent to suit in federal court. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 8521(b); Laskaris, 661 F.2d at 25. Pennsylvania's Eleventh Amendment immunity further extends to suits against “arms of the state, ” i.e., departments or agencies of the State having no existence separate from the State. Laskaris, 661 F.2d at 25 (citing Mt. Healthy Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 280 (1977)). The Department of Labor, responsible for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's workforce compensation and training, unemployment benefits, and labor-related policies, is inarguably an arm of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 71 ...


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