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Dickson v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 16, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants


          Kane Judge


         On July 21, 2016, Plaintiff Bryan Kerr Dickson, an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution at Marianna, located in Marianna, Florida (“FCI-Marianna”), filed pro se a civil action against the United States and several unspecified individuals under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) and Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1977). In a separate document entitled “Clarification of Defendants” Plaintiff appears to name the following individuals as defendants but does not specify their conduct: (1)Loretta Lynch, Attorney General of the United States; (2) Charles M. Samuels, Jr., Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons; (3) Michael D. Tafelski, Regional Counsel of the Federal Bureau of Prisons; and (4) Peter Smith, United States Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 2.) In the so-called clarification of defendants, Plaintiff also refers to a separate civil action, No. 1:14-cv-1784, which was dismissed by this court on September 12, 2016, and states that the present action is similar in nature to that prior case. (Id.)

         Plaintiff's claims are set forth in the following two documents: (1) a form civil rights complaint (Doc. No. 1) in which Plaintiff refers to an attached complaint and (2) what Plaintiff entitles “Federal Tort Claim Act and Bivens Lawsuit.” (Doc. No. 4.) Plaintiff's action raises a hodgepodge of unrelated claims and he fails to specify the individual defendants other than as noted above. (Doc. No. 4 at 2-3, 6-10.) He does not connect the conduct alleged in these two documents with the Defendants mentioned in the so-called clarification. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that on July 14, 2014, he was transferred by way of a bus from the United States Penitentiary at Hazelton, located in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia, to the United States Penitentiary at Allenwood, White Deer, Pennsylvania (“USP-Allenwood”), and while being transferred he was assaulted by other inmates. (Id. at 6-10.) Plaintiff apparently contends that employees of the Federal Bureau of Prisons were deliberately indifferent to his safety concerns and that they acted in a negligent manner resulting in him suffering injury at the hands of the other inmates; he contends that at USP-Allenwood he was not only assaulted by other inmates but also by correctional officers and federal agents; he contends that Defendants withheld and delayed providing him with his property and legal materials for eight weeks; he alleges that he was forced to sleep on a “thin” mattress on a top bunk even though he had a bottom bunk restriction and that this conduct amounted to battery by the United States; he claims that Defendants refused to provide him with adequate medical care for orthopedic conditions, including arthritis and bone spurs in both knees, and he claims this was another incident of battery; and finally he claims that he was provided with inadequate dental care, i.e., Defendants lost and refused to replace his dentures. (Id.) Plaintiff, as noted, names as a Defendant the United States but does not specify by name the individual Defendants other than in the so-called clarification. (Id.) Instead he names as Defendants all federal employees, including employees of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and employees of the center that designated him to USP-Allenwood, the Central Office and the Northeast Regional Office of the Bureau of Prisons, and USP-Allenwood. (Id. at 2-3.) Plaintiff allegations are conclusory and as noted fail to specify the responsible correctional officers or federal agents at USP-Allenwood. Furthermore, other than with respect to the incident of July 14, 2014, he does not specify any dates or a range of time during which the conduct which he contends violated his rights occurred. As relief Plaintiff requests that (1) he be placed in a safe environment; (2) he be referred to an outside dentist who specializes in dentures and a specialist in orthopedic medicine so that he can undergo double knee replacement; (3) he be released from the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons; and (4) he be awarded monetary damages in the total amount of $6, 800, 000.00. (Doc. No. 4 at 9-10.)

         Along with his complaint, Plaintiff submitted a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and an authorization to have funds deducted from his prison account to have the filing fee paid in installments. (Doc. No. 5.) However, because the forms submitted were not the forms used by this court, an Administrative Order was issued on July 22, 2016, directing Plaintiff to file the proper forms within thirty days. (Doc. No. 7.) On August 9, 2016, Plaintiff submitted the proper forms (Doc. Nos. 10, 11), and on September 19, 2016, a motion for appointment of counsel (Doc. No. 12).

         For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motions to proceed in forma pauperis will be construed as a motion to proceed without full pre-payment of the filing fee and granted, and the complaint will be dismissed pursuant to the screening provisions of the 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e), of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted with leave to file an amended complaint with respect to some of the claims. Furthermore, Plaintiff's motion for appointment of counsel will be denied.


         A. PLRA Screening

         Because Plaintiff complains about “prison conditions, ” the screening provisions, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), of the PLRA apply, given that Plaintiff is a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis. The court has an obligation to dismiss a complaint under the PLRA screening provisions “at any time the court determines” the complaint is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from suit. See, e.g., Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126 n. 6 (9th Cir. 2000); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) authorizes dismissal of a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Under Rule 12(b)(6), we must “accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008)). While a complaint need only contain “a short and plain statement of the claim, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and detailed factual allegations are not required, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), a complaint must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.) “[L]abels and conclusions” are not enough, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, and a court “‘is not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'” Id., 127 S.Ct. at 1965 (quoted case omitted).

         In resolving the question of whether a complaint states a claim, we thus “conduct a two-part analysis.” Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210. First, we separate the factual elements from the legal elements and disregard the legal conclusions. Id. at 210-11. Second, we “determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a “‘plausible claim for relief.'” Id. at 211 (quoted case omitted).

         Furthermore, pro se parties are accorded substantial deference and liberality in federal court. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972); Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5 (1980). They are not, however, free to ignore the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 requires that a complaint contain a short and plain statement setting forth (1) the grounds upon which the court's jurisdiction rests, (2) the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, and (3) a demand for judgment for the relief sought by the pleader.

         The FTCA provides a remedy in damages for “injury or loss of property, or personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of [the United States] while acting within the scope of his office or employment, under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.” 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1); see also Toole v. United States, 588 F.2d 403, 406 (3d Cir. 1978); O'Neal v. Department of Army, 852 F.Supp. 327, 334-35 (M.D. Pa. 1994); Turner v. Miller, 679 F.Supp. 441, 443 (M.D. Pa. 1987). A claim against a department or agency of the United States is not cognizable under the Federal Tort Claims Act. 28 U.S.C. § 2679(a). Furthermore, as long as the officials or employees of the United States were acting within the scope of their duties or employment they cannot be named as defendants and only the United States can be so named. 28 U.S.C. § 2679(b); Smith v. United States, 499 U.S. 160 (1991).

         In cases involving federal prisoners, the courts have recognized that the government's duty of care is one of ordinary diligence. See 18 U.S.C. § 4042; Turner, 679 F.Supp. at 443. In presenting a FTCA claim in this jurisdiction, a plaintiff must show: (1) that a duty was owed to him by a defendant; (2) a negligent breach of said duty; and (3) that the negligent breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury or loss. Mahler v. ...

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