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Saunders v. Swift

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 22, 2017

LISA A. SWIFT, et al., Defendants



         I. Introduction

         The pro se plaintiff, Dajaun Saunders, a former Pennsylvania inmate, filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action, asserting that the defendants wrongly kept him in custody for eleven days after we granted him bail in connection with a 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition he had filed. The petition challenged a DUI conviction imposed in the Court of Common Plea of Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania.

         The defendants are: (1) Lisa Swift, an assistant district attorney in Lackawanna County who represented the respondents on the 2254 petition; (2) Alice Emmett, alleged to be the inmate records supervisor at the state correctional institution in Waymart, Pennsylvania, where Plaintiff had been confined when he filed his 2254 petition; and (3) Sherry Barbour, [1] supervisor of records at the state correctional institution in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.[2] Plaintiff makes claims under the Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

         Presently before the court is Swift's motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Saunders has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and that she is entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity.[3] For the reasons that follow, we will deny the motion and issue a scheduling order.

         II. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), we must “take as true all the factual allegations of the [complaint] and the reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them, but we disregard legal conclusions and recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements.” Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 128 (3d Cir. 2010)(quotation marks omitted and citation omitted).

         “The test in reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) is whether, under any ‘plausible' reading of the pleadings, the plaintiff would be entitled to relief." Guidotti v. Legal Helpers Debt Resolution, L.L.C., 716 F.3d 764 (3d Cir. 2013)(citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). To satisfy this standard, 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, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964. Nonetheless, a complaint has to plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570, 127 S.Ct. at 1974. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965). “[L]abels and conclusions” are not enough, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65, 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).

         The court is not limited to evaluating the complaint alone; it can also consider documents attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and indisputably authentic documents. Delaware Nation v. Pennsylvania, 446 F.3d 410, 413 n.2 (3d Cir. 2006).

         A complaint filed by a pro se plaintiff must be liberally construed and “held ‘to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'” Fantone v. Latini, 780 F.3d 184 (3d Cir. 2015)(citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21, 92 S.Ct. 594, 596, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972)); see also Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007). Yet, even a pro se plaintiff “must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim.” Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013)(citation omitted).

         III. Background

         Plaintiff alleges as follows. On December 19, 2013, he filed in this court a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging a conviction in the Court of Common Plea of Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, for driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol. Saunders v. Asure, No. 13-CV-3056 (M.D. Pa.)(Caldwell, J.). On February 12, 2016, we vacated the conviction. See Saunders v. Asure, No. 13-CV-3056, 2016 WL 561947 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 12, 2016).

         Plaintiff filed a motion for bail in the habeas proceedings. (ECF No. 66, No. 13-CV-3056). On March 8, 2016, Swift, representing the respondents, answered the motion by asserting she did not oppose it, and by allegedly also stating “that she was aware that the Plaintiff had no detainers, warrants, or other cases pending that would prevent him from being released on bail.” (ECF No. 1, p. 9, Complaint). The “Response” to Plaintiff's motion, attached to the Complaint as Exhibit A, does say that Respondents do not oppose bail, but also only says that in the bail motion Plaintiff “indicate[s]” he “has no other offense holding him in custody or detainers lodged against him . . . .” (Id., Ex. A, p. 16).

         At the time, Saunders was housed at SCI-Waymart. On March 15, 2016, he packed up his property so that he could be transported to SCI-Camp Hill for his bail hearing. (Id., p. 9). Before leaving, anticipating release on bail, Plaintiff spoke to his counselor about contacting the records department at the prison so that he need not return. (Id., pp. 9-10). His counselor contacted defendant Emmett, the records supervisor at SCI- Waymart. She replied that if Saunders were granted bail, ...

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