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Crews v. Resnick

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 4, 2017

MICHAEL CREWS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER MICHAEL RESNICK, MAYOR NUTTER, and MAYOR KENNEY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          EDWARD G. SMITH, J.

         The pro se plaintiff was an inmate in the City of Philadelphia Prison System when he commenced this action claiming that the defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights when they periodically placed him in a three-person cell and required him to sleep in a “boat” on the floor. After the court dismissed the complaint for the failure to state a claim, the court provided the plaintiff with a period of 30 days to file an amended complaint. Despite the passage of a few months since the court granted the plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint, he has failed to file an amended complaint.

         The defendants move to have the court dismiss the action for lack of prosecution. They apparently attempted to serve the plaintiff with the motion only to discover that he is no longer incarcerated and they have no manner to contact him. The plaintiff has not notified the court that he has changed his address.

         As stated further below, the plaintiff's failure to notify the court of his change of address would, in itself, warrant dismissal of this action without prejudice without considering the factors set forth in Poulis v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., 747 F.2d 863 (3d Cir. 1984) to govern motions to dismiss for failure to prosecute. Nonetheless, even if the court were to consider the Poulis factors, the court would still dismiss the action for failure to prosecute because it is the only appropriate sanction for the plaintiff's failure to file an amended complaint or to update his address in this case.

         I. ALLEGATIONS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The pro se plaintiff, Michael Crews, filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis and a proposed complaint against the defendants, Commissioner Michael Resnick, Mayor Nutter, and Mayor Kenney, on February 23, 2016.[1] Doc. No. 1. The Honorable Norma L. Shapiro, now deceased, entered an order (1) denying without prejudice the application to proceed in forma pauperis because the plaintiff failed to file a certified copy of his prisoner account statement for the six-month period preceding the filing of the complaint, and (2) requiring the plaintiff to either pay the filing and administrative fees or supply the court with the certified prisoner account statement within 30 days of the court's order. Doc. No. 2. In response to this order, the plaintiff provided the court with a copy of his prisoner account statement that the clerk of court docketed on March 28, 2016. Doc. No. 4. On the same date, the plaintiff also filed a notice of change of address indicating that prison officials were transferring him from one Philadelphia jail, the Curran Fromhold Correctional Facility (“CFCF”), to another Philadelphia jail, the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center (“PICC”). Doc. No. 3.

         After receipt of the plaintiff's account statement, Judge Shapiro granted his application to proceed in forma pauperis on April 5, 2016, and the clerk of court subsequently docketed the complaint. Doc. Nos. 5, 6. In the complaint, the plaintiff alleges that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated when, starting on March 16, 2015, he was housed in a three-person cell at the CFCF and was sleeping in a “boat” on the floor. Complaint at ECF p. 2.[2] It appears that the plaintiff had to sleep on the boat in the three-person cell every other month from March 2015 through February 2016. Id. at ECF pp. 2-3. The plaintiff also alleges that he suffers from back pain due to a prior car accident and sleeping on the boat made it harder for him to sleep.[3] Id. at ECF p. 3. The plaintiff states that he has grieved the issue of him sleeping on the boat in the three-person cell, but nothing has come of his grievances. Id. at ECF p. 4. With regard to his requested relief, the plaintiff seeks $10, 000 for his pain and suffering and a transfer to a two-person cell. Id. at ECF p. 5.

         It appears that the United States Marshal's Service served the summonses and copies of the complaint upon the defendants, and the defendants later filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on July 11, 2016. Doc. No. 7. In the motion to dismiss, the defendants generally contended that the court should dismiss the complaint because the plaintiff failed to allege that they were personally involved in the alleged wrongs. Memorandum of Law in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim at 1-3. The plaintiff never filed a response to the motion to dismiss.

         On August 1, 2016, Chief Judge Petrese B. Tucker reassigned this case, along with 12 other cases, to the Honorable Mitchell S. Goldberg. Doc. No. 9. Judge Goldberg then entered a memorandum opinion and order on November 30, 2016, in which the court dismissed the complaint without prejudice because (1) the plaintiff's allegations “do not show that Crews's basic needs were not met or that unnecessary pain was inflicted sufficient to prove a violation of the Eighth Amendment[, ]” (2) the complaint did not provide sufficient facts to “assess the totality of the circumstances of the prison conditions Crews experienced” so the court could determine if the “conditions were intended to punish or were not rationally related to a legitimate government purpose, ” (3) the plaintiff failed to allege “sufficient facts to establish that any of the supervisor defendants were personally involved in a constitutional violation[, ]” and (4) “[t]he complaint does not allege a policy of housing inmates in overcrowded cells.”[4] Memorandum Op. at 4-6, Doc. No. 10. Because it was “conceivable” that the plaintiff could cure the aforementioned deficiencies in the complaint, Judge Goldberg granted the plaintiff leave until December 30, 2016, to file an amended complaint. Id. at 6-7; Order, Doc. No. 11.

         Prior to the expiration of the period for the plaintiff to file an amended complaint, Chief Judge Tucker reassigned the case from Judge Goldberg to the undersigned. Doc. No. 12. The plaintiff did not file an amended complaint on or before December 30, 2016, and the defendants filed the instant motion to have the court dismiss the action for lack of prosecution on February 13, 2017. Doc. No. 13. To date, the plaintiff has not filed an amended complaint and he has not responded to the motion to dismiss. Regarding the plaintiff's lack of response to the motion to dismiss, the defendants sent a letter to the court in which they indicate that they attempted to serve the motion upon the plaintiff at his address in the prison, but they were unable to do so because he is no longer incarcerated.[5] Doc. No. 14.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that “[i]f the plaintiff fails to prosecute or to comply with these rules or a court order, a defendant may move to dismiss the action or any claim against it.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b). In the instant motion to dismiss, the defendants assert that the court should dismiss the action for lack of prosecution because the plaintiff has failed to file an amended complaint as ordered by the court and an analysis of the factors set forth in Poulis v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., 747 F.2d 863 (3d Cir. 1984) supports dismissing this action with prejudice. See Memorandum of Law in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss for Lack of Prosecution (“Defs.' Mem.”) at 1-3, Doc. No. 13.

         As discussed in more detail below, the court need not even consider the Poulis factors before finding that dismissal is appropriate here because it appears that the plaintiff has changed his address after leaving the Philadelphia Prison System and has not updated his address with the clerk of court. Nonetheless, the court would find that dismissal is appropriate even if the court considered the Poulis factors.

         With regard to the plaintiff's failure to notify the court of his address change, the court, upon receiving notice from the defendants that they were unable to serve the plaintiff because he was no longer incarcerated in the Philadelphia Prison System, conducted a review of the publicly-available information to attempt to confirm whether he was still incarcerated. In this regard, the court attempted to locate the plaintiff by using the City of Philadelphia Prison System's online inmate locator, but could not locate him.[6] The court also attempted to locate the plaintiff through the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Corrections' online inmate locator and could not locate him.[7] As a final measure, the court attempted to discover the status of the plaintiff's criminal matter in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. While this is by no means an indisputable finding because the court is unaware of the plaintiff's date of birth, it appears that there was only one individual with the plaintiff's name who had a criminal matter pending in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County during the time period of the plaintiff's incarceration set forth in the complaint.[8] This criminal action was docketed at No. CP-51-CR-8869-2012. It appears that this matter concluded with a jury trial in which the jury found the defendant not guilty of all charges on January 24, 2017.[9]

         As it appears that the plaintiff is no longer incarcerated and has changed his address, he was obligated to file a notice of change of address with the court. See E.D. Pa. Loc. Civ. R. 5.1(b) (“Any party who appears pro se shall file with the party's appearance or with the party's initial pleading, an address where notices and papers can be served. Said party shall notify the Clerk within fourteen (14) days of any change of address.”). The plaintiff was apparently aware of this requirement because he filed a notice of change of address in March 2016 after his transfer between prisons. Doc. No. 3.

         Ordinarily, district courts in the Third Circuit must analyze motions to dismiss for lack of prosecution by evaluating the six factors set forth in Poulis. See Spain v. Gallegos, 26 F.3d 439, 454-55 (3d Cir. 1994) (“Ordinarily, when a court is determining sua sponte or upon motion of a defendant whether to dismiss because of a plaintiff's failure to prosecute” the court must consider the Poulis factors); see also McLaren v. New Jersey Dep't of Educ., 462 F. App'x 148, 149 (3d Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (“Typically, district courts are required to evaluate the factors set forth by [Poulis] to determine whether dismissal is appropriate.”). “However, when a litigant's conduct makes adjudication of ...


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