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Plonka v. Borough of Susquehanna

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 5, 2017

ANDREAS PLONKA and CAROLINE PLONKA, Plaintiffs,
v.
BOROUGH OF SUSQUEHANNA et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge

         Presently before the Court is an Amended Complaint (Doc. 10) filed by Plaintiffs Andreas and Caroline Plonka, proceeding in forma pauperis. Because Plaintiffs are proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court must screen the Amended Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) to assess whether it should be dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or because it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. For the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that the Amended Complaint should be dismissed in its entirety.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs Andreas and Caroline Plonka, through counsel, originally filed this lawsuit on February 10, 2017. (Doc. 1.) The Court granted Plaintiffs' application to proceed in forma pauperis, dismissed the original Complaint in part without prejudice pursuant to its screening obligation under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), and granted Plaintiffs leave to file an amended complaint. (See Doc. 7.) On March 29, 2017, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint, naming the Borough of Susquehanna (the “Borough”) and Susquehanna Borough Police Chief Robert Sweet (“Chief Sweet”) as Defendants. (Doc. 10.) In their Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that a discussion between Plaintiffs and the Susquehanna Borough Council during a January 15, 2015 Council meeting became argumentative. In response, councilmembers requested the Borough Police to escort Plaintiffs out of the Susquehanna Borough Building. Chief Sweet proceeded to grab Mr.

         Plonka's arm and twist it behind his back while physically pushing Mr. Plonka toward the exit. Upon reaching the exit door, Chief Sweet pushed Mr. Plonka into the door in an attempt to force him out of the building. As a result of this collision, Mr. Plonka suffered an open wound injury to his leg, which has yet to heal completely and has required treatment from multiple medical providers. Plaintiffs allege that Chief Sweet has used excessive force in other unspecified matters and that the Borough was aware of these prior incidents. Plaintiffs further assert that the Borough failed to take any action to implement proper training procedures in order to eliminate the use of excessive force by the Borough police force.

         Plaintiffs assert a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging the use of excessive force in violation of Mr. Plonka's Fourth Amendment right against Chief Sweet in his official capacity and the Borough, a failure-to-train claim against the Borough, state-law claims for assault and battery against Chief Sweet, and a state-law claim for loss of consortium against Chief Sweet on behalf of Mrs. Plonka.

         II. Legal Standard

         The Court has an ongoing statutory obligation to conduct a preliminary review of complaints filed by plaintiffs proceeding in forma pauperis. An application to proceed in forma pauperis is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1915. This section provides, [1] in pertinent part:

(a)(1) Subject to subsection (b), any court of the Untied States may authorize the commencement, prosecution or defense of any suit, action or proceeding, civil or criminal, or appeal therein, without prepayment of fees or security therefor, by a person who submits an affidavit that includes a statement of all assets such prisoner possesses that the person is unable to pay such fees or give security therefor. Such affidavit shall state the nature of the action, defense or appeal and affiant's belief that the person is entitled to redress.
. . . .
(e)(2) Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that (A) the allegation of poverty is untrue; or (B) the action or appeal (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.

         To effectuate § 1915, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has established a two-step process for reviewing in forma pauperis applications. See Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1084 n.5 (3d Cir. 1995); see also Garland v. U.S. Airways, Inc., No. 05-140, 2007 WL 895139, at *2 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 21, 2007) (noting that the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) “appl[y] to both prisoner and non-prisoner in forma pauperis complaints”). First, leave to proceed in forma pauperis is based on a showing that the litigant is unable to pay court costs and filing fees. See Douris v. Middletown Twp., 293 Fed.Appx. 130, 132 (3d Cir. 2008). Second, if in forma pauperis status is granted, the Court determines whether the Complaint should be dismissed pursuant to § 1915(e)(2)(B). Id.; Garland, 2007 WL 895139, at *2.

         Because the Court already granted Plaintiffs leave to proceed in forma pauperis , the Court now turns to the second step to assess whether the Amended Complaint should be dismissed.

         III. ...


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