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Johnson v. Roskosci

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 25, 2017



          William J. Nealon, United States District Judge.


         Armoni Johnson, an inmate confined in the State Correctional Institution, located in Dallas, Pennsylvania, ("SCI-Dallas"), filed the above-captioned civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1). On September 2, 2016, Defendant's initial motion to dismiss was partially granted, and Plaintiffs complaint was permitted to proceed only on his First Amendment free exercise claim. (Doc. 31). Plaintiff was given leave to amend his First Amendment retaliation, Eighth Amendment harassment, and Fourteenth Amendment discrimination claims. (Docs. 28 and 29). On September 30, 2016, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint. (Doc. 32).

         Presently before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiffs amended complaint with an accompanying brief in support, both of which were filed on October 18, 2016. (Docs. 33 and 34). The motion remains unopposed and is ripe for disposition.[1] For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). "When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must 'accept as true all [factual] allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.'" Altland v. Wetzel. 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124787, at *2 (M.D. Pa. 2015) (Conner, J.) (alterations in original) (quoting Kanter v. Barella. 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007)). "Although the court is generally limited in its review to the facts contained in the complaint, it 'may also consider matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case.'" Mi (quoting Oshiver v. Levin. Fishbein. Sedran & Berman. 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994)); citing In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig.. 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997)).

         "Federal notice and pleading rules require the complaint to provide 'the defendant notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Id. (quoting Phillips v. Cntv. of Allegheny. 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008)). "To test the sufficiency of the complaint in the face of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must conduct a three-step inquiry." Id. (citing Santiago v. Warminster Twp.. 629 F.3d 121, 130-31 (3d Cir. 2010)). At the first step, "the court must '[t]ake note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.'" Santiago. 629 F.3d at 130-31 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal. 556 U.S. 662, 675 (2009)). At the second step, "the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated; well-pleaded facts must be accepted as true, while mere legal conclusions may be disregarded." Altland. 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124787, at *2-3 (citing Santiago. 629 F.3d at 130-31; Fowler v. UPMC Shadyshide. 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009)). Then, "[o]nce the well-pleaded factual allegations have been isolated, the court must determine whether they are sufficient to show a 'plausible claim for relief.'" Id. at *3 (quoting Iqbal. 556 U.S. at 679; citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly. 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (requiring plaintiffs to allege facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level"). A complaint must be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) if it fails to allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly. 550 U.S. at 570. The non- moving party must aver "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal. 556 U.S. at 663.

         "However, even 'if a complaint is subject to Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, a district court must permit a curative amendment unless such an amendment would be inequitable or futile."' Payne v. Duncan. 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10969, at *3 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 29, 2016) (Mariani, J.) (quoting Phillips. 515 F.3d at 245). The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has stated that:

even when plaintiff does not seek leave to amend his complaint after a defendant moves to dismiss it, unless the district court finds that amendment would be inequitable or futile, the court must inform the plaintiff that he or she has leave to amend the complaint within a set period of time.

Phillips, 515 F.3d at 245.

         In addition, given that he was granted in forma pauperis status to pursue this suit, see (Doc. 7), the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) apply. The court's obligation to dismiss a complaint under the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act's ("PLRA") screening provisions for complaints that fail to state a claim is not excused even after a defendant has filed a motion to dismiss. £ge, e.g.. Lopez v. Smith. 203 F.3d 1122, 1126 n.6 (9th Cir. 2000). Hence, if there is a ground for dismissal which was not relied upon by a defendant in a motion to dismiss, the court may nonetheless gua sponte rest its dismissal upon such ground pursuant to the screening provisions of the PLRA. See Ii; Dare v. U.S.. 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45040 (W.D. Pa. 2007), affd. 264 F.App'x 183 (3d Cir. 2008).

         Finally, "[t]he obligation to liberally construe a pro se litigant's pleadings is well-established." Higgs v. Attv. Gen, of the U.S.. 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Estelle v. Gamble. 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Haines v. Kerner. 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Capogrosso v. The Supreme Court of N.J.. 588 F.3d 180, 184 n.l (3d Cir. 2009)). Therefore, the allegations advanced by Plaintiff, a pro se litigant, will be liberally construed.

         AMENDED ...

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