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Sears v. McCoy

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 12, 2017

DONTE MCCOY, et al., Defendants


          Kane Judge

         Presently before the Court is pro se Plaintiff's Complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. No. 1) and motion to proceed in forma pauperis. (Doc. No. 2.) For the following reasons, the Court will construe Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis as a motion to proceed without full prepayment of the filing fee and will grant the motion. In addition, pursuant to this Court's screening obligations, the Court will dismiss the claims set forth against Defendants Peters, Eveland, Carpentier, Sciochitana, Baumbach, Luscavage, and Varner pursuant to the Court's authority under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 16, 2017, Plaintiff Richard Sears, an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Albion, Pennsylvania (“SCI-Albion”), filed a pro se civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, naming as defendants the following individuals: Correctional Officer Donte McCoy, Lieutenants A. Peters, J. Eveland and Brian Carpentier, Captain Sciochitana, Deputy Superintendent Facility Manager E. Baumbach, Deputy Superintendent for Centralized Services Anthony Luscavage, Superintendent Vincent Mooney, and Chief Grievance Officer Dorina Varner. (Doc. No. 1.) The allegations set forth in the Complaint stem from alleged incidents that occurred while Plaintiff was confined at the State Correction Institute at Coal Township (“SCI-Coal Township”). (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges that after Plaintiff filed grievances against McCoy, McCoy verbally abused and harassed him by calling him a “rat” in front of other inmates and made a number of sexually explicit comments to him. (Id.) Plaintiff also alleges that McCoy retaliated against him for filing grievances by throwing out Plaintiff's commissary purchase slips, placing a “dark brown foreign object” in his meal, and stealing and destroying a photograph of Plaintiff's father. (Id.) Plaintiff also alleges that Peters, Eveland, Mooney, Varner, Scicchitano, and Carpentier had an “opportunity to do something meaningful and positive for Mr. Sears and curb or deter any future forms of such behavior by defendant McCoy[, ]” but they “did nothing, causing Mr. Sears to be further subjected to such behavior [by McCoy].” (Id.) These Defendants appear to be named in the Complaint on the basis of respondeat superior. Finally, Plaintiff does not make any allegations against Defendants Baumbach or Luscavage.

         In addition to his complaint, Plaintiff has filed a motion to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. No. 2). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted. In addition, pursuant to the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court will dismiss Defendants Peters, Eveland, Mooney, Varner, Scicchitano, and Carpentier, grant Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint as to Defendants Baumbach and Luscavage, and allow the First Amendment retaliation claim brought against Defendant McCoy to proceed through screening.


         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, prior to service of process, courts must screen civil complaints in which prisoners seek redress from governmental entities, officers, or employees. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a); James v. Pa. Dep't of Corr., 230 F.App'x 195, 197 (3d Cir. 2007). If a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, a court must dismiss the complaint. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1); Mitchell v. Dodrill, 696 F.Supp.2d 454, 471 (M.D. Pa. 2010).

         Courts have a similar obligation with respect to actions brought in forma pauperis. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) (“[T]he court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action or appeal . . . fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted . . . .”). In performing this mandatory screening function, a district court applies the standard governing motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Mitchell, 696 F.Supp.2d at 471. When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court accepts as true all factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009); In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010). To avoid dismissal, all civil complaints must set out “sufficient factual matter” to show that their claims are facially plausible. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). The plausibility standard requires more than a mere possibility that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct: “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not ‘show[n]' - ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         Accordingly, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has identified the following steps that a district court must take when reviewing a 12(b)(6) motion: (1) identify the elements that a plaintiff must plead to state a claim, (2) identify any conclusory allegations contained in the complaint that are “not entitled” to the assumption of truth, and (3) determine whether any “well-pleaded factual allegations” contained in the complaint “plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” See Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). The Third Circuit has specified that in ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, “a court must consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents.” Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)).

         In the context of pro se prisoner litigation, the court must be mindful that a document filed pro se is “to be liberally construed.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). A pro se complaint, “however inartfully pleaded, ” must be held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers” and can be dismissed for failure to state a claim only if it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972).


         In order to state a viable claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must plead: (1) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and (2) that said conduct deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 638 (3d Cir. 1995); Shaw by Strain v. Strackhouse, 920 F.2d 1135, 1141-42 (3d Cir. 1990). Moreover, in addressing whether a viable claim has been stated against a defendant, the court must assess whether the plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that the defendant was personally involved in the act which the plaintiff claims violated his rights. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). Liability may not be imposed pursuant to § 1983 under the traditional standards of respondeat superior. Capone v. Marinelli, 868 F.2d 102, 106 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing Hampton v. Holmesburg Prison Officials, 546 F.2d 1077, 1082 (3d Cir. 1976)). Instead, “supervisory personnel are only liable for the § 1983 violations of their subordinates if they knew of, participated in or acquiesced in such conduct.” Capone, 868 F.2d at 106 n.7.

         In this context, supervisory liability exists in only two instances: (1) when the supervisor “knew of, participated in or acquiesced in” the harmful conduct; and (2) when a supervisor established and maintained a policy, custom, or practice which directly caused the constitutional harm. Id.; Santiago, 629 F.3d at 129; A.M. ex rel. J.M.K. v. Luzerne Cnty. Juvenile Ctr., 372 F.3d 572, 586 (3d Cir. 2004). With respect to the ...

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