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Ash v. D.O.C.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 2, 2018

WILLIAM A. ASH, Plaintiff,
v.
D.O.C., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          A. RICHARD CAPUTO United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff William A. Ash, an inmate at the Dallas State Correctional Institution in Dallas, Pennsylvania, commenced this action on June 2, 2017. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff appears pro se and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF No. 8.) Prior to the Court serving the Complaint on Defendants, Mr. Ash sought, and was granted, leave to file an amended complaint. (Id.) The Court proceeds to review and screen the Amended Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         II. Standard of Review for Screening Pro Se In Forma Pauperis Complaints

         When a litigant seeks to proceed in forma pauperis, without payment of fees, 28 U.S.C. § 1915 requires the court to screen the complaint, or in this instance, the amended complaint. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Likewise, when a prisoner seeks redress from a government defendant in a civil action, whether proceeding in forma pauperis or not, the court must screen the complaint. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Both 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915(A) give the court the authority to dismiss a complaint if it is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(iii); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1)-(2); Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 452 (3d Cir. 2013).

         A complaint is frivolous if it lacks an arguable basis either in law or fact. See Mitchell v. Horn, 318 F.3d 523, 530 (3d Cir. 2003)(citing Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 1832-33, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989)). In deciding whether the complaint fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, the court employs the standard used to analyze motions to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). See Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000). Under Rule 12(b)(6), the court "must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949-50, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)). The court may also rely on exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record. Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263, 268 (3d Cir. 2007).

         A complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . ." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A complaint is required to provide "the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting BellAtl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)).

         To test the sufficiency of the complaint, the court "must take three steps." Connelly v. Lane Constr. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016). First, a court must "take note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim." Id. (internal quotations and brackets omitted). Second, the court must identify allegations that are merely legal conclusions "because they ... are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id. While detailed factual allegations are not required, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citing BellAtl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). Third, a court should assume the veracity of all well-pleaded factual allegations and "then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Connelly, 809 F.3d at 787 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. at 1949).

         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). Pro se litigants are to be granted leave to file a curative amended complaint even when a plaintiff does not seek leave to amend, unless such an amendment would be inequitable or futile. See Estate of Lagano v. Bergen Cty. Prosecutor's Office, 769 F.3d 850, 861 (3d Cir. 2014).

         III. Allegations of the Amended Complaint

         The well-pleaded facts as set forth in Mr. Ash's Amended Complaint (ECF No. 11) are as follows:[1]

         On October 20, 2015, Mr. Ash was transferred from SCI-Dallas to SCI-Graterford. He was transported by a bus operated by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC). The bus stopped at SCI-Benner prior to proceeding to SCI-Graterford. At approximately 1:30 p.m., Mr. Ash and thirty-seven other inmates were placed on the transport bus at SCI-Benner and headed for SCI-Graterford. Mr. Ash wore leg shackles and his hands were cuffed in front of him to a waist-chain that prevented him from lifting his arms. The transport bus did not have seatbelts to secure Mr. Ash or the other inmates. (Id. at ¶ 4.)

         At approximately 4:30 p.m., due to the excessive speed the bus was traveling, the driver failed to smoothly negotiate a curve and jerked the steering wheel while aggressively applying the brakes. (Id. at ¶¶ 1 - 3.) "Due to the operator's blatant neglegence (sic)" Mr. Ash was "ejected" from his seat head first and "landed on his head and back almost rendering him unconscious." (Id. at ¶ 5.) The DOC transport officers ignored inmates' cries that Mr. Ash was injured and needed assistance. (Id.)

         Upon arriving at SCI-Graterford, Plaintiff notified staff of the accident. After being placed in a holding cell for two hours, Mr. Ash was taken to the medical unit. (Id. at ΒΆΒΆ 6 - 7.) There he advised a nurse of the accident and his injuries: a head laceration, headache, dizziness, a lump near the laceration site, and moderate back pain. The nurse examined him, ...


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