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Hill v. Havens

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 31, 2018

NATHANIEL HILL, Plaintiff,
v.
TPR. T. R. HAVENS, and TPR. BRANDON SHRAWDER, Defendants

          Brann Judge

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Statement of Facts and of the Case

         This case comes before us for a legally-mandated screening review. The plaintiff, Nathaniel Hill, is an inmate at the Lycoming County Prison. In this pro se complaint, Hill sues two Pennsylvania State Troopers. Hill's complaint contains a spare factual recital which states that Hill “was being chase [sic] on foot by one officer and he couldn't catch me so Trooper Shrawder hit me with his PSP vehicle.” (Doc. 1.) According to Hill, “[a]fter being hit with the vehicle I tried to get back up and Trooper Tyson Havens kicked me in the chest.” (Id.)

         On the basis of this straightforward factual narrative, Hill sues the two trooper seeking both damages and an order directing that the defendants be fired. (Id.) However, notably missing from the complaint is any indication regarding when or where these events allegedly took place.

         Along with his complaint, Hill has filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Doc. 2.) For the reasons set forth below we will GRANT Hill's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, but recommend that this complaint be dismissed without prejudice to Hill filing an amended complaint which recites when and where this conduct is alleged to have occurred, matters that are material to an informed understanding of whether Hill may maintain this lawsuit in federal court.

         II. Discussion

         A. Screening of Pro Se In Forma Pauperis complaints

         This Court has an on-going statutory obligation to conduct a preliminary review of pro se complaints brought by plaintiffs given leave to proceed in forma pauperis in cases which seek redress against government officials. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). Specifically, the Court must assess whether a pro se complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, since Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a complaint should be dismissed for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In addition, when reviewing in forma pauperis complaints, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) specifically enjoins us to "dismiss the complaint at any time if the court determines that . . . the action . . . fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. This statutory text mirrors the language of Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that a complaint should be dismissed for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         With respect to this benchmark standard for legal sufficiency of a complaint, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has aptly noted the evolving standards governing pleading practice in federal court, stating that:

Standards of pleading have been in the forefront of jurisprudence in recent years. Beginning with the Supreme Court's opinion in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) continuing with our opinion in Phillips [v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 230 (3d Cir. 2008)]and culminating recently with the Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal BU.S.B, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) pleading standards have seemingly shifted from simple notice pleading to a more heightened form of pleading, requiring a p[arty] to plead more than the possibility of relief to survive a motion to dismiss.

Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 209-10 (3d Cir. 2009).

         In considering whether a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, the Court must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the complaint are to be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jordan v. Fox Rothschild, O=Brien & Frankel, Inc., 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). However, a court "need not credit a complaint's bald assertions or legal conclusions when deciding a motion to dismiss." Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Additionally a court need not "assume that a ... p[arty] can prove facts that the ... p[arty] has not alleged." Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). As the Supreme Court held in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), in order to state a valid cause of action a party must provide some factual grounds for relief which "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of actions will not do." Id. at 555. "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id.

         In keeping with the principles of Twombly, the Supreme Court has underscored that a trial court must assess whether a complaint states facts upon which relief can be granted when ruling on a motion to dismiss. In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the Supreme Court held that, when considering a motion to dismiss, a court should "begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id. at 679. According to the Supreme Court, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do ...


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