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Smith v. Furgonsin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 4, 2018

JAMES SMITH, Plaintiff
v.
TAMMY FURGONSIN et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          SYLVIA H. RAMBO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, James Smith, an inmate currently confined at the State Correctional Institution at Benner Township, Bellefonte, Pennsylvania (“SCI-Benner”), filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on December 22, 2017 in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 1, 6.) This case was transferred to this district on March 7, 2018. (Doc. No. 8.) Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”), the Court will perform the following screening of the complaint prior to service of process.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff's complaint names two Defendants: (1) Lit Singer (“Singer”) and (2) Tammy Ferguson (“Ferguson”) (which Plaintiff misspells as “Tammy Furgonsin.” (Doc. Nos. 1, 6.) Plaintiff alleges that while incarcerated at SCI-Benner, Singer has been engaging in mistreatment and harassment of Plaintiff, due to Plaintiff's alleged mental illness. (Doc. No. 6 at 2.) Plaintiff also claims that he filed grievances and complained to Superintended Ferguson about Singer's harassment, but nothing has been done. (Id. at 3.)

         The Chief Magistrate Judge for the Western District of Pennsylvania issued a Report and Recommendation on February 12, 2018, recommending that the case be transferred to this district. (Doc. No. 7.) On March 7, 2018, the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania issued an Order adopting the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, and transferred this suit to this district. (Doc. No. 8.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court is obligated, prior to service of process, to screen a civil complaint in which a prisoner is seeking redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a); James v. Pa. Dep't of Corr., 230 F. App'x 195, 197 (3d Cir. 2007). The Court must dismiss the complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1); Mitchell v. Dodrill, 696 F.Supp.2d 454, 471 (M.D. Pa. 2010). The Court has a similar obligation with respect to actions brought in forma pauperis. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). In performing this mandatory screening function, a district court applies the same standard applied to 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 must accept 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 In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010). The Court's inquiry is guided by the standards of Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). Under Twombly and Iqbal, pleading requirements have shifted to a “more heightened form of pleading.” See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). To prevent dismissal, all civil complaints must set out “sufficient factual matter” to show that the claim is facially plausible. Id. The plausibility standard requires more than a mere possibility that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. As the Supreme Court instructed in Iqbal, “where 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, to determine the sufficiency of a complaint under Twombly and Iqbal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has identified the following steps a district court must take when determining the sufficiency of a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6): (1) identify the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim; (2) identify any conclusory allegations contained in the complaint “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) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         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)). A court may also consider “any ‘matters incorporated by reference or integral to the claim, items subject to judicial notice, matters of public record, orders, [and] items appearing in the record of the case.'” Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006) (quoting 5B Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1357 (3d Ed. 2004)).

         In conducting its screening review of a complaint, 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 only be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it appears beyond 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).

         III. SECTION 1983 STANDARD

         In order to state a viable § 1983 claim, the plaintiff must plead two essential elements: 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. Natale v. Camden Cty. Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 580-81 (3d Cir. 2003). Further, § 1983 is not a source of substantive rights. Rather, it is a means to redress violations of federal law by state actors. Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 284-85 (2002).

         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 under § 1983 on 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, ‚Äúsupervisory personnel are only ...


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