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Cruz v. M.S.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

April 27, 2018

JAMIE CRUZ, SR., Plaintiff,
M.S., J.S., Defendants.


          Arthur J. Schwab United States District Judge.

         Pro se Plaintiff Jamie Cruz, Sr. (“Plaintiff”) initiated the instant civil action on February 15, 2018, by filing a Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. Doc. No. 1. Plaintiff brings this action against the victim of the crimes for which he is currently incarcerated, and her father, claiming that they have defamed him on social media. Doc. No. 1-1 (“[M.S.] and [J.S.][1]have been putting things on [F]acebook about me that wasn't [sic] true. I was arrested for charges involving [M.S.]”). See also Criminal Docket CP-25-CR-0002299-2016 (Court of Common Pleas of Erie County).[2]

         In accordance with the Magistrate Judge's Act, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), and Rules 72.C and 72.D of the Local Rules of Court, the case was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter. On April 3, 2018, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) recommending that Plaintiff be granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis, but that his complaint be dismissed as legally frivolous. Doc. No. 5. Plaintiff was served with the R&R and informed that he had until April 20, 2018 to file written objections. Plaintiff filed objections to the R&R and a Motion to Amend his Complaint. Doc. No. 6.

         If objections are filed to a Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, the district court is required to make a de novo determination about those portions of the R&R to which objections were made. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). The district court may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition, as well as receive further evidence or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions. Upon an independent review of the record, and consideration of the Magistrate Judge's R&R, the Court will adopt the R&R with modifications, will grant Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis, and will dismiss his complaint as frivolous, malicious, and for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e).

         I. Legal Standards

         A. Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis

         The in forma pauperis statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915, is “designed to ensure that indigent litigants have meaningful access to the federal courts.” Douris v. Middletown Twp., 293 Fed. App'x 130, 131 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989). Congress recognized, however, that litigants free from the burden of paying filing fees and court costs, which are the assumed by the public, lack the incentive to refrain from filing frivolous, malicious, or repetitive lawsuits. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 324; Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1084 (3d Cir. 1995).

         Accordingly, when reviewing an in forma pauperis application, the Court must make two determinations: (1) whether Plaintiff is indigent; and (2) whether the proposed complaint is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks damages from a defendant who is immune to suit. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         The Court may dismiss a complaint under Section 1915(e) as frivolous if the court determines that “the contentions are clearly baseless.” Deutsch, 67 F.3d at 1085. The Court may dismiss the action as malicious if it finds that “the litigant's motivations at the time of the filing of the lawsuit . . . is an attempt to vex, injure, or harass the defendant.” Deutsch, 67 F.3d at 1086. The standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim under Section 1915(e) is the same as the standard used when ruling on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), that is, the Court must accept the factual allegations as true and determine whether a plausible claim is stated. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 92009); and Connelly v. Lane Construction Corp., 809 F.3d 780 (3d Cir. 2016).

         B. Defamation

         Plaintiff states a claim for defamation in his Complaint. Doc. No. 1-1. Under Pennsylvania law, a plaintiff must prove the following seven elements to state a claim for defamation: (1) the defamatory character of the communication; (2) its publication by the defendant; (3) its application to the plaintiff; (4) the understanding by the recipient of its defamatory meaning; (5) the understanding by the recipient of it as intended to be applied to the plaintiff; (6) special harm resulting to the plaintiff from its publication; and (7) abuse of a conditionally privileged occasion. 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 8343.

         For purposes of the threshold determination whether a communication is defamatory, it is not necessary for the communication actually to have caused harm to a plaintiff's reputation; defamatory character depends on the general tendency of the words to have such an effect. Id., citing Corabi v. Curtis Publishing Co., 273 A.2d 899 (Pa. 1971); Miller v. Hubbard, 207 A.2d 913 (Pa. Super. 1965); Restatement, supra, § 559 Comment d. However, it is not sufficient for the words to merely embarrass or annoy the plaintiff. Beckman v. Dunn, 419 A.2d 583 (Pa. Super. 1980). A communication is defamatory if it tends to blacken a person's reputation or expose that person to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule, or injure the person in his business or profession. Livingston v. Murray, 612 A.2d 443, 447 (Pa. Super. 1992), alloc. den., 617 A.2d 1275 (Pa. 1992). A statement must also be provable as false to give rise to a claim of defamation. See, e.g., Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 U.S. 1, 19-20 (1990).

         II. Discussion

         A. Plaintiff fails ...

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