United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
SAMUEL S. MEEKER, et al., Plaintiffs,
WARDEN TODD BUSKIRK, et al., Defendants.
JEFFREY L. SCHMEHL, JUDGE
inmates at the Northampton County Prison filed this civil
action against Warden Todd Buskirk, Northampton County,
Pennsylvania, and the “US Government.” In an
Order docketed February 27, 2018, the Court informed the
Plaintiffs that, if they sought to proceed in forma
pauperis as suggested in their Complaint, they would
each be obligated to file a motion to proceed in forma
pauperis and a certified copy of their prison account
statements for the six-month period preceding the filing of
this case as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2). (ECF
No. 2.) The Court also informed the Plaintiffs that each
litigant granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis
would be obligated to pay the filing fee in installments in
accordance with the Prison Litigation Reform Act.
(Id. citing Hagan v. Rogers, 570 F.3d 146,
155 (3d Cir. 2009)). Two of the Plaintiffs, Samuel S. Meeker
and Tashwan Hunter, responded to the Order by filing Motions
to Proceed In Forma Pauperis and their prison
account statements. (ECF Nos. 3 & 4.) They also submitted
an Amended Complaint, which named new inmates as the
Plaintiffs in this action. (ECF No. 1-3.)
Court issued an Order docketed on April 4, 2018, which
directed the Clerk's Office to amend the caption to
reflect the caption of the Amended Complaint and gave the
newly-added Plaintiffs an opportunity to either pay the fees
or file motions for leave to proceed in forma
paupeirs with their prison account statements as
required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2). (ECF No. 5.) None of
those individuals responded to the Order in any respect.
Accordingly, the Court will dismiss those Plaintiffs as
parties to this case without prejudice. In the meantime,
Meeker filed a Motion for Appointment of Attorney and a
Notice of Change of Address. (ECF Nos. 6 & 7.) For the
following reasons, the Court will grant Meeker and Hunter
leave to proceed in forma pauperis and dismiss the
Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim, pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).
the initial Complaint, the Amended Complaint identifies the
Defendants in this action as Warden Todd Buskirk, Northampton
County, the “State of Pennsylvania, ” and
“US Gov't.” The Court understands Meeker and
Hunter to be raising constitutional claims pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983 and Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents
of the FBI, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), based on the conditions
at the Northampton County Prison, primarily in connection
with the denial of access to “legal materials.”
(Am. Compl. ECF No. 1-3 at 5.) They also appear to be
challenging the performance of counsel in their criminal
search of public dockets reflects that Meeker is awaiting
trial in the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas for
burglary and related charges. See Commonwealth v.
Meeker, Docket No. CP-48-CR-0000703-2018. Meeker was
recently released on bail to a long term inpatient facility.
Id. Hunter recently pled guilty in the Northampton
County Court of Common Pleas to possession of a controlled
substance and disorderly conduct. See Commonwealth v.
Hunter, Docket Nos. CP-48-CR-0000287-2018 &
CP-48-CR-0004139-2017. Both Meeker and Hunter were
represented by counsel from the Public Defender's Office.
basis for their claims, Meeker and Hunter allege that:
Northampton County Prison and Northampton County have
intentionally failed to provide adequate legal research
facilities or a reasonable alternative in the form of trained
legal professionals in an effort to profit off of legal
injustices and the resultant mass incarceration of its
citizens through their practice of charging “room
board” to inmates at Northampton County Prison.
Additionally, Northampton County has fostered an environment
that is openly hostile and discriminates against pro se
litigants or defendants by refusing to hear motions they
filed through a faulty application of case law to PA C.R.P.
576; in which the county holds that if “hybrid
representation” is present no pro se motions will be
heard . . . .
(Am. Compl. at 17-18.) That final allegation appears to refer
to the state court's practice of declining to address
pro se motions in criminal cases when a defendant is
represented by counsel, as appears to have happened in
Meeker's criminal case based on the docket. The Amended
Complaint reflects Meeker and Hunter's disapproval of the
fact that prison officials have distributed copies of the
relevant rules and case law pertaining to the state
court's prohibition on “hybrid
representation.” Meeker and Hunter add that the Public
Defender's Office is a “complete failure”
based on Meeker and Hunter's apparent dissatisfaction
with the legal services they received. (Id. at 19.)
the Amended Complaint focuses on access to legal materials
and counsel's performance, it raises other allegations
that pertain to the conditions at Northampton County Prison.
Meeker and Hunter claim that prison officials “engaged
in retaliation for discussing lawsuits, prohibiting
distribution of the PA C.R.P to inmates and thus to have
reasonable access to legal materials crucial to achieving
meaningful access to the courts . . . .” (Id.
at 20-21.) In that regard, they contend that “wholesale
violations of prisoner's rights” have occurred
including “retaliation against litigants by restricting
access to photocopies of the criminal rules to [sic]
procedure and by failing to provide a reasonable alternative
to legal materials.” (Id. at 24.) Prison
officials have also allegedly failed to provide grievances
when asked. Relatedly, Meeker attached to the Amended
Complaint a request he filed in which he seeks a grievance
form to “contest [his] unlawful, arbitrary and
capricious pre-trial detention and the patently false
statements” that presumably gave rise to his
incarceration. (Id. at 13.) The block officer
replied to Meeker, and informed him that those issues were
not grievable within the institution and recommended that he
speak with his attorney.
Amended Complaint seeks “immediate, declaratory,
preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to enjoin the
defendants' conduct” and damages. (Id. at
21.) Among the requests for relief include a request for a
federal takeover of the criminal justice system within
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court grants Meeker and Hunter leave to proceed in forma
pauperis because it appears that they are incapable of
paying the fees to commence this civil action. Accordingly, 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) applies, which requires the
Court to dismiss the Amended Complaint if it fails to state a
claim. Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under
§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard
applicable to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), see Tourscher v. McCullough, 184
F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999), which requires the Court to
determine whether the complaint contains “sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quotations omitted).
Conclusory allegations do not suffice. Id. As Meeker
and Hunter are proceeding pro se, the Court
construes their allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y
Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).