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Barlow v. Ebbert

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 24, 2018

CAMDEN BARLOW, et al., Plaintiffs
WARDEN DAVID J. EBBERT, et al., Defendants




         On April 3, 2018, the Court received and docketed a complaint filed pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), ostensibly by ten inmates currently incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (“USP-Lewisburg”).[1] (Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiffs provide that Plaintiff Railey “acts as the ‘agent' and/or ‘voice' of the group of Plaintiffs.” (Id. at 8-9.) Named as Defendants are David J. Ebbert, the Warden at USP-Lewisburg, Officer Buebendorf, Special Institutional Security at USP-Lewisburg, and Officer Tharp, acting counselor for B-block at USP-Lewisburg. (Id. at 9.) Plaintiffs allege that they are housed in the Special Management Unit (“SMU”), and participate in a Secured Mental Health Step Down Program designed for inmates with disciplinary infraction issues. (Id. at 9.)

         Plaintiffs claim that they are being discriminated against in violation of the Equal Protection Clause because they receive enhanced restrictions on their incoming and outgoing mail by virtue of their placement in the SMU. (Id. at 12.) Plaintiffs also allege a violation of their Fifth Amendment due process rights related to these enhanced mail restrictions, as well as violations of their First Amendment rights because they are unable to properly utilize the administrative grievance remedy procedure at USP-Lewisburg. (Id. at 13.) Concurrent with the filing of the complaint, Plaintiffs also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order (“TRO”), and preliminary injunction (Doc. No. 2), and motion to proceed as a “class action” pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 (Doc. No. 3).

         On April 23, 2018, a motion to amend the complaint was filed, requesting leave to add three additional Plaintiff's to the complaint: Doreteo Garcia, Juan Carlos Valles, and David Jackson. (Doc. No. 14.) On June 14, 2018, the Court issued an Order, granting Plaintiffs' April 23, 2018 motion insofar as it added the three aforementioned Plaintiffs to this action. (Doc. No. 28.) The Court dismissed without prejudice Plaintiff's Haynes, Argueta, and Piggee from this action for their failure to comply with the Court's April 18, 2018, 30 Day Administrative Order. (Id.) Finally, the Court ordered that all remaining applications for leave to proceed in forma pauperis must be filed on or before July 14, 2018, otherwise, failure to do so would result in that particular Plaintiff being dismissed from this action without prejudice. (Id.) On June 20, 2018, Plaintiff David Jackson filed a motion to withdraw from this action. (Doc. No. 30.) The Court will grant David Jackson's motion to withdraw from this action and he will be dismissed.

         To date, the following Plaintiffs have filed motions for leave to proceed in forma pauperis: (1) Camden Barlow (Doc. Nos. 9, 10); (2) Terrell Wilson (Doc. Nos. 19, 20); (3) Christopher Alvarez (Doc. Nos. 21, 22); (4) Nathan A. Railey (Doc. Nos. 23, 24); (5) Juan C. Valles (Doc. Nos. 33, 34); and (6) Doreteo Garcia (Doc. Nos. 36, 37). Accordingly, the Court will grant these Plaintiffs' motions to proceed in forma pauperis, and the aforementioned six Plaintiffs are the remaining Plaintiffs in this action. However, the following Plaintiffs have failed to file a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and will be dismissed from this action without prejudice: (1) Darryl Taylor; (2) Tabarus Holland; and (3) Tony C. Knott. Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”), the Court will perform its mandatory screening of the complaint prior to service.


         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, federal district courts must “review . . . a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). If a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, the court must dismiss the complaint. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1). District courts have a similar screening obligation with respect to actions filed by prisoners proceeding in forma pauperis and prisoners challenging prison conditions. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) (“[T]he court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action or appeal . . . fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted . . . .”); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1) (“The Court shall on its own motion or on the motion of a party dismiss any action brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title . . . by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility if the court is satisfied that the action . . . fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”).

         In dismissing claims under §§ 1915(e), 1915A, and 1997e, district courts apply the standard governing motions to dismiss brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See, e.g., Smithson v. Koons, Civ. No. 15-01757, 2017 WL 3016165, at *3 (M.D. Pa. June 26, 2017) (“The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim under § 1915A(b)(1), § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), or § 1997e(c)(1) is the same as that for dismissing a complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.”); Mitchell v. Dodrill, 696 F.Supp.2d 454, 471 (M.D. Pa. 2010) (explaining that when dismissing a complaint pursuant to § 1915A, “a court employs the motion to dismiss standard set forth under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)”).

         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. ...

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