Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Merritt v. Hartman

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 24, 2019

ROBERT MERRITT, Plaintiff,
v.
ED HARTMAN, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          JEFFREY L. SCHMEHL, J.

         Pro se Plaintiff Robert Merritt, a person who was formerly incarcerated at the Lehigh County Jail, has filed this civil rights Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Ed Hartman, the County of Lehigh, the City of Allentown, “the Prison of Lehigh County, ” “the Agency of the Shiriff [sic] Department that he work for, ” and the “State of Pennsylvania.”[1] He alleges that Defendant Hartman assaulted him on April 17, 2019. Merritt also seeks leave to proceed in forma pauperis. For the following reasons, the Court will (1) grant leave to proceed in forma pauperis, (2) require that Merritt remit 20% of the filing fee for this matter, (3) dismiss certain Defendants with prejudice, (4) dismiss certain Defendants without prejudice, and (4) permit the claim against Defendant Hartman to proceed.

         I. FACTS

         Merritt alleges that on or about April 17, 2019, “for no reason at all, ” Defendant Hartman assaulted him. (ECF No. 1 at page 6.) He asserts that Hartman hit him in the back of the head. (Id.) He also asserts that the assault caused him great fear, that he was scared for his life, and he suffered a flash back to a prior prison assault. (Id.) He alleges a violation of the Eighth Amendment[2] and that his treatment constituted discrimination. (Id.) He seeks money damages and that Defendant Hartman be fired. (Id.) Other than listing the County of Lehigh, the City of Allentown, Lehigh County Prison, the Sheriff's Department, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the caption of his Complaint, Merritt makes no substantive allegation against these Defendants.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Because Merritt appears to be unable to pay the filing fee for this matter, the Court grants him leave to proceed in forma pauperis.[3] Accordingly, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and (ii) apply, requiring the Court to dismiss the Complaint if it is frivolous or fails to state a claim. A complaint is frivolous if it “lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact, ” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989), and is legally baseless if it is “based on an indisputably meritless legal theory.” Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1085 (3d Cir. 1995). 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 Merritt is proceeding pro se, the Court construes his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).

Moreover, Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires a complaint to contain “a short a plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” A district court may sua sponte dismiss a complaint that does not comply with Rule 8 if “the complaint is so confused, ambiguous, vague, or otherwise unintelligible that its true substance, if any, is well disguised.” Simmons v. Abruzzo, 49 F.3d 83, 86 (2d Cir. 1995) (quotations omitted). This Court has noted that Rule 8 “requires that pleadings provide enough information to put a defendant on sufficient notice to prepare their defense and also ensure that the Court is sufficiently informed to determine the issue.” Fabian v. St. Mary's Med. Ctr., Civ. A. No. 16-4741, 2017 WL 3494219, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 11, 2017) (quotations omitted).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Claim Against Lehigh County Prison

         “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). The § 1983 claim against Lehigh County Prison is dismissed with prejudice because a jail is not a “person” under Section 1983. Miller v. Curran-Fromhold Corr. Facility, Civ. A. No. 13-7680, 2014 WL 4055846, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 13, 2014) (citing Mitchell v. Chester Cty. Farms Prison, 426 F.Supp. 271 (E.D. Pa. 1976).

         B. Claims Against the County of Lehigh, the Lehigh County Sheriff's Department and the City of Allentown

         The claims against the County of Lehigh, the Lehigh County Sheriff's Department and City of Allentown are dismissed without prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) for failure to state a claim. Other than the reference in the caption of the Complaint that the Lehigh County Sheriff's Department is the agency that employed Defendant Hartman, there are no substantive allegations concerning any of these Defendants. Construing the Complaint liberally, the Court assumes that Merritt seeks to hold the Lehigh County Sheriff's Department liable because it employs Hartman. However, municipalities, including counties and their Sheriff's Departments, [4] cannot be held liable for the conduct of employees pursuant to respondeat superior. Monell v. Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Hatfield v. Berube, 714 Fed.Appx. 99, 102 n.1 (3d Cir. 2017) (“Pennsylvania county offices . . . are treated as municipalities for purposes of Monell.”) (citing Mulholland v. Gov't Cty. of Berks, Pa., 706 F.3d 227, 237 (3d Cir. 2013)). Rather, a municipality “can be sued directly under § 1983 . . . [when] the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation or decision officially adopted and promulgated by [the municipality's] officers” or where the constitutional deprivations occurred pursuant to governmental custom. Monell, 436 U.S. at 690. Therefore, in order to properly state a § 1983 claim against a county or sheriff's department, a plaintiff must allege that it unconstitutionally implemented or executed a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, decision or custom leading to the stated violations of his constitutional rights.

         Merritt has failed to properly state a claim against the Lehigh County, the Lehigh County Sheriff's Department and the City of Allentown as required by Monell, since he does not sufficiently state that the Defendants caused any alleged constitutional violation by having customs, policies, practices and procedures, and how these policies gave rise to the violation of his constitutional rights. However, because the Court cannot state at this stage of the litigation that Merritt can never state a plausible Monell claim, these Defendants will be dismissed without prejudice and leave granted to Merritt to file an amended complaint. If he should choose to do so, Merritt is directed to state with as much specificity as possible how each Defendant unconstitutionally implemented or executed a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, decision or custom leading to the stated violations of his constitutional rights.

         C. Claims Against the ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.