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Davis v. The City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 23, 2019

KIETH DAVIS, Plaintiff,
THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al., Defendants.


          JEFFREY L. SCHMEHL, J.

         Plaintiff Keith Davis filed this civil action against the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the “Third Circuit Court all Districts, ” the “Clerks of U.S. Courts and State Courts, ” various state courts, municipal employees/entities and attorneys, and the Washington Post.[1] Although he did not name them in the caption, he also appears to be bringing claims against several current and former federal judges, and clerical officers for various state and federal courts. He raises civil rights and other claims stemming from criminal cases filed against him and various proceedings in state and federal court. Davis also moved to proceed in forma pauperis. The Court will grant Davis leave to proceed in forma pauperis, dismiss most of his claims as legally baseless, and permit him to file an amended complaint as to certain claims.

         I. FACTS[2]

         The complaint raises a vast set of claims. At bottom, the Court understands Davis to be alleging that state prosecutors, state courts, state and federal judges, public defenders and others have generally conspired to rig the judicial system against African Americans. Many of Davis's allegations are pled in general and conclusory terms. However, it appears the impetus for this lawsuit is his June 1, 2018 arrest, his related prosecution and imprisonment, and a related habeas petition that he filed in this Court. (See Compl. at 9.)[3]

         Davis alleges that on that date he was arrested by officers of the Philadelphia Police Department, charged with various felonies, including attempted murder, and incarcerated at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center (“PICC”). Davis claims that while incarcerated at PICC he was unconstitutionally punished and denied medical care for various ailments including an “old gunshot wound to the chest, dysentery, and [a] broken tooth.” (Id.) Davis filed motions in state court and a habeas petition in federal court, which was dismissed without prejudice by the Honorable Gerald J. Pappert because Davis failed to pay the fee, failed to file the application on the proper form, and failed to exhaust state remedies. See Davis v. Phila. Dep't of Prisons Warden, Civ. A. No. 18-3033 (E.D. Pa.) (ECF No. 4). Davis also notes that Judge Pappert denied a prior habeas petition that he filed challenging pretrial detention in connection with a 2014 arrest. See Davis v. Ct. of Common Pleas, Civ. A. No. 15-5113 (E.D. Pa.).

         In the instant Complaint, Davis alleges that certain Defendants “fabricate[d] lies” to maintain the charges against him, and that the public defenders conspired with others to keep him in jail. (Id. at 10.) The charges against Davis were dismissed on September 11, 2018 and he was released. Davis also appears to reference other criminal prosecutions initiated against him and alleged failures in those prosecutions and the prosecutions of third parties. He generally refers to litigation in the state and federal courts and suggests that the courts have been rigged against him.

         The Complaint indicates that Davis intends to bring claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, § 1985(3), § 1986, and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”). He presumably brings claims against the federal actors pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Davis seeks assorted declaratory relief, an “independent tribunal” to assess his claims, and millions of dollars in damages. (Compl. at 19.)


         The Court will grant Davis leave to proceed in forma pauperis because it appears that he cannot afford to pre-pay the fees to commence this civil action. As Davis is proceeding in forma pauperis, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and (ii) apply, which require 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). It is legally baseless if “based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, ” Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1085 (3d Cir. 1995), and factually baseless “when the facts alleged rise to the level of the irrational or the wholly incredible.” Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992).

         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). “[M]ere conclusory statements do not suffice.” Id. As Davis 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., No. Civ. A. 16-4741, 2017 WL 3494219, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 11, 2017) (quotations omitted).


         A. Section 1985(3) Claims and Other Conspiracy Claims

         The primary impetus for Davis's Complaint appears to be a vast conspiracy among state and federal judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and others to deprive African-Americans access to the courts. “[T]o state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), a plaintiff must allege (1) a conspiracy; (2) motivated by a racial or class based discriminatory animus designed to deprive, directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons to the equal protection of the laws; (3) an act in furtherance of the conspiracy; and (4) an injury to person or property or the deprivation of any right or privilege of a citizen of the United States.” Lake v. Arnold, 112 F.3d 682, 685 (3d Cir. 1997); Farber v. City of Paterson, 440 F.3d 131, 136 (3d Cir. 2006) (explaining that “§ 1985(3) defendants must have allegedly conspired against a group that has an identifiable existence independent of the fact that its members are victims of the defendants' tortious conduct”). “[T]o properly plead an unconstitutional conspiracy [under § 1983], a plaintiff must assert facts from which a conspiratorial agreement can be inferred.” Great W. Mining & Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 178 (3d Cir. 2010). “[A] bare assertion of conspiracy will not suffice.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007). “‘A conspiracy cannot be found from allegations of judicial error, ex parte communications (the manner of occurrence and substance of which are not alleged) or adverse rulings absent specific facts demonstrating an agreement to commit the alleged improper actions.'” Capogrosso v. The Supreme Court of New Jersey, 5 ...

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