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Ally v. PHRC

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 23, 2019

JONATHAN ALLY, Plaintiff
v.
PHRC, et al., Defendant.

          Jones Judge

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          MARTIN C. CARLSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. Factual Background

         This case comes before us for a screening review. The plaintiff, Jonathan Ally, is a prodigious, but prodigiously unsuccessful pro se litigant. See Ally v. Benjamin, Civil No. 3:19-356; Ally v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, No. 1:18-CV-2342, 2019 WL 2501325, at *1 (M.D. Pa. June 17, 2019). In the instant case, Ally sues the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC), and Shippensburg University, alleging discrimination and obstruction of justice arising out of academic probation experienced by Ally at the university in 2015, after it was determined by university officials that Ally needed to undergo 6 months of mental health counseling. Ally alleges that this academic probation was inappropriate, and further contends that the PHRC violated his rights by failing to adequately investigate his complaints against the university. Ally then seeks $10, 000, 000, 000 in damages from the PHRC and $10, 000, 000 in damages from Shippensburg University.

         Along with his complaint, Ally is seeking leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Doc. 2.) We will conditionally GRANT Ally leave to proceed in this fashion, direct the clerk to file the lodged complaint for screening purposes only, but for the reasons set forth below, we recommend that the complaint be dismissed.

         II. Discussion

         A. Screening of Pro Se Complaints-Standard of Review

         This court has an on-going statutory obligation to conduct a preliminary review of pro se complaints brought by plaintiffs given leave to proceed in forma pauperis. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). Specifically, we are obliged to review the complaint to determine whether any claims are frivolous, malicious, or fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. This statutory text mirrors the language of Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that a complaint should be dismissed for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         With respect to this benchmark standard for legal sufficiency of a complaint, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has aptly noted the evolving standards governing pleading practice in federal court, stating that:

Standards of pleading have been in the forefront of jurisprudence in recent years. Beginning with the Supreme Court's opinion in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) continuing with our opinion in Phillips [v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 230 (3d Cir. 2008)] and culminating recently with the Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) pleading standards have seemingly shifted from simple notice pleading to a more heightened form of pleading, requiring a plaintiff to plead more than the possibility of relief to survive a motion to dismiss.
Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 209-10 (3d Cir. 2009).

         In considering whether a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, the court must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom are to be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jordan v. Fox Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, Inc., 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). However, a court “need not credit a complaint's bald assertions or legal conclusions when deciding a motion to dismiss.” Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Additionally a court need not “assume that a ... plaintiff can prove facts that the ... plaintiff has not alleged.” Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). As the Supreme Court held in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), in order to state a valid cause of action a plaintiff must provide some factual grounds for relief which “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of actions will not do.” Id. at 555. “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id.

         In keeping with the principles of Twombly, the Supreme Court has underscored that a trial court must assess whether a complaint states facts upon which relief can be granted when ruling on a motion to dismiss. In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the Supreme Court held that, when considering a motion to dismiss, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. at 678. Rather, in conducting a review of the adequacy of complaint, the Supreme Court has advised trial courts that they must:

[B]egin by identifying pleadings that because they are no more than conclusions are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

Id. at 679.

         Thus, following Twombly and Iqbal a well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere legal labels and conclusions. Rather, a complaint must recite factual allegations sufficient to raise the plaintiff's claimed right to relief beyond the level of mere speculation. As the Third Circuit has stated:

[A]fter Iqbal, when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, district courts should conduct a two-part analysis. First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The District Court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Second, a District Court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a “plausible claim for relief.” In other words, a complaint must ...

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