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Nguyen v. Commonwealth

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 29, 2019

SUSAN NGUYEN, Plaintiff,
COMMONWEALTH OF PA, et al., Defendants.


          JOEL H. SLOMSKY, J.

         Plaintiff Susan Nguyen, who is representing herself (proceeding pro se), filed a Complaint against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC"), and the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. She seeks leave to proceed in forma pauperis. For the following reasons, the Court will grant Nguyen leave to proceed in forma pauperis and dismiss her Complaint with prejudice.

         I. FACTS[1]

         The basis for Nguyen's claims appears to be criminal proceedings initiated against her after she lost her job. Nguyen was terminated from employment with Fox Rothschild in November of 2014. It appears she had difficulty accepting the termination, and repeatedly called the Chief Financial Officer and others for an explanation. She also repeatedly visited the premises of her former employer.

         Nguyen's former employer and several individual employees obtained a restraining order against Nguyen. However, she violated that order. Since 2016, she has been held in contempt of court and subjected to various criminal charges including stalking and harassment stemming from her refusal to stop contacting her former employer and individuals employed there. See Commonwealth v. Nguyen, Docket Nos. MC-51-MD-0000460-2016, MC-51-CR-0001032-2018, MC-51-CR-0002188-2018, MC-51-CR-0007406-2018. Nguyen has been referred for competency evaluations in connection with her criminal cases. A copy of a state court order attached as an exhibit to Nguyen's Complaint, reflects that she was found incompetent and committed to Norristown State Hospital for a period of time.[2] (Compl. at 25.)[3]

         In her Complaint in the instant civil action Nguyen claims that she lives "in bondage, in fear of [her] freedom taken because [she is] unable to follow a stay away order for no contact no communication with [her] previous employer to seek guidance and assistance to steer away from harms stay away from prison." (Id. at 6.) She appears to be claiming that her rights have been and continue to be violated as a result of the stay away order, the charges filed against her, and related imprisonment.

         Nguyen indicates that she is bringing constitutional claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 for violation of her First, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. She also purports to be raising claims under the Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"). Although it is not entirely clear what relief Nguyen seeks from the Court, papers attached to her Complaint suggest that she wants the Commonwealth to stop prosecuting her and for the Court to vacate the stay away order.

         This is not the first lawsuit Nguyen has filed based on the restraining order and criminal charges issued against her for repeatedly contacting her former employer. In 2016, Nguyen filed a lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against then District Attorney Seth Williams in his official capacity, the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, and the Philadelphia Municipal Court, raising claims based on several of the same matters discussed in the instant civil action. See Nguyen v. Williams, Civ. A. No. 16-829 (E.D. Pa.). In a June 21, 2016 Memorandum and Order, the Court dismissed Nguyen's case. The Court explained that the state courts were not subject to liability under § 1983 and that, in any event, this Court could not intervene in state criminal proceedings. The Court also concluded that Nguyen's claims against Williams in his official capacity failed because she failed to allege a basis for municipal liability or state a claim for malicious prosecution. See Nguyen v. Williams, Civ. A. No. 16-0829, 2016 WL 3405461, at * 1 (E.D. Pa. June 21, 2016). Nguyen moved for reconsideration, and her motion was denied.


         The Court will grant Nguyen leave to proceed in forma pauperis because it appears that she is not capable of paying the fees to commence this civil action. As Nguyen 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). As Nguyen is proceeding pro se, the Court must construe her allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).


         Nguyen's Complaint does not present a legal basis for a claim. To bring suit under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that a person acting under color of state law deprived her of her constitutional rights. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). State courts in Pennsylvania are not considered "persons" for purposes of § 1983 and, in any event, are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in federal court because they are institutions of the Commonwealth. See Will v. Mich. Dep 't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 65-66 (1989) (states are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and are not "persons" for purposes of that provision); Benn v. First Judicial Dist. of Pa., 426 F.3d 233, 241 (3d Cir. 2005) (state courts in Pennsylvania share in the Commonwealth's Eleventh Amendment immunity); see also 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8521(b) ("Nothing contained in this subchapter shall be construed to waive the immunity of the Commonwealth from suit in Federal courts guaranteed by the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution of the United States."). Similarly, "[t]he PHRC is an administrative commission within the executive department of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and, as such, it shares in the Commonwealth's Eleventh Amendment immunity." Opoku v. Educ. Comm'n for Foreign Med. Graduates, 574 Fed.Appx. 197, 201 (3d Cir. 2014) (per curiam).

         In any event, this Court may not intervene in Nguyen's state criminal proceedings. See Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 43-44 (1971); Duran v. Weeks, 399 Fed.Appx. 756, 758-59 (3d Cir. 2010) (per curiam) ("Since Duran's section 1983 action seeking to enjoin his criminal prosecution presents the classic case for Younger abstention, the District Court's dismissal of Duran's complaint on that basis was clearly appropriate."). Any claims under the Privacy Act or FOIA also fail for lack of a legal basis because those statutes do not apply to state agencies. See 5 U.S.C. §551(1) (defining "agency" for purposes of FOIA as certain authorities of the United States government); Abuhouran v. Soc. Sec. Admin.,291 Fed.Appx. 469, 473 (3d Cir. 2008) (per curiam) ("The District Court also ...

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