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Rivera v. Hoffman

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 9, 2019

MYRONE RIVERA, et al, Plaintiffs,
C.O. HOFFMAN, et al., Defendants.


          GOLDBERG, J.

         Pro se Plaintiff Myrone Rivera, a prisoner currently confined at Berks County Jail, has filed a Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging constitutional claims. He has also filed a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. Because it appears that Rivera is unable to afford to pay the filing fee, the Court will grant him leave to proceed in forma pauperis. For the following reasons, the Complaint will be dismissed with prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

         I. FACTS

         Rivera's Complaint is quite brief. He alleges that on June 25, 2019 the toilet in the cell block shower area became clogged. (ECF No. 2 at 5.)[1] He asked Defendant Hoffman for a plunger but there was none available. (Id.) The toilet later overflowed when other inmates continued to use it. (Id.) It took three hours to procure a plunger, during which time Rivera refrained from eating and using the toilet in order to avoid the waste on the floor. (Id.) He alleges he slipped on the floor but concedes that he suffered “no major injury, ” and was too embarrassed to get treated.


         The Court will grant Rivera leave to proceed in forma pauperis because it appears that he is incapable of paying the fees to commence this civil action.[2] Accordingly, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) requires the Court to dismiss the Complaint if, among other things, it fails to state a claim. 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 Rivera is proceeding pro se, the Court construes his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).


         A. Claims Brought on Behalf of Christopher Roth

         “Christopher Roth” is also listed in the caption of Plaintiff Rivera's form Complaint. However, only Rivera is listed as a Plaintiff in the list of parties, only Rivera has signed the Complaint and only Rivera has moved to proceed in forma pauperis. In the body of the Complaint, Rivera states that Roth is his cellmate. (ECF No. 2 at 5.)

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1654, parties “may plead and conduct their own cases personally or by counsel” in the federal courts. Section 1654 thus ensures that a person may conduct his or her own case pro se or retain counsel to do so. See Osei-Afriyie v. Med. Coll. of Pa., 937 F.2d 876, 882 (3d Cir. 1991) (“The statutory right to proceed pro se reflects a respect for the choice of an individual citizen to plead his or her own cause.” (quoting Cheung v. Youth Orchestra Found. of Buffalo, Inc., 906 F.2d 59, 61 (2d Cir. 1990))). Although an individual may represent himself pro se, a non-attorney may not represent other parties in federal court. See Collinsgru v. Palmyra Bd. of Educ., 161 F.3d 225, 232 (3d Cir. 1998) (“The rule that a non-lawyer may not represent another person in court is a venerable common law rule.”), abrogated on other grounds by Winkelman ex rel. Winkelman v. Parma City Sch. Dist., 550 U.S. 516 (2007). This principle has been applied by the Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and other courts in various contexts. See, e.g., Rowland v. Cal. Men's Colony, 506 U.S. 194, 202 (1993) (recognizing that corporations must be represented by counsel and that “save in a few aberrant cases, the lower courts have uniformly held that 28 U.S.C. § 1654 . . . does not allow corporations, partnerships or associations to appear in federal court otherwise through a licensed attorney” (footnote omitted)); Simon v. Hartford Life, Inc., 546 F.3d 661, 667 (9th Cir. 2008) (holding that a non-lawyer could not litigate pro se on behalf of an ERISA plan); Osei-Afriyie, 937 F.2d at 882 (“We hold that Osei-Afriyie, a non-lawyer appearing pro se, was not entitled to play the role of attorney for his children in federal court.”); Phillips v. Tobin, 548 F.2d 408, 411-12 (2d Cir. 1976) (holding that a non-attorney could not appear pro se to conduct a shareholder's derivative suit).

         As a pro se plaintiff, Rivera may not represent Roth or bring claims on his behalf. Accordingly, to the extent that claims are asserted in the name of Christopher Roth, they are dismissed without prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

         B. Claims Brought on Behalf of Rivera

         Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code provides in part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the ...

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