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Moneyham v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 6, 2019

UNITED STATES, et al., Defendants.

          MUNLEY, J.


          JOSEPH F. SAPORITO, JR. United States Magistrate Judge

         This is a federal civil rights action, brought by pro se plaintiff Anthony Moneyham, a former federal inmate who was incarcerated at USP Lewisburg, located in Union County, Pennsylvania, at the time of filing. The plaintiff's complaint was constructively filed on September 28, 2017, the date when he delivered it to prison officials for mailing.[1] (Doc. 1). See generally Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, 270-71 (1988) (articulating the “prison mailbox rule”). The plaintiff has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis in this action. (Doc. 11).

         The complaint names eight individual prison officials and the United States as defendants. It alleges the violation of Moneyham's federal constitutional rights, seeking an award of damages pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). In particular, Moneyham alleges that on February 21, 2015, six of the individual defendants-Lt. Seeba, Officer Manning, Officer Missigman, Paramedic Barth, and Paramedic Potter-beat him while he was in hand restraints. He seeks to hold the other two individual defendants-Lt. Bidelspach and Officer Beaver-liable for failure to protect him from this attack. In addition, Moneyham alleges that Potter violated his First Amendment rights by interfering with his hunger strike.[2] Moneyham also appears to seek to hold the United States liable for the state law torts of assault and battery under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”).[3]

         The United States and all of the individual defendants except for Lt. Seeba (collectively, the “Federal Defendants”) are jointly represented by the United States Attorney. The Federal Defendants have filed a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment, together with a statement of material facts with supporting exhibits and a brief in support. (Doc. 20; Doc. 29 & attachs.; Doc. 30). Appearing separately and represented by private counsel, Lt. Seeba has filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, together with a brief in support. (Doc. 33; Doc. 38). Although Moneyham has requested and has been granted several extensions of time, [4] he has failed to file any response whatsoever to either motion. (See Doc. 34; Doc. 35; Doc. 42; Doc. 43; Doc. 45; Doc. 47; Doc. 49; Doc. 51; Doc. 58; Doc. 59; Doc. 61; Doc. 64). Both motions are ripe for disposition.

         For the reasons that follow, we recommend that the action be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1), and Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         I. Background

         This is Moneyham's second lawsuit regarding the same incident that occurred on February 21, 2015. His first lawsuit, asserting Bivens claims against various individual defendants only, [5] was filed mere days after the February 21, 2015, incident, and it ended on September 14, 2017, when the action was dismissed without prejudice on summary judgment for failure to exhaust available administrative remedies prior to bringing suit. See Moneyham v. Potter, No. 3:15cv436, 2017 WL 4073794 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 14, 2017) (granting summary judgment); see also Moneyham v. Potter, Civil Action No. 3:15-cv-00436, 2017 WL 4079543 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 3, 2017) (report and recommendation).

         This second lawsuit was filed two weeks later. In his pro se complaint, Moneyham alleges that, on February 21, 2015, he was beaten while handcuffed by defendants Seeba, Manning, Missigman, Barth, and Potter. He alleges that defendants Bidelspach and Beaver were present but failed to intervene to protect him. Moneyham claims that this conduct by the eight individual defendants violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, and that it constituted the state law torts of assault and battery as well.[6] He further alleges, in cursory fashion, that Potter violated his First Amendment rights by interfering with his hunger strike in some unspecified manner.

         For relief, Moneyham seeks declaratory judgment and monetary damages. He requests a declaration that the defendants' conduct violated his Eighth Amendment rights and constituted the torts of assault and battery, and that Potter's interference with his hunger strike violated his First Amendment rights. He requests an award of compensatory and punitive damages with respect to each of the individual defendants.

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Rule 12(b)(1) Dismissal Standard

         Although the United States has not filed a Rule 12(b)(1) motion in this action, the Court is permitted to raise the issue of subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte. See Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Ward Trucking Corp., 48 F.3d 742, 750 (3d Cir. 1995) (“Federal courts have an ever-present obligation to satisfy themselves of their subject matter jurisdiction and to decide the issue sua sponte . . . .”); Johnson v. United States, Civil No. 1:CV-08-0816, 2009 WL 2762729, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 27, 2009). Based on the pleadings and the materials submitted in connection with the pending summary judgment motion, we find it appropriate to recommend sua sponte dismissal of the plaintiff's FTCA claim for declaratory relief for lack of jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1).[7]

         The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the existence of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1). See Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991). A defendant may challenge the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in one of two fashions: it may attack the complaint on its face or it may attack the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, relying on evidence beyond the pleadings. See Gould Elecs. Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000); Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977). Where a defendant attacks a complaint as deficient on its face, “the court must consider the allegations of the complaint as true.” Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 891. “In deciding a Rule 12(b)(1) facial attack, the court may only consider the allegations contained in the complaint and the exhibits attached to the complaint; matters of public record such as court records, letter decisions of government agencies and published reports of administrative bodies; and ‘undisputably authentic' documents which the plaintiff has identified as a basis of his claims and which the defendant has attached as exhibits to his motion to dismiss.” Medici v. Pocono Mountain Sch. Dist., No. 09-CV-2344, 2010 WL 1006917, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 16, 2010). However, when a motion to dismiss attacks the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, “no presumptive truthfulness attaches to plaintiff's allegations, ” and “the trial court is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case.” Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 891. This case falls into the former category.

         B. Rule 12(b)(6) Dismissal Standard

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes a defendant to move to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “Under Rule 12(b)(6), a motion to dismiss may be granted only if, accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, a court finds the plaintiff's claims lack facial plausibility.” Warren Gen. Hosp. v. Amgen Inc., 643 F.3d 77, 84 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)). In deciding the motion, the Court may consider the facts alleged on the face of the complaint, as well as “documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice.” Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007). Although the Court must accept the fact allegations in the complaint as true, it is not compelled to accept “unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences, or a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Morrow v. Balaski, 719 F.3d 160, 165 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007)). Nor is it required to credit factual allegations contradicted by indisputably authentic documents on which the complaint relies or matters of public record of which we may take judicial notice. In re Washington Mut. Inc., 741 Fed. App'x 88, 91 n.3 (3d Cir. Sept. 25, 2018); Sourovelis v. City of Philadelphia, 246 F.Supp.3d 1058, 1075 (E.D. Pa. 2017); Banks v. Cty. of Allegheny, 568 F.Supp.2d 579, 588-89 (W.D. Pa. 2008).

         Under Rule 12(b)(6), the defendant has the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991); Johnsrud v. Carter, 620 F.2d 29, 32-33 (3d Cir. 1980); Holocheck v. Luzerne County Head Start, Inc., 385 F.Supp.2d 491, 495 (M.D. Pa. 2005). Although a plaintiff is entitled to notice and an opportunity to respond to a motion to dismiss, he has no obligation to do so-he may opt to stand on the pleadings rather than file an opposition. The Court must nevertheless examine the complaint and determine whether it states a claim as a matter of law. Stackhouse v. Mazurkiewicz, 951 F.2d 29, 30 (3d Cir. 1991); Anchorage Assocs. v. Virgin Islands Bd. of Tax Review, 922 F.2d 168, 174 (3d Cir. 1990).

         C. Sua Sponte Dismissal Standard

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court is obligated to screen a civil complaint in which a prisoner is seeking redress from a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a); James v. Pa. Dep't of Corr., 230 Fed. App'x 195, 197 (3d Cir. 2007). The Court must dismiss the complaint if it “fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1). The Court has a similar obligation with respect to actions brought in forma pauperis and actions concerning prison conditions. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i); id. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1). See generally Banks v. Cty. of Allegheny, 568 F.Supp.2d 579, 587-89 (W.D. Pa. 2008) (summarizing prisoner litigation screening procedures and standards). The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), § 1915A(b)(1), or § 1997e(c) is the same as that for ...

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