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Muhammad v. Weikel

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 26, 2019

SGT. WEIKEL, et al., Defendants


          KANE JUDGE.

         On August 8, 2019, pro se Plaintiff Walid A. Muhammad (“Plaintiff”), who is presently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution Mahanoy in Frackville, Pennsylvania (“SCI Mahanoy”), initiated the above-captioned civil action by filing a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiff has also filed motions for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. Nos. 2, 13), additional statements of his claim (Doc. Nos. 10, 11), and a motion to appoint counsel (Doc. No. 5). Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”), [1] the Court will perform its mandatory screening of the complaint and for the reasons set forth below, will grant Plaintiff’s motions to proceed in forma pauperis, dismiss his complaint, deny his motion to appoint counsel as moot, and direct the Clerk of Court to close the above-captioned action.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff has named as Defendants in this action Sgt. Weikel (“Weikel”), Sgt. Gibbs (“Gibbs”), C.O. White (“White”), C.O. Randal (“Randal”), Imam Hnesh (“Hnesh”), C.O. Crest (“Crest”), C.O. Wynne (“Wynne”), C.O. Baldwin (“Baldwin”), and C.O. Hepner (“Hepner”). He alleges that from October 26, 2017 through July 30, 2019, Defendants “ha[d] the audacity [and] tendency when they c[ame] on duty to cause misrepresentation maliciously calculated to harm [Plaintiff’s] reputation by evil infest invade infringe affliction defecating and urinating in his [throat] noisome by persecuting disservice averment . . . psychological force pressure duress conspiring in stealthy.” (Doc. No. 1 at 5.) He maintains that Defendants have caused him “grief and distress and pain and suffering and shock.” (Id.) In addition, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants “caused to condemn [him] by mispris[i]on inward” and that they “intentionally conspire[d], undermine[d] in clandestine secret against [him] inward.” (Doc. Nos. 10, 11.) As relief, Plaintiff requests $450, 000.00 in “exemplary damages because of the continuing infringe, infest, invade, inward inroad damages, ” as well as for “impair[ments] [to his] head face and throat and eyes.” (Doc. No. 1 at 5.)

         Plaintiff previously filed a civil action against Defendants Weikel, Gibbs, White, Wynne, Randal, Crest, and Baldwin concerning the same subject matter of the above-captioned action. See Muhammad v. DeBalso, No. 1:19-cv-666, 2019 WL 2172812, at *1 (M.D. Pa. May 20, 2019). In that action, Plaintiff alleged that from October 28, 2017 through April 11, 2019, Defendants “have the tendency when they come on duty [to] cause defamation of character and conspiracy by maliciously harm[ing his] reputation.” See id. In a Memorandum and Order dated May 20, 2019, the Court dismissed Plaintiff’s complaint with leave to amend. See id. at *4. Specifically, the Court concluded that: (1) Plaintiff’s complaint failed to comply with Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; (2) Plaintiff had not set forth a plausible civil conspiracy claim; and (3) Plaintiff’s claims of defamation of character were not cognizable. See id. at *3. Plaintiff subsequently filed an amended complaint that did not cure the defects identified in his initial complaint. See Muhammad v. DeBalso, No. 1:19-cv-666, 2019 WL 2501467, at *3-4 (M.D. Pa. June 17, 2019). Accordingly, in a Memorandum and Order dated June 17, 2019, the Court dismissed Plaintiff’s amended complaint as frivolous and for failure to state claim and did not afford Plaintiff further leave to amend. See id. at *4.


         A. Screening and Dismissal of Prisoner Complaints

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, federal district courts must “review . . . a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.” See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). If a complaint “is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, ” the Court must dismiss the complaint. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1). District courts have a similar screening obligation with respect to actions filed by prisoners proceeding in forma pauperis and prisoners challenging prison conditions. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) (“[T]he [C]ourt shall dismiss the case at any time if the [C]ourt determines that . . . the action or appeal . . . is frivolous or malicious [or] fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted . . . .”); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1) (“The Court shall on its own motion or on the motion of a party dismiss any action brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title . . . by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility if the [C]ourt is satisfied that the action is frivolous, malicious, [or] fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”).

         A complaint is frivolous if it lacks an arguable basis either in law or fact. See Mitchell v. Horn, 381 F.3d 523, 530 (3d Cir. 2003) (citing Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989)). When deciding whether a complaint fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, district courts apply the standard governing motions to dismiss filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See, e.g., Smithson v. Koons, No. 15-01757, 2017 WL 3016165, at *3 (M.D. Pa. June 26, 2017) (“The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim under § 1915A(b)(1), § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), or § 1997e(c)(1) is the same as that for dismissing a complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.”); Mitchell v. Dodrill, 696 F.Supp.2d 454, 471 (M.D. Pa. 2010) (explaining that when dismissing a complaint pursuant to § 1915A, “a court employs the motion to dismiss standard set forth under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)”). To avoid dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), a civil complaint must set out “sufficient factual matter” to show that its claims are facially plausible. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). The plausibility standard requires more than a mere possibility that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged – but it has not ‘show[n]’ – ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). When evaluating the plausibility of a complaint, the Court accepts as true all factual allegations and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from those allegations, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010). However, the Court must not accept legal conclusions as true, and “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” will not survive a motion to dismiss. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007).

         Based on this standard, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has identified the following steps that a district court must take when reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion: (1) identify the elements that a plaintiff must plead to state a claim; (2) identify any conclusory allegations contained in the complaint that are “not entitled” to the assumption of truth; and (3) determine whether any “well-pleaded factual allegations” contained in the complaint “plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” See Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010). In addition, in the specific context of pro se prisoner litigation, a district court must be mindful that a document filed pro se is “to be liberally construed.” See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). A pro se complaint, “however inartfully pleaded, ” must be held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         B. Claims Filed Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         Section 1983 is the vehicle by which private citizens may seek redress for violations of federal constitutional rights committed by state officials. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute states, in pertinent 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 party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

Id. “Section 1983 is not a source of substantive rights, ” but is merely a means through which “to vindicate violations of federal law committed by state actors.” See Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F.Supp.2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004) (quoting Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 284-85 (2002)). To state a cause of action under Section 1983, a plaintiff must allege that: (1) the conduct complained of was committed by persons acting under color of state law; and (2) the conduct violated a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United ...

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