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Jelen v. Lackawanna State Prison

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 26, 2019

SEAN E. JELEN, Plaintiff,
LACKAWANNA STATE PRISON, et al., Defendants.


          A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Sean Jelen’s Complaint (Docs. 1, 8, 9) is before me for preliminary screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         I. Screening Pro Se In Forma Pauperis Complaints

         When a litigant seeks to proceed in forma pauperis, without payment of fees, 28 U.S.C. § 1915 requires the court to screen the complaint. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Likewise, when a prisoner seeks redress from a government defendant in a civil action, whether proceeding in forma pauperis or not, the court must screen the complaint. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Both 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915(A) give the court the authority to dismiss a complaint if it is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(iii); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1)-(2); Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 452 (3d Cir. 2013).

         A complaint is frivolous if it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. See Mitchell v. Horn, 318 F.3d 523, 530 (3d Cir. 2003) (citing Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989)). When deciding whether the complaint fails to state a claim for which relief may be granted, the court employs the standard used to analyze motions to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). See Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000). Under Rule 12(b)(6), the court “must accept all of the complaint’s well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)).

         A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A complaint is required to provide “the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)).

         To test the sufficiency of the complaint, the court “must take three steps.” Connelly v. Lane Constr. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016). First, a court must “take note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.” Id. (internal quotations and brackets omitted). Second, the court must identify allegations that are merely legal conclusions “because they . . . are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. While detailed factual allegations are not required, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955). Third, a court should assume the veracity of all well-pleaded factual allegations and “then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Connelly, 809 F.3d at 787 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937).

         The Court must liberally construe a complaint filed by a pro se plaintiff and hold it “‘to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.’” Fantone v. Latini, 780 F.3d 184 (3d Cir. 2015) (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972)); see also Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007). Yet, even pro se plaintiffs “must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim.” Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). Courts should allow pro se litigants leave to file a curative amended complaint even when a plaintiff does not seek leave to amend, unless such an amendment would be inequitable or futile. See Estate of Lagano v. Bergen Cty. Prosecutor’s Office, 769 F.3d 850, 861 (3d Cir. 2014).

         II. Plaintiff’s Complaint

         Plaintiff and his minor daughter MMJ commenced this action on August 30, 2018 against Defendants Lackawanna County State Prison (the “Prison”) and the Warden of that facility. (See Doc. 1, ¶¶ 3-4). Jelen subsequently supplemented his Complaint to name the United States of America, Lackawanna County (the “County”), the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections as Defendants. (See Doc. 8, ¶¶ 4-6).

         In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that on January 31, 2018, he was sentenced in this Court and immediately taken into custody by the United States Marshals Service and transported to the Prison. (See Doc. 1, ¶¶ 11-13). Plaintiff was at the Prison from that day until February 22, 2018. (See Doc. 9, ¶ 28). Jelen suffers from a severe form of Chron’s disease, which requires strict diet controls and medications. (See Doc. 1, ¶¶ 14-17). His disease also requires frequent bandage changes. (See id. at ¶ 24).

         Upon arrival at the Prison, Plaintiff met with a medical practitioner and provided the contact information for his pharmacy. (See id. at ¶ 21). Nevertheless, despite his constant pleas over the next three weeks, medical and correctional staff provided him a single bandage. (See id. at ¶ 26). Plaintiff was also denied all of his prescribed medications during this time. (See id. at ¶ 27). Plaintiff was also given food that he was unable to consume based on his medical condition. (See id. at ¶ 38-40). His request for a liquid diet was ignored. (See id.). Plaintiff lost fourteen pounds in three weeks as a result. (See Doc. 9, ¶ 13(f)(1)). Plaintiff was also subjected to poor hygiene conditions at the Prison. (See Doc. 1, ¶¶ 44-47).

         Plaintiff requested a visit with MMJ during his stay at the Prison through the written request system. (See id. at ¶ 49). He was advised that his wife and daughter could only visit during normal hours and that contact visits were prohibited. (See id. at ¶ 50). He was only permitted to see his daughter through glass. (See id. at ¶ 52).

         Beginning on February 1, 2018, Plaintiff’s commissary account was funded by outside family members. (See id. at ¶ 55). Once he was taken from the Prison by U.S. Marshals, however, the balance in that account was not returned. (See id. at ¶ 57).

         Additionally, while he was in the Prison, Plaintiff was denied access to counsel and he was not provided any recreation time. (See Doc. 9, ¶¶ 13(e)-(f)).

         Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff commenced this action asserting claims against the Prison, the Warden, the United States of America, the County, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Specifically, Plaintiff appears to assert constitutional claims for the denial of medical care/medical diet, denial of contact visits with his wife and daughter, denial of legal calls with his counsel, deprivation of access to the law library, refusal to refund the balance of his commissary account, denial of recreation time, and violations of his equal protection rights. In addition, Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

         III. Discussion

         A. MMJ’s Claims.

         Plaintiff’s minor child’s purported claims will be dismissed without prejudice. As a non-attorney proceeding pro se, Plaintiff cannot represent his daughter in this matter or raise claims on her behalf. See Twp. of Lyndhurst, N.J. v., Inc., 657 F.3d 148, 154 (3d Cir. 2011) (“[A] plaintiff must assert his or her own legal interests rather than those of a third party” to have standing to bring a claim); Osei-Afriyie ex rel. Osei-Afriyie v. Med. Coll. of Pa., 937 F.2d 876, 882-83 (3d Cir. 1991) (holding that a non-attorney parent could not proceed pro se on behalf of his children in federal court); People ex rel. Snead v. Kirkland, 462 F.Supp. 914, 917-18 (E.D. Pa. 1978) (pro se plaintiff may represent himself with respect to his individual claims, but cannot act as an attorney for others in a federal court). In other words, “[a]s a non-attorney, [Plaintiff] is permitted to represent [him]self in federal court, but [ ]he cannot act as ...

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