United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
Jesse Lee Keel, III, a self-represented litigant, has lodged
an unclear Complaint based mostly on exhibits, as is
characteristic of his filings in this Court. Mr. Keel seeks
to proceed in forma pauperis. For the following
reasons, the Court will grant Mr. Keel leave to proceed
in forma pauperis and dismiss his Complaint. Mr.
Keel also filed a Motion, which is based on exhibits and
which is unclear. The Court will deny that Motion.
manner in which Mr. Keel's Complaint is pled makes it
difficult to understand. It appears that Mr. Keel is
primarily challenging matters related to his prosecution and
conviction. Mr. Keel claims that he was wrongfully imprisoned
for a period of two-and-a-half to three years. Mr. Keel has
attached numerous documents to his Complaint, including
documents filed in a prior case in which Mr. Keel sought a
writ of habeas corpus. See Keel v. Delaney, E.D. Pa.
Civ. A. No. 17-2779. In that case, Mr. Keel challenged his
2016 guilty pleas to assault and other charges in two state
criminal cases. Id. (ECF No. 13 at 1-2); see
also Commonwealth v. Keel, CP-51-CR-0011257-2015 &
CP-51-CR-0011256-2015 (Phila. Ct. of Common Pleas). Attorneys
from the Federal Community Defender Office were appointed to
represent Mr. Keel, but they were recently permitted to
withdraw from that representation after filing an amended
petition for a writ of habeas corpus on Mr.
Keel's behalf. (ECF Nos. 28 & 30.) Mr. Keel's
habeas case is still pending.
Keel's Complaint in the instant civil action names as
Defendants: (1) Seth Williams, the former Philadelphia
District Attorney; (2) Jessica Chung, who appears to be a
prosecutor; (3) William D. Hobson, who appears to be one of
Mr. Keel's attorneys; (4) Gianna Parisse, identified as a
court reporter; (5) Aly Williams, identified as a Clerk; (6)
David W. Barrish; (7) Arianna J. Freeman, one of the
attorneys appointed to represent Mr. Keel in his
habeas case; and (8) the Federal Community Defender
Office. Mr. Keel suggests that the Defendants committed
identify theft and lied for purposes of stealing social
security checks from his bank account. (Compl. ECF No. 2 at
He alleges that he was wrongfully arrested "as someone
that [he is] not." (Id.) The dockets for Mr.
Keel's underlying criminal cases indicate that he was
arrested on July 20, 2015.
attachment to the Complaint reflects that Mr. Keel made an
inquiry to the Pennsylvania State Police to determine whether
another individual used certain of his personal identifiers
when arrested, and that the police were not able to
substantiate his claim. (Id. at 18.) Mr. Keel also
submitted documents related to housing and social security
benefits, an order filed in another civil case that he
previously filed, and documents that bear no apparent
relation to his other allegations. Mr. Keel appears to
primarily be seeking monetary damages.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court will grant Mr. Keel leave to proceed in forma
pauperis because it appears that he is incapable of
prepaying the fees to commence this civil action.
Accordingly, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) requires the
Court to dismiss the Complaint if it fails to state a claim.
To state a claim, a pleading must contain "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 statements and naked assertions will not suffice.
Id. Furthermore, "[i]f the court determines at
any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court
must dismiss the action." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). Because
Mr. Keel is proceeding pro se, the Court construes
his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen.,
655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).
a complaint may be dismissed for failing to comply with
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. Garrett v. Wexford
Health, 938 F.3d 69, 91 (3d Cir. 2019). To conform to
Rule 8, a pleading must contain a short and plain statement
showing that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. See
Travaline v. U.S. Supreme Court, 424 Fed.Appx. 78, 79
(3d Cir. 2011). The Third Circuit recently explained that in
determining whether a pleading meets Rule 8's
"plain" statement requirement, the Court should
"ask whether, liberally construed, a pleading
'identifies discrete defendants and the actions taken by
these defendants' in regard to the plaintiffs
claims." Garrett, 938 F.3d at 93 (citation
omitted). A pleading may still satisfy the "plain"
statement requirement "even if it is vague, repetitious,
or contains extraneous information" and "even if it
does not include every name, date, and location of the
incidents at issue." Id. at 93-94. The
important consideration for the Court is whether, "a pro
se complaint's language ... presents cognizable legal
claims to which a defendant can respond on the merits."
Id. at 94.
"a pleading that is so 'vague or ambiguous' that
a defendant cannot reasonably be expected to respond to it
will not satisfy Rule 8." Id. at 93; see
also Fabian v. St. Mary's Med. Ctr., Civ. A. No.
16-4741, 2017 WL 3494219, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 11, 2017)
("Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 requires that
pleadings provide enough information to put a defendant on
sufficient notice to prepare their defense and also ensure
that the Court is sufficiently informed to determine the
issue.") (quotations omitted). Dismissals under Rule 8
are '"reserved for those cases in which the
complaint so confused, ambiguous, vague, or otherwise
unintelligible that its true substance, if any, is well
disguised.'" Garrett, 938 F.3d at 94
(quoting Salahuddin v. Cuomo, 861 F.2d 40, 42 (2d
Keel's claims fail for various reasons. Even affording
the Complaint liberal construction, Mr. Keel has not
sufficiently alleged what happened to him and how each
Defendant was involved in the events giving rise to his
claims. Mr. Keel also heavily relies on exhibits that are not
clearly relevant to each other or to Mr. Keel's
allegations. In sum, the Complaint is so disjointed and
unclear that it does not comply with Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 8. See DiGenova v. Unite Here Local 274,
673 Fed.Appx. 258, 260 (3d Cir. 2016) (per curiam) ("The
documents that DiGenova submitted as his amended complaint do
not contain a 'short and plain statement' of any
claim, Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and DiGenova's allegations
are not 'simple, concise, and direct,' Fed.R.Civ.P.
8(d)(1)."); Binsackv. Lackawanna Cty. Prison,
438 Fed.Appx. 158, 160 (3d Cir. 2011) (per curiam)
("[Plaintiffs] voluminous exhibits, do not, without the
required 'short and plain statement,' communicate the
nature of his claim, and would, in any event, be insufficient
to satisfy Rule 8(a).").
extent the Court can discern any claims, those claims fail.
Mr. Keel's Complaint is best construed as raising claims
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on his prosecution and
convictions. However, "to recover damages for allegedly
unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other
harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a
conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983 plaintiff must
prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on
direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid
by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or
called into question by a federal court's issuance of a
writ of habeas corpus[.]" Heck v. Humphrey, 512
U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994) (footnote and citation omitted).
Here, Mr. Keel's convictions have not been
overturned-indeed, his habeas case is currently
pending-so his claims are not currently cognizable under
§ 1983. In any event, Mr. Keel's claims against
prosecutors who prosecuted him fail because they are barred
by absolute prosecutorial immunity. See Van de Kamp v.
Goldstein, 555 U.S. 335, 348-49 (2009) (explaining that
District Attorneys and other supervisory prosecutors are
entitled to absolute immunity from claims based on their role
in pursuing a prosecution on behalf of the Commonwealth.);
Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430-31 (1976)
(prosecutors are entitled to absolute immunity from liability
under § 1983 for acts that are "intimately
associated with the judicial phase of the criminal
process" such as "initiating a prosecution and ...
presenting the State's case"). Mr. Keel's claims
against his attorneys also fail because those attorneys are
not state actors for purposes of § 1983. See Polk
Cty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 325 (1981) ("[A]
public defender does not act under color of state law when
performing a lawyer's traditional functions as counsel to
a defendant in a criminal proceeding.") (footnote
omitted); Angelico v. Lehigh Valley Hosp., Inc., 184
F.3d 268, 277 (3d Cir. 1999) ("Attorneys performing
their traditional functions will not be considered state
actors solely on the basis of their position as officers of
Mr. Keel cannot maintain a § 1983 claim based on his
prosecution, convictions and imprisonment unless and until he
successfully challenges those convictions in his
habeas action or in state court. To the extent Mr.
Keel is raising any other basis for a claim, his claims are
too unclear to proceed. The Court concludes that any attempt
at amendment would be futile because Mr. Keel ...