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Drayton v. Spotts

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 11, 2019

SERGEANT SPOTTS, [1] Defendant.




         Marshall Drayton, proceeding pro se, commenced this action on March 25, 2019, alleging mistreatment at the hands of several officials at the Berks County Jail. See generally Compl., ECF No. 2. At the time of the filing of the Complaint, Drayton, who was incarcerated at the Berks County Jail, filed a motion for leave proceed in forma pauperis. ECF No. 1. On April 9, 2019, this Court issued an Order granting Drayton leave to proceed in forma pauperis. ECF No. 6. However, the Court simultaneously dismissed, without prejudice, each of his claims for failure to state a claim with the exception of his claim for excessive force against Defendant Spotts. Id. The Court granted Drayton thirty (30) days to file an amended complaint. Id.

         On May 16, 2019, upon observing that Drayton had failed to file an amended Complaint, the Court issued an Order directing the Clerk of the Court to terminate all Defendants except for Defendant Spotts, against whom Drayton's excessive force claim remained pending. ECF No. 8. The May 16 Order also reiterated several directives contained in the Court's guidelines sent to pro se litigants, a copy of which Drayton was previously served.[2] Id. Specifically, the Court's May 16 Order reminded Drayton that all original pleadings and other papers were to be served on the opposing party with proof of service to be filed with the document; that any request for court action was to be made by motion; and, that Drayton was to notify the Clerk's Office whenever his address changed, explaining that “[f]ailure to do so . . . could affect [his] legal rights.” Id.

         On July 16, 2019, Defendant Spotts moved to dismiss Drayton's excessive force claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(6). ECF No. 13. Drayton did not respond to the motion to dismiss, and on September 5, 2019, the Court issued an Order advising that Drayton had until September 20, 2019, to respond to the motion, and that failure to respond may result in the motion being granted and the Complaint being dismissed without further notice. ECF No. 14. The September 5 Order was, like all previous Orders, subsequently mailed to Drayton at the Berks County Jail, the only location the Court has had on record for him. However, on September 18, 2019, the Order was returned to the Clerk's Office with a notation indicating that it could not be delivered because Drayton was no longer in custody at the Berks County Jail.

         On its own initiative, the Court conducted a search of Pennsylvania correctional facilities in an attempt to locate Drayton's whereabouts. This search revealed that an individual named Marshall Drayton, aged 31, who was incarcerated at the Berks County Jail, had at the time of the Court's inquiry a custody status of “Out of Custody, ” the reason being “Sentence served.” The Court is confident that this individual is the Plaintiff in this case.


         A district court's authority to sua sponte dismiss a proceeding where a party fails to prosecute its claims derives from a court's inherent authority to control its own proceedings. Hewlett v. Davis, 844 F.2d 109, 114 (3d Cir. 1988) (“The power to dismiss for failure to prosecute . . . rests in the discretion of the trial court and is part of its inherent authority to prevent undue delays in the disposition of pending cases and to avoid congestion in its docket.”). Indeed, this inherent authority “has been expressly recognized in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b).”[3] Link v. Wabash R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 630 (1962). In the Third Circuit, a district court may exercise its inherent authority and dismiss a case for failure to prosecute where the following factors weigh in favor of dismissal:

(1) the extent of the party's personal responsibility; (2) the prejudice to the adversary caused by the failure to meet scheduling orders and respond to discovery; (3) a history of dilatoriness; (4) whether the conduct of the party or the attorney was willful or in bad faith; (5) the effectiveness of sanctions other than dismissal, which entails an analysis of alternative sanctions; and (6) the meritoriousness of the claim or defense.

Parks v. Ingersoll-Rand Co., 380 Fed.Appx. 190, 194 (3d Cir. 2010) (emphasis in original) (quoting Poulis v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 747 F.2d 863, 868 (3d Cir. 1984)). While dismissal for failure to prosecute must be a sanction of last resort, “where a plaintiff's actions amount to the willful refusal to prosecute or blatant failure to comply with a district court order, dismissal for failure to prosecute is appropriate.” Roberts v. Ferman, 826 F.3d 117, 123 (3d Cir. 2016)

         III. ANALYSIS

         The Court finds that in their totality, the Poulis factors outlined above-personal responsibility, prejudice to adversaries, history of dilatoriness, willfulness, alternative sanctions, and meritoriousness of the claims-weigh in favor of dismissal of Drayton's Complaint.

         As to the first factor, Drayton “proceeded pro se, so the responsibility for any failure to prosecute falls on him.” In re Buccolo, 308 Fed.Appx. 574, 575 (3d Cir. 2009). This factor therefore weighs in favor of dismissal.

         Next, the Court finds that Drayton's effective abdication of this case leaves Spotts no avenue to facilitate a defense against the remaining excessive force claim, and he is prejudiced as a result. See Palmer v. Rustin, No. CIV.A. 10-42, 2011 WL 5101774, at *2 (W.D. Pa. Oct. 25, 2011) (“The prejudice that will be suffered by Defendants by allowing this case linger for an indefinite period of time due to Plaintiff's failure to prosecute, without any ...

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