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Griffin v. Hill

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 31, 2019

LAMAR A. GRIFFIN, Plaintiff,


          GENE E.K. PRATTER, J.

         This matter comes before the Court by way of a Complaint (ECF No. 2), brought by Plaintiff Lamar A. Griffin, proceeding pro se. Also pending is Mr. Griffin's Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis and Prisoner Trust Fund Account Statement (ECF Nos. 5 & 6). Because it appears that Mr. Griffin is unable to afford to pay the filing fee, the Court will grant him leave to proceed in forma pauperis. For the following reasons, the Complaint will be dismissed without prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § l9l5(e)(2)(B)(ii). Mr. Griffin will be permitted to file an amended complaint.

         I. FACTS [1]

         Mr. Griffin, a pretrial detainee currently incarcerated at George W. Hill Correctional Facility ("GWHCF"), brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his rights in connection with an incident during which he was pepper sprayed and kicked in the head. Mr. Griffin alleges that on September 2, 2019, he asked to speak to a Sergeant or Lieutenant about the conditions on his unit because there was "no air." (Compl. ECF No. 2 at 5.)[2] He claims that, in response, correctional officers to whom he made his request "threatened him" and told him to return to his cell, which was "sweltering hot." (Id.) Correctional Officer "Rashid" then locked the cell doors so the inmates could not return to their cells.

         An unidentified correctional officer sprayed pepper spray, which caused Mr. Griffin to choke and gag. Members of a "CERT team" then "flooded the unit shooting inmates with [a] pepper spray machine gun." (Id.) An unknown officer on that team kicked Mr. Griffin on the left side of his head while removing him from the cell where he sought refuge. Mr. Griffin alleges he sustained "a small amount of swelling above [his] left eye" and that his eye was "in pain and bruised." (Id.)

         Mr. Griffin was taken to a nurse for medical care. The nurse whom he saw checked him for breathing problems and apparently gave him ice for his bruised eye and a bruise on his leg where he was hit with projectiles from the pepper spray gun. Mr. Griffin notes, however, that he did not receive "x-rays for head injury." (Id.)

         Based on those allegations, the Court understands Mr. Griffin to be bringing claims for excessive force and denial of medical care.[3] In the caption of his Complaint, he named "George W. Hill (CERT team) Correctional Facility" as the only defendant. However, in the body of his Complaint, Mr. Griffin named as defendants Lt. Moody (identified as a "Security Lt"), Corrections Officer Rashid, and Officer "Sirodee" (identified as a corrections officer and CERT member), who were not named as defendants in the caption in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10(a). (Id. at 2-3.) He also indicates, with respect to those additional Defendants, that he is suing them only in their official capacities. For relief, Mr. Griffin asks the Court to "hold G.W. Hill accountable for [his] apparent injuries" and seeks $100, 000.09 in damages. (Id. at 5.)


         The Court will grant Mr. Griffin leave to proceed in forma pauperis because it appears that he is incapable of paying the fees to commence this civil action.[4] Accordingly, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) requires the Court to dismiss the Complaint if it fails to state a claim. Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), see Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999), which requires the Court to determine whether the complaint contains "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 allegations do not suffice. Id. As Mr. Griffin 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 Court of Appeals 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.

         However, "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. Or., 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 Cir. 1988)).


         Mr. Griffin's Complaint asserts claims for violations of his civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. "To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law." West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). "A defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs." See Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). Furthermore, "[b]ecause vicarious liability is inapplicable to ... § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676.

         A. Official ...

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