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Doe v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

November 21, 2019

JOHN DOE, Plaintiff
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM

          Kane Judge

         On September 16, 2019, pro se Plaintiff John Doe (“Plaintiff”), who is presently confined at the Federal Correctional Complex in Coleman, Florida (“FCC Coleman”), initiated the above-captioned civil action by filing a complaint pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiff also filed a motion for leave to proceed using the John Doe pseudonym (Doc. Nos. 2, 6) and a copy of his prisoner trust fund account statement (Doc. No. 3). In an Order dated September 24, 2019, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania transferred the case to this Court because Plaintiff's complaint concerns events that occurred while he was incarcerated at USP Lewisburg, which is located within this judicial district. (Doc. No. 4.)

         In an administrative Order dated October 2, 2019, the Court directed Plaintiff either to pay the requisite filing fee or submit a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis within thirty (30) days. (Doc. No. 9.) The administrative Order was returned as undeliverable with a note that the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) required Plaintiff's actual name to deliver his mail from the Court. (Doc. No. 10.) On October 21, 2019, the Court issued another administrative Order, addressed with Plaintiff's actual name, directing him either to pay the requisite filing fee or submit a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis within thirty (30) days. (Doc. No. 11.) The Court received Plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis on October 31, 2019. (Doc. No. 12.) 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 motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, direct service of his complaint upon the Government, and grant his motion for leave to proceed under the John Doe pseudonym.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges that on November 12, 2015, Ryan Smith, a case manager at USP Lewisburg, told other prisoners that Plaintiff was a “rat” and a rapist. (Doc. No. 1 at 1.) Prisoners subsequently began researching Plaintiff using electronic sources and “began reading aloud Plaintiff's case orders and opinions on the open range.” (Id.) Plaintiff maintains that he was “perpetually threatened, taunted[, ] and sexually harassed.” (Id.) On November 17, 2015, Plaintiff was attacked by his cellmate. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that various groups of prisoners continued to research his case information and threaten and harass him until he was transferred from USP Lewisburg on April 24, 2017. (Id. at 2.)

         On May 3, 2017, Plaintiff arrived at USP McCreary, where he was “physically confronted by prisoners [who] transferred from USP Lewisburg” on several occasions. (Id.) Plaintiff had to “physically defend himself” on several occasions. (Id.) On August 3, 2018, Plaintiff was transferred to USP Lewisburg, where he was assigned to G-Unit and was again confronted for being a “rat” and a rapist. (Id.) Approximately one (1) month later, Plaintiff was reassigned to E-Unit, where he was threatened, taunted, and labeled as a “rat” and a sex offender by prisoners in that unit. (Id.)

         Plaintiff maintains that he has filed numerous motions with the respective courts to have his case information sealed and/or redacted, but that those motions have been denied. (Id.) He alleges that “[p]rison officials ha[ve] failed miserably with containing this issue as well as addressing it.” (Id. at 3.) Plaintiff asserts that he has requested to be placed in protective custody or to be transferred to state custody or “designated institutions that address his security concerns, ” but his requests have been “ignored.” (Id.) As relief, Plaintiff seeks $1, 000, 000.00 in damages as well as a Court Order directing that he be transferred to either state custody or a federal correctional institution. (Id.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         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 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)(ii) (“[T]he [C]ourt shall dismiss the case at any time if the [C]ourt determines that . . . the action or appeal . . . 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 . . . fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”).

         In dismissing claims under §§ 1915(e), 1915A, and 1997e, 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).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Plaintiff's Complaint

         As noted above, Plaintiff alleges that Ryan Smith, a Unit Manager at USP Lewisburg, told other inmates that Plaintiff is a “rat” and a rapist and that ever since then, he has been threatened, assaulted, and taunted by other inmates. (Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiff maintains further that BOP officials have not done anything to address his concerns. (Id.) Liberally interpreting Plaintiff's pro se pleading, the Court ...


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