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Fox v. Malinowski

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 2, 2019

GREGORY C. FOX, Plaintiff,
ROBERT MALINOWSKI, et al., Defendants.



         Presently before the Court is a complaint, (Doc. 1), filed by pro se prisoner-Plaintiff Gregory C. Fox (hereinafter referred to as “Fox”) on April 1, 2019. In his complaint, Fox seeks unspecified damages against the following Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983: Trooper Robert Malinowski, individually and in his official capacity; Terri Somer; C.O. Owens; and Lackawanna County. At the time he filed his complaint, Fox was incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill (“SCI-Camp Hill”), located in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1). Johnson has since been transferred to the State Correctional Institution at Dallas (“SCI-Dallas”), located in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 8, at 13).

         The Court has conducted its statutorily-mandated screening of the complaint in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). For the reasons provided herein, the Court finds that this complaint (Doc. 1) (Doc. 8) fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, and grants Fox leave to amend.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         Fox, proceeding pro se, initiated the instant action by filing a complaint in this matter in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (“Eastern District”) on April 1, 2019.[1] (Doc. 1). That District determined that the events giving rise to Fox's claims occurred in the Middle District of Pennsylvania (“Middle District”) and that the Defendants are located in the Middle District. The Eastern District accordingly transferred the case to the Middle District on April 8, 2019. On April 26, 2019, Fox filed an amendment to his original complaint (Doc. 8), which, because it lacks a caption, the Court liberally construes to incorporate the original complaint.

         Fox has also filed motions to stay the action, and to hold it in abeyance, until October 2, 2019, when he is released from custody, so as to allow him opportunity to obtain counsel. (Doc. 7); (Doc. 14). The Court will consider and address these motions herein.

         Fox's complaint[2] alleges that on September 12, 2018, an unidentified individual from the CCC Center in Scranton reported to Defendant Malinowski that Fox submitted a positive urine sample. (Doc. 8, at 5). Fox, at the time, was an inmate in the State Intermediate Punishment (SIP) Program. (Doc. 9, at 5). Fox states that this urine report prompted him to leave the CCC Center, so they reported him as an escapee. (Doc. 8, at 5). It appears that Fox then traveled to his home, and police arrived shortly thereafter. (Doc. 8, at 8). Fox claims that his girlfriend opened the door, and that police “proceeded to push and force their way in.” (Doc. 8, at 8). Police subsequently detained Fox and informed him that he was under arrest. (Doc. 8, at 8). Fox alleges that police did not possess an arrest warrant nor a search warrant when this was done. (Doc. 8, at 8). He claims that these actions violate his Constitutional right of protection against unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. (Doc. 8, at 5).

         Fox goes on to state that on October 29, 2018, he was notified that he had been expelled from SIP for leaving the building without providing a urine sample.[3] (Doc. 8, at 5-6). This, Fox claims, was in violation of his Constitutional right to procedural due process under the 14th Amendment. (Doc. 8, at 6). Fox also states that his 4th, 8th, and 14th Amendment rights were violated by him being committed to Lackawanna County Prison, (Doc. 8, at 6), and alleges supplemental state law claims of false imprisonment, abuse of process, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Doc. 1, at 3).

         The matter is now before the Court pursuant to its statutory obligation under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e) to screen the complaint and dismiss it if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         II. Discussion

         A. Legal Standard

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court is obligated, prior to service of process, to screen a civil complaint in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a); James v. Pa. Dep't of Corr., 230 F. App'x. 195, 197 (3d Cir. 2007).The Court must dismiss the complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1); Mitchell v. Dodrill, 696 F.Supp.2d 454, 471 (M.D. Pa. 2010). The Court has a similar obligation with respect to actions brought in forma pauperis. See28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). In this case, because Johnson is a prisoner suing a governmental employee and brings his suit in forma pauperis, both provisions apply. In performing this mandatory screening function, a district court applies the same standard applied to motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Mitchell, 696 F.Supp.2d at 471; Banks v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 568 F.Supp.2d 579, 588 (W.D. Pa. 2008).

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes a defendant to move to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has noted the evolving standards governing pleading practice in federal court, stating that:

Standards of pleading have been in the forefront of jurisprudence in recent years. Beginning with the Supreme Court's opinion in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), continuing with our opinion in Phillips v. [County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224 (3d Cir. 2008)] and culminating recently with the Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), pleading standards have seemingly shifted from simple notice pleading to a more heightened ...

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