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Armstrong v. Furman

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

January 8, 2020

CAPTAIN JOSEPH FURMAN, et al., Defendants



         Presently pending before the Court is Plaintiff Kareem Armstrong's Motion for Leave to Amend Amended Complaint to Add Count [ECF No. 7], Defendants' response thereto [ECF No. 12], and Plaintiffs reply [ECF No. 13]. In his motion, Plaintiff seeks to add a third count to his Amended Complaint asserting a claim of defamation under the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. Plaintiff alleges that his reputation was damaged when Defendant Furman wrongfully accused him of possessing drugs and then falsified documents and issued a false misconduct report without any physical evidence of drug possession. ECF No. 7.

         Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs the amendment of complaints. A complaint may ordinarily be amended once "as a matter of course" within 21 days after service of a complaint, a responsive pleading to a complaint, or a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1). Plaintiff exercised his right to amend once as a matter of course when he filed an amended complaint on September 18, 2019. See ECF No. 3. Thereafter, Plaintiff may amend his pleading "only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2).

         While a "court should freely give leave when justice so requires," see id., the decision to grant leave is ultimately within the sound discretion of the trial court. Zenith Radio Corp. v. Hazeltine Research Inc., 401 U.S. 321, 330 (1970). Factors to consider in determining a motion for leave to amend include: (1) undue delay on the part of the party seeking to amend; (2) bad faith or dilatory motive behind the amendment; (3) repeated failure to cure deficiencies through multiple prior amendments; (4) undue prejudice on the opposing party; and/or (5) whether the proposed amendment would be futile. See Great Western Mining & Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 174 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)).

         In the instant case, Plaintiff pleads the following facts in support of his proposed defamation claim:

36) Defamation is that which tends to injure reputation to diminish the esteem, respect, goodwill or adverse, derogatory or unpleasant feeling or opinious against him
37) Defendant Furman [defamed Plaintiff] by misrepresentation evidences. There's only (3) ways of being in possession [of illegal drugs]: 1) Inside of my personal property. 2) On my person. 3) Through my urine. So for defendant Furman to issue plaintiff a misconduct for drugs was defendant Furman falsifying documents/information causes "false entries, or otherwise tampering with intent to deceive or injure or to conceal wrongdoing."
38) Defamation is actionable when it occurs in the course of or accompanied by a change or extinguished of a right or status guaranteed by State law or the constitution.
39) As a direct and proximates result of defendant Furman issuing a false misconduct report without the physical evidence of said drug was in fact defamation to plaintiff reputation. Violating plaintiffs Fourteenth Amendment.

ECF No. 7 at 2-3. Defendants respond that Plaintiffs proposed amendment should be rejected as futile. The Court agrees.

         The United States Supreme Court has made clear "that federal courts are not to view defamatory acts as constitutional violations." Boyanowski v. Capital Area Intermediate Unit, 215 F.3d 396, 401 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693 (1976)). Consequently, Plaintiff "cannot plead a slander claim as a § 1983 claim because it is not cognizable under § 1983." Page v. Doyle, 2018 WL 2976374, at *3 (E.D. Pa. June 12, 2018) (citing Boyanowski, 215 F.3d at 401). See also Karolski v. City of Aliquippa, 2016 WL 7404551, at *7 (W.D. Pa. Dec. 22, 2016) (noting that, "[b]ecause there is no federal constitutional right to reputation," "violations of state law, including defamation, are insufficient to state a claim under § 1983") (quoting Kulwicki v. Dawson, 969 F.2d 1454, 1468 (3d Cir. 1992)).

         To the extent that Plaintiff may have intended to assert his defamation claim pursuant to state tort law, it is well-established that the doctrine of sovereign immunity protects "state corrections officers . . . from intentional tort claims, such as defamation." Muhammad v. DeBalso, 2019 WL 2501467, at *3 (M.D. Pa. June 17, 2019). As one court recently explained:

"[D]efamation is an intentional tort in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. See Joseph v. Scranton Times, L.P., 959 A.2d 322, 334 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2008). "Pursuant to section 11 of Article 1 of the Constitution of Pennsylvania, ... the Commonwealth, and its officials and employees acting within the scope of their duties, shall continue to enjoy sovereign immunity and official immunity and remain immune from suit except as the General Assembly shall specifically waive the immunity." 1 Pa. C.S. § 2310. "The Pennsylvania legislature has not chosen to waive this immunity for intentional torts." Wicker v. Shannon, 2010 WL 3812351, at *9 (M.D. Pa. Sep., 21, 2010) (citing 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8522).

Id. Due to the protections afforded by the doctrine of sovereign immunity, Plaintiff cannot assert his defamation claim against ...

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