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Howard v. Rihl

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 15, 2020

BRANDON HOWARD, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL RIHL, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          HARVEY BARTLE, III, J.

         Plaintiff Brandon Howard, formerly a pretrial detainee housed at the Bucks County Prison (“BCP”), has filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and an Application for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. Named as Defendants are Michael Rihl, a Bensalem police officer; Ted Krimmel, the Bensalem Chief of Police; the Bensalem Police Department; the “Bensalem Police Comm.;” Brian Hessenthaler, identified as the Chief Operating Officer of Bucks County; Paul K. Lagana, Warden of BCP; the Bucks County District Attorney's Office; and David Heckler, a former District Attorney of Bucks County. For the following reasons, Howard will be permitted to proceed without the payment of filing fees and the Complaint will be dismissed in part with prejudice and in part without prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), with the exception of one claim against Defendant Rihl that will be permitted to proceed.

         I. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         Howard alleges that he was arrested by Rihl in the summer of 2019 after being harassed by Rihl for several years.[1] (ECF No. 3 at 3.)[2] Rihl threatened to “make Howard's life miserable while he was ‘locked up' because of a physical altercation that occurred at the time of arrest and the hostile exchange of words.” (Id.) Howard was detained at the BCP where he was approached by another inmate named Spade who told Howard he was in possession of a form generated by Rihl allegedly listing Howard as a confidential informant for the Bensalem Police Department. (Id. at 3-4.) The form was allegedly provided to a criminal defendant as part of criminal discovery in that defendant's case. (Id.) Howard asserts that the form became the source of several fights and assaults he sustained while detained at BCP, resulting in his placement in punitive segregation. (Id. at 4.) He was later transferred to the Philadelphia Prison System, but the allegation that he was a confidential informant “followed him” resulting in several more fights, assaults and his placement in punitive segregation. (Id.) He alleges that Defendant David Heckler, as the Bucks County District Attorney, had an obligation to ensure Howard's alleged status as a confidential informant was not released to the public or included in discovery material provided to a criminal defendant.

         Howard alleges claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on a Fourteenth Amendment state-created danger theory, as well as on theories of intentional infliction of emotional distress, abuse of process, intentional infliction of a hostile and dangerous atmosphere. (Id. at 3, 7.) He seeks as relief that Rihl be removed as a police officer, the Bensalem Police Department “be sanctioned, ” and money damages. (Id. at 7.) Although listed in the caption of the Complaint, Howard makes no substantive allegations against Defendants Krimmel, “Bensalem Police Comm., ” Hessenthaler, or Lagana.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Because Howard appears to be unable to pay the filing fee in this matter, the Court will grant him leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Accordingly, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) applies, which 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 Howard is proceeding pro se, the Court construes his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).

         Moreover, 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 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 plaintiff's 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. Ctr., Civ. A. No. 16-4741, 2017 WL 3494219, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 11, 2017). 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)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         “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. Claims Against Defendants Krimmel, “Bensalem Police Comm., ” Hessenthaler, or Lagana

         Although listed in the caption of the Complaint, Howard makes no factual allegations concerning Defendants Krimmel, “Bensalem Police Comm., ” Hessenthaler, or Lagana. Because Howard presents no cognizable legal claims to which a defendant can respond on the merits, the Complaint will be dismissed as to these Defendants. However, because the Court cannot say at this time that Howard can never assert plausible claims, these Defendants will be dismissed without prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and Howard will be granted leave to file an amended complaint to attempt to state plausible claims.

         B. Claims Against the ...


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