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U.S. District Court Examines Standard for Dismissing a Frivolous Complaint Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), 1915A(b)(1)
Jonathan Black v. Robert Coupe, et al.
In Jonathan Black v. Robert Coupe, et al., a case involving the judicial screening of an inmate Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A(a), the United States District Court for the District of Delaware concluded that the Plaintiff had repeatedly failed to correct his pleading deficiencies and that granting Plaintiff leave to amend would be futile. Thus, Judge Richard G. Andrews dismissed Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint as frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), 1915A(b)(1).
By way of factual background, Plaintiff Jonathan Black (“Plaintiff”), an inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware (“Vaughn”), filed suit against several Vaughn staff members (collectively, “Defendants”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for alleged violations of Plaintiff’s constitutional rights. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs, that the conditions of his confinement were unlawful, and that a series of grievances that he had filed were improperly denied. Plaintiff appeared pro se and had been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. The Court reviewed and screened the original Complaint, dismissed it due to pleading defects, and gave Plaintiff leave to amend. Plaintiff subsequently filed an Amended Complaint. The Court screened the Amended Complaint, dismissed it, and granted Plaintiff one final opportunity to file a second amended complaint to cure the remaining pleading defects. On February 2, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint. The Court proceeded to screen the Second Amended Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A(a).
The Court began its analysis by explaining that it “must dismiss, at the earliest practicable time, certain in forma pauperis and prisoner actions that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.” See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) (in forma pauperis actions); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (actions in which prisoner seeks redress from a governmental defendant); 42 U.S.C. § 1997(e) (prisoner actions brought with respect to prison conditions). The Court further explained that the legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and 1915A(b)(1) “is identical to the legal standard used when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions.” See Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999). The Court noted, however, that before dismissing a complaint or claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, pursuant to the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A, “the Court must grant Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint, unless amendment would be inequitable or futile.” See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 114 (3d Cir. 2002).
The Court compared Plaintiff’s original Complaint with the Amended Complaint and the Second Amended Complaint, found that the original Complaint and the Second Amended Complaint were “virtually identical,” and concluded that despite the opportunities to amend, “Plaintiff failed to cure the pleading defects.” In support of its conclusion, the Court noted that the Second Amended Complaint did not “indicate the when, where, or who in connection with the alleged violations of Plaintiff's constitutional rights.” The Court explained that a civil rights complaint “must state the conduct, time, place, and persons responsible for the alleged civil rights violations.” Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F .3d 347, 353 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Boykins v. Ambridge Area Sch. Dist., 621 F.2d 75, 80 (3d Cir. 1980)); Hall v. Pennsylvania State Police, 570 F .2d 86, 89 (3d Cir. 1978)).
In addition, the Court noted that Plaintiff named Defendants, Robert Coupe, Vincent Carr, James Welch, David Pierce, James Scarbrough, Dr. Laurie Spraga, Ralph Bailey, and Jeanieu Mosely (collectively, the “Supervisor Defendants”), “based upon their supervisory positions.” The Court explained, however, that it was “well established” that "an individual government defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongdoing,” and that “liability cannot be predicated solely on the operation of respondeat superior.” See Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 353 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988)); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009); Monell v. Dep’t. of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976). The Court further explained that “purpose, rather than knowledge, is required to impose liability on an official charged with violations arising from his or her supervisory responsibilities,” and that “absent vicarious liability, each Government official, his or her title notwithstanding, is only liable for his or her own misconduct." See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677. Looking at the Plaintiff’s Complaints, the Court found that “other than generalized statements,” Plaintiff did not associate any of his allegations with the Supervisor Defendants, and that Plaintiff provided no facts to support a claim against them. Thus, the Court concluded that Plaintiff’s allegations against the Supervisor Defendants should be dismissed.
Plaintiff also alleged that another Defendant, Shannon Corbette, improperly cited him for illegal possession of health related objects that were prescribed by medical providers. With regard to these allegations, the Court found that they should be dismissed because "mere allegations of falsified evidence or misconduct reports, without more, are not enough to state a [constitutional] claim." Smith v. Mensinger, 293 F.3d 641, 653-54 (3d Cir. 2002); Thomas v. McCoy, 467 F. App'x 94, 96 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 132 S.Ct. 2752 (2012).
Plaintiff further alleged that he filed a series of grievances relating to medical and other issues, which were improperly denied by Vaughn’s Grievance Chairperson, Mr. Mercer, as non-grievable. The Court concluded, however, that these allegations related to the denial of Plaintiff’s grievances were frivolous and should be dismissed. In support of its conclusion, the Court explained that an inmate does not have a "free-standing constitutional right to an effective grievance process," and that “the denial of grievance appeals does not in itself give rise to a constitutional claim as Plaintiff is free to bring a civil rights claim in District Court.” See Woods v. First Corr. Med., Inc., 446 F. App'x 400, 403 (3d Cir. Aug. 18, 2011); Winn v. Dept. Of Corr., 340 F. App'x 757, 759 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Flick v. Alba, 932 F.2d 728, 729 (8th Cir. 1991)).
Finally, the Court found that granting Plaintiff additional leave to amend was futile. The Court reasoned that Plaintiff had been provided two (2) opportunities to correct his pleading deficiencies, and failed to avail himself of those opportunities. See Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962) (the court may curtail or deny a request for leave to amend where there is "repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed" and there would be "futility of amendment."). Thus, the Court dismissed Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint as frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), 1915A(b)(1).
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