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Coley v. Lord

United States District Court, Third Circuit

June 25, 2013

KELLY LORD, et al., Defendants.


GREGORY M. SLEET, District Judge.

The plaintiff, Russell Wyndell Coley, Sr. ("Coley"), filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his constitutional rights. (D.I. 2.) He appears pro se and was granted permission to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. (D.I. 4.) The court now proceeds to review and screen the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).


Coley alleges that in July 2012 the defendant Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families ("DSCYF") unlawfully removed his minor child ("the minor child") from his custodial home and placed her with the defendant Mary M. Thomas ("Thomas"), her paternal grandmother, where she remains to date, all without the benefit of court proceedings. At the time, the minor child was a student at the defendant Bayard Elementary School ("Bayard") in the Christina School District ("Christina School District"), also a defendant. Coley alleges that Thomas enrolled the minor child in the defendant Gauger-Cobbs Middle School ("Gauger-Cobbs"), and that Thomas requested, and Bayard agreed, to fax the minor child's student records to Gauger-Cobbs. When confronted, Bayard officials denied any knowledge of transferring the records. The minor child was next enrolled at the defendant Shue-Medill Middle School ("Shue-Medill"). When problems ensued with the minor child's education, Coley met with Shue-Medill officials and inspected the documents used to transfer the minor child to Shue-Medill. Coley advised Shue-Medill that Thomas has not been appointed as the minor child's legal guardian and that the documents were worthless. On November 27, 2012, Coley filed a petition in State Court, presumably over custody issues.

Subsequent to filing the petition, a Christina School District employee allegedly saw the minor child engage in inappropriate behavior while showering. Thomas suggested to the minor child that someone else had done similar things to her, and she also took the minor child to the hospital for an examination. The defendant detective Nellie Vega ("Vega") with the defendant the Wilmington Police Department ("Wilmington Police Department") investigated and made a report of the matter.[1] Coley was not allowed to speak to the minor child from November 25 until January 28, 2013.[2] On that date, Coley spoke to Thomas. Thomas later summoned the minor child, and upon questioning, the minor child denied anything inappropriate had occurred between her and Coley.

The next day, Coley was arrested without incident pursuant to a warrant for an incident that had occurred prior to his second hospitalization at Meadow Wood Hospital. Coley was booked and processed. Next, Coley was taken from the processing area to another floor and handcuffed to the wall. He was interrogated by Vega who told him that she believed he had abused his daughter. Coley alleges that there was no attorney present and he was not given his Miranda rights. After the interrogation, Coley was returned to booking. Vega typed up an affidavit, fingerprinted Coley, and placed his fingerprints on the typed or handwritten document. Coley was arraigned on the charge for which he was arrested and was released on unsecured bail.[3] He was not charged with any other crimes. Coley alleges violations of his Fourth and Six Amendment rights as a result of the custodial interrogation by Vega.

On January 4, 2013, Coley's State Court petition was dismissed for failure to pay the filing fee. He was told on February 14, 2013 to refile the petition. An appeal of the matter has been pending since at least April 22, 2013, before the Family Court of the State of Delaware in for New Castle County. Coley alleges that the removal of the minor child violated his right to due process, that Thomas has no legal custody or guardianship of the minor child, and that the Wilmington Police Department illegally removed the minor child from his custody with the assistance of DSCYF and without a court order. Coley seeks compensatory and punitive damages in the sum of seven million dollars on his behalf and three million dollars on behalf of the minor child for violations of their civil rights.


This court must dismiss, at the earliest practicable time, certain in forma pauperis 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). The court must accept all factual allegations in a complaint as true and take them in the light most favorable to a pro se plaintiff. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 229 (3d Cir. 2008); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). Because Coley proceeds pro se, his pleading is liberally construed and his complaint, "however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. at 94 (citations omitted).

An action is frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), a court may dismiss a complaint as frivolous if it is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory" or a "clearly baseless" or "fantastic or delusional" factual scenario. Neitzke, 490 at 327-28; Wilson v. Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir. 1989).

The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is identical to the legal standard used when ruling on 12(b)(6) motions. Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999) (applying Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) standard to dismissal for failure to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)). However, 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, the court must grant Coley 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).

A well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere labels and conclusions. See Ashcroft v. lqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009); Bell Ad. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). The assumption of truth is inapplicable to legal conclusions or to "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action supported by mere conclusory statements." Id. at 678. When determining whether dismissal is appropriate, the court conducts a two-part analysis. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). First, the factual and legal elements of a claim are separated. Id. The court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Id. at 210-11. Second, the court must determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that Coley has a "plausible claim for relief."[4] Id. at 211. In other words, the complaint must do more than allege Coley's entitlement to relief; rather it must "show" such an entitlement with its facts. Id. "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than a mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not shown - that the pleader is entitled to relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

III. ...

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