United States District Court, D. Delaware
February 7, 2014
WILLIAM HILL, Plaintiff,
CAROL POWELL, Defendant.
GREGORY M. SLEET, Chief District Judge.
The plaintiff, William Hill ("Hill"), an inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center ("VCC"), Smyrna, Delaware, filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (D.I. 2.) Hill appears pro se and was granted permission to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. (D.I. 5.) The court proceeds to review and screen the complaint.
Hill ordered two books on September 13, 2013. Both books arrived, but he only received one, the Marvel Encyclopedia having been confiscated by the defendant Carol Powell ("Powell") as "oversized." Hill unsuccessfully appealed the confiscation of his book. He alleges that he was retaliated against when, on October 15, his "name got a red flag."
Hill seeks return of his property and the termination of Powell's employment.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
This court 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. § 1997e (prisoner actions brought with respect to prison conditions). 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, SIS F.3d 224, 229 (3d Cir. 2008); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). Because Hill 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) and § 1915A(b)(1), 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); see, e.g., Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1091-92 (3d Cir. 1995) (holding frivolous a suit alleging that prison officials took an inmate's pen and refused to give it back).
The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and § 1915A(b)(1) 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 and 1915A, the court must grant Hill 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. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009); Bell Atl. 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 Hill has a "plausible claim for relief." Id. at 211. In other words, the complaint must do more than allege Hill'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)).
Hill seeks the return of his confiscated book. A prisoner's due process claim based on random and unauthorized deprivation of property by a state actor is not actionable under § 1983, whether the deprivation is negligent or intentional, unless there is no adequate post-deprivation remedy available. See Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 542 (1981), overruled on other grounds by, 474 U.S. 327 (1986); Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 533 (1984).
Hill has available to him the option of filing a common law claim for conversion of property. Inasmuch as Delaware law provides an adequate remedy for Hill, he cannot maintain a cause of action pursuant to § 1983. See Hudson, 468 U.S. at 535; Nicholson v. Carroll, 390 F.Supp.2d 429, 435 (D. Del. 2005).
The property claim lacks an arguable basis in law or in fact and will be dismissed as frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and § 1915A(b)(1).
Hill alleges that retaliation occurred after he appealed the confiscation of his book. "Retaliation for the exercise of constitutionally protected rights is itself a violation of rights secured by the Constitution actionable under § 1983." White v. Napoleon, 897 F.2d 103, 111-12 (3d Cir. 1990). Proof of a retaliation claim requires Plaintiff demonstrate that: (1) he engaged in protected activity; (2) he was subjected to adverse actions by a state actor; and (3) the protected activity was a substantial motivating factor in the state actor's decision to take adverse action. Carter v. McGrady, 292 F.3d 152, 158 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing MI. Healthy Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 287 (1977).
The complaint alleges that Hill filed an appeal of the taking of his property. Hill "lost his appeal" on October 4, 2013, and on October 15, 2013, his "name got a red flat." The retaliation claim is deficiently plead inasmuch as it does not identify the person or persons who allegedly engaged in retaliation. Therefore, the retaliation will be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to 28 U.S.c. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and § 1915A(b)(1). However, since it appears plausible that Hill may be able to articulate a retaliation claim against the foregoing defendant (or name alternative defendants), he will be given an opportunity to amend his pleading. See O'Dell v. United States Gov't, 256 F.Appx. 444 (3d Cir. 2007) (unpublished) (leave to amend is proper where the plaintiffs claims do not appear "patently meritless and beyond all hope of redemption").
For the above reasons, the court will: (1) dismiss the property claim as frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and § 1915A(b)(1); and (2) dismiss the retaliation claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and § 1915A(b)(1). Hill will be given leave to amend the retaliation claim,
An appropriate order will be entered.