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Bell v. Robinson

United States District Court, D. Delaware

June 20, 2014

JAMES C. BELL, Plaintiff,
v.
GEORGE ROBINSON, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

GREGORY M. SLEET, District Judge.

The plaintiff, James C. Bell ("Bell"), filed this lawsuit on April 14, 2014 alleging race discrimination and raising claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 2000a. (D.I. 2.) He proceeds pro se and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. The court proceeds to review and screen the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

I. BACKGROUND

Bell alleges discrimination in public accommodation and in a place of public accommodation. Bell purchased a car stereo at a stand at the Route 13 Flea Market in Laurel, Delaware on September 1, 2013. When installed, it was discovered that it had no sound. The next weekend, Bell returned to the defendant's flea market stand to return and obtain a refund for the stereo from the defendant. The defendant did not have the same model for an even exchange, but offered Bell a model with a remote for an additional ten dollars. After some negotiation, Bell was offered a stereo for an additional five dollars, but without speakers.[1] During the negotiations, the defendant made some racially insensitive comments to Bell. The comments have caused Bell emotional distress. In addition, Bell complains that the defendant would not give him a written receipt. Instead, the defendant wrote the purchase amount, date, and his initials on the inside of the box of the stereo. Bell seeks damages and injunctive and equitable relief.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

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 Bell 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); 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 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 Bell 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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. When determining whether dismissal is appropriate, the court must take three steps: "(1) identify [] the elements of the claim, (2) review[] the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) look[] at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluat[e] whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged." Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). Elements are sufficiently alleged when the facts in the complaint "show" that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Deciding whether a claim is plausible will be a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.

III. DISCUSSION

A. 42 U.S.C. § 1981

Bell alleges race discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Section 1981 prohibits intentional race discrimination with respect to certain enumerated activities. Here, the issue is Bell's ability to "make and enforce contracts" on nondiscriminatory terms. Section 1981 provides in relevant part that:

(a) All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts... as is enjoyed by white citizens... (b) For purposes of this section, the term "make and enforce contracts" includes the making, performance, modification, and termination of contracts, and the enjoyment of all benefits, privileges, terms, and conditions of the contractual relationship. (c) The rights protected by ...

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