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Smith v. Thirty-Nine Employees of James T. Vaughn Correctional Center

United States District Court, D. Delaware

August 11, 2014

ALBERT J. SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
THIRTY-NINE EMPLOYEES OF THE JAMES T. VAUGHN CORRECTIONAL CENTER, et al., Defendants.

Albert J. Smith, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Smyrna, Delaware, Pro Se Plaintiff.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

LEONARD P. STARK, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Albert J. Smith ("Plaintiff'), filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his constitutional rights.[1] Plaintiff is incarcerated at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center ("VCC") in Smyrna, Delaware. He appears pro se and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (D.I. 5) The Court proceeds to review and screen the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and § 1915A.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff received an infraction for having a cell phone in his cell and was sanctioned to forty-five days in isolation, from September 16, 2011 to October 30, 2011. He complains of his conditions of confinement during that time. Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages and injunctive relief.

III. LEGAL STANDARDS

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 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. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007); Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 229 (3d Cir. 2008). Because Plaintiff 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, 551 U.S. at 94 (internal quotation marks 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)(l), 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; see also Wilson v. Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir. 1989); Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1091-92 (3d Cir. 1995) (holding frivolous a suit alleging that prison officials took 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)(l) 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). 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 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).

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). When determining whether dismissal is appropriate, the Court conducts a two-part analysis. See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). First, the factual and legal elements of a claim are separated. See id. The Court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. See id. at 210-11. 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. Second, the Court must determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." Fowler, 578 F.3d at 211. In other words, the complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief; rather, it must "show" such an entitlement with its facts. Id. A claim is facially plausible when its factual content allows the Court to draw a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The plausibility standard "asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

IV. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff complains of condition of confinement from September 16, 2011 to October 30, 2011. ( See D.I. 3 at 7) For purposes of the statute of limitations, § 1983 claims are characterized as personal injury actions, see Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 275 (1983), and in Delaware, § 1983 claims are subject to a two-year limitations period, see Del. Code Ann. tit. 10, § 8119; Johnson v. Cullen, 925 F.Supp. 244, 248 (D. Del. 1996). Section 1983 claims accrue "when the plaintiff knew or should have known of the injury upon which its action is based." Sameric Corp. v. City of Philadelphia, 142 F.3d 582, 599 (3d Cir. 1998). In the instant case, that date was no later than October 30, 2011, Plaintiff's last day in isolation.

The statute commenced to run on October 31, 2011, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(a)(l)(A) (exclude the day of the event that triggers the period), and expired two years later, on October 30, 2013 ( id. at 6(a)(l)(C) (include the last day of the period, unless it is a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday). See, e.g., Monkelis v. Mobay Chem., 827 F.2d 937, 938 (3d Cir. 1987) ("[T]he statute of limitations expires on the anniversary date of the event, not the day following."). Therefore, Plaintiff was required to commence this action on or before October 30, 2013.

The statute of limitations is an affirmative defense that generally must be raised by the defendant, and it is waived if not properly raised. See Benak ex rel. Alliance Premier Growth Fund v. Alliance Capital Mgmt. L.P., 435 F.3d 396, 400 n.14 (3d Cir. 2006); Fassett v. Delta Kappa Epsilon, 807 F.2d 1150, 1167 (3d Cir. 1986). "[W]here the statute oflimitations defense is obvious from the face of the complaint and no development of the factual record is required to determine whether dismissal is appropriate, sua sponte dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 is permissible." Davis v. Gauby, 408 F.App'x 524, 526 (3d Cir. Nov. 30, 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted).

The computation of time for complaints filed by pro se inmates is determined according to the "mailbox rule." In Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266 (1988), the United States Supreme Court held that a prisoner's notice of appeal of a habeas corpus petition was deemed filed as of the date it was delivered to prison officials for mailing to the court. While Houston dealt specifically with the filing of a habeas appeal, the decision has been extended by the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to other prisoner filings. See Burns v. Morton, 134 F.3d 109, 112 (3d Cir. 1998). Additionally, this District has applied the Houston mailbox rule to prose § 1983 complaints. See Gibbs v. Decker, 234 F.Supp.2d 458, 463 (D. Del. 2002).

Plaintiffs Complaint was signed on October 27, 2013, his motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis was signed on October 30, 2013, and his prison trust account statement, filed at the same time, is dated October 31, 2013. (D.I. 1, 2, 3) Plaintiffs cover letter that accompanied the complaint is dated November, 1, 2013, and the envelope - that the cover letter, complaint, and prison trust account statement were mailed in - is post-marked November 4, 2013. The Complaint was filed-stamped by the Clerk's Office on November 5, 2013. As evidenced by Plaintiffs cover letter, he delivered his Complaint to prison officials for mailing on or after November 1, 2013.[2] ( See D.I. 3 at attachment 1, cover letter)

Plaintiff complains of acts occurring from September 16, 2011 to October 30, 2011, yet pursuant to the mailbox rule, the Complaint was not filed until November 1, 2013, the earliest date that it could have been delivered to prison officials for mailing, and two days after the expiration of the two year statute oflimitation period. Hence, it is evident from the face of the Complaint that Plaintiffs claims are time-barred.

Because Plaintiffs allegations are time-barred, the Court will dismiss the Complaint as frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A(b)(l).

V. CONCLUSION

For the above reasons, the Court will dismiss the Complaint as frivolous as it is time-barred pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and § 1915A(b)(1).[3]

An appropriate Order follows.


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