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Rivera v. Wesley

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 9, 2017

MICHAEL A. RIVERA, Plaintiff,
v.
STEVEN WESLEY, et al., Defendants.

          Michael A. Rivera, Howard R. Young Correctional Institution, Wilmington, Delaware, Pro Se Plaintiff.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          STARK, W.S. District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Michael A. Rivera ("Plaintiff), a pretrial detainee at the Howard R. Young Correctional Institution ("HRYCI") in Wilmington, Delaware, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, [1] 1985, [2] 1986, [3] and 1988, [4] alleging violations of his constitutional rights. (D.I. 2) He appears pro se and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (D.I. 7) The Court proceeds to review and screen the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(a).

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges violations of the First, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Plaintiff has been held at the HRYCI since at least late December 2016.[5] It is not clear from the Complaint if he is housed in HRYCI's East Wing or West Wing. He raises claims regarding: (1) law library access against HRYCI Warden Steven Wesley ("Wesley"), (2) conditions of confinement, (3) loss of privileges against Wesley, Dawn McQuiston ("McQuiston"), Lt. Russell ("Russell"), and Sgt. Watts ("Watts"), (4) the grievance procedure against Wesley, Lt. Gibson ("Gibson"), and Lt. Dufarge ("Dufarge"), (5) legal mail procedures, and (6) retaliation against C/O Hetrick ("Hetrick"), C/O Cohen ("Cohen"), and Cpl. Gayheart ("Gayheart"). Delaware Department of Correction ("DOC") Commissioner Robert Coupe ("Coupe") is also named as a defendant. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief and compensatory and punitive damages.

         III. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A federal court may properly dismiss an action sua sponte under the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A(b) if "the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 452 (3d Cir. 2013); see also 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 Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 229 (3d Cir. 2008); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). 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 (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; 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 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 deciding Rule 12(b)(6) motions. See 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 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 a 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 complaint may be dismissed only if, accepting the well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, a court concludes that those allegations "could not raise a claim of entidement to relief." BellAtl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 558 (2007). Though "detailed factual allegations" are not required, a complaint must do more than simply provide "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Davis v. Abington Mem'lHosp., 765 F.3d 236, 241 (3d Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). In addition, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. See Williams v. BASF Catalysts ULC, 765 F.3d 306, 315 (3d Cir. 2014) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) and Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Finally, a plaintiff must plead facts sufficient to show that a claim has substantive plausibility. See Johnson v. City of Shelby, __ U.S.__, 135 S.Ct. 346, 347 (2014). A complaint may not dismissed for imperfect statements of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted. See Id. at 346.

         Under the pleading regime established by Twombly and Iqbal, a court reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint must take three steps: (1) take note of the elements the plaintiff must plead to state a claim; (2) identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth; and (3) when there are well-pleaded factual allegations, the court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. See Connelly v. Yjzne Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016). Elements are sufficiently alleged when the facts in the complaint "show" that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing 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.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. Personal Involvement

         In two of Plaintiff s claims, unlawful conditions of confinement and legal mail practices, he fails to identify the individuals allegedly responsible for violating his constitutional rights. In addition, he alleges Commissioner Coupe "should have knowledge of the conditions of [the HRYCI] as it is an ongoing issue/custom." (D.I. 2 at 8) "A[n individual government] defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongdoing; liability cannot be predicated solely on the operation of respondeat superior. Personal involvement can be shown through allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence." Rode v. Dellamprete,845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988) (internal citations omitted). Under the liberal notice pleading standard of Rule 8(a), and with regard to the conditions of confinement and the legal mail claims, the Complaint fails to identify persons responsible for the claims. In addition, with regard to Coupe, the Complaint fails to allege facts that, if proven, would show his personal involvement. A civil rights complaint is ...


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