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Rosser v. Donovan

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 10, 2017

MARCUS J. ROSSER, Plaintiff,
v.
CORPORAL MATTHEW DONOVAN, et al., Defendants.

          Marcus J. Rosser, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Smyrna, Delaware, Pro Se Plaintiff.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          STARK, W.S. District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Marcus J. Rosser ("Plaintiff'), an inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center ("VCC") in Smyrna, Delaware, filed this action alleging constitutional violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] (D.I. 1) He appears pro se and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (D.I. 6) The Court proceeds to review and screen the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(a).

         II. BACKGROUND

         On July 14, 2014, Plaintiff was stopped and taken into custody by New Castle County Detective Ellis. He was taken to the New Castle County Police Department and placed in a holding cell. Defendants Corporal Matthew Donovan ("Donovan"), Detective John Mikus ("Mikus"), and Detective Thomas Orzechowski ("Orzechowski") entered the cell. When Plaintiff asked why he was arrested and what was going on, Mikus told him to sit down. Plaintiff responded by stating "not until I am told why I have been taken into custody and am I under arrest?" Plaintiff alleges that Donovan told him he was "gonna sit down" and then punched Plaintiff in the face and took him to the ground. Plaintiff alleges that Mikus kneed and punched him in the rib area and Orzechowski and non-party Officer Geortler held on to the lower part of his body. Plaintiff alleges that Mikus then cuffed his wrists so tightly that his hands went numb. Plaintiff was bleeding from the nose and mouth and, when he spat blood on the floor, Donovan repeatedly punched him in the face while other officers pinned him to the ground.

         Plaintiff was taken to the hospital. A New Castle County officer told him that if he told the doctors what had happened he would be beaten upon his return to New Castle County Police Headquarters. On April 29, 2015, Plaintiff was acquitted of charges of resisting arrest and offensive touching. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Supervisor Matthew D. Astfalk ("Astfalk") was put on notice about the excessive force when he signed off on Mikus' incident report, but failed to take disciplinary action against the officers involved. Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages. He also requests appointment of counsel. (D.I. 5)

         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 p. 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. McCulhugh, 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 entitlement to relief." BellAtl. Corp. v. Twomblj, 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 T J, C) 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 trie 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. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016). Elements are sufficiently alleged when the facts in die 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. ...


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