United States District Court, D. Delaware
Wardell Leroy Giles ("plaintiff'), an inmate at the
James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Smyrna, Delaware,
proceeds pro se and has been granted in forma pauperis
status. When he commenced this action, he was housed at the
Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown, Delaware. He
filed this complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
claiming violations of his constitutional rights. (D.I. 1, 7)
Standard of Review.
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 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,
515 F.3d 224, 229 (3d Cir. 2008); Erickson v.
Partus, 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 v. Pardus, 551 U.S. at 94
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).
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 Rule 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 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).
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). 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, however, 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.
Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d
Cir. 2016) (internal citations and quotations omitted).
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."
as defendants are the Delaware Department of Correction
("DOC") and unnamed persons. (D.I. 1 at 1, 3)
While not clear, it appears plaintiff contends that the
sentence imposed upon him as a result of his violation of
probation ("VOP") exceeds the amount of time that
could be lawfully imposed upon him in violation of the right
to due process. Exhibits attached to the original complaint
include plaintiffs motion for a writ of habeas corpus that he
filed in the Superior Court of the State of Delaware in and
for Sussex County ("Superior Court") that claims
plaintiff is being held illegally pursuant to an
administrative warrant for violation of probation. (D.I. 1,
ex. A) The motion contends that the administrative warrant
and violation were unlawful because plaintiff had completed
all the terms of probation and his sentence had been
completed before imposition of the VOP sentence on January
21, 2016. (Id.)
April 6, 2016, the Superior Court denied the motion for writ
of habeas corpus. (Id. at ex. B) The letter/order
stated that plaintiff was being held without bail pursuant to
an administrative warrant, that a VOP hearing had been
scheduled for April 8, 2016, and that plaintiff was not being
held illegally. (Id.) The Superior Court entered a
second letter/order on April 6, 2016 denying plaintiffs
motion for correction of an illegal sentence finding the
motion without merit and noting that the DOC had confirmed
that plaintiff had served 211 days of plaintiffs 5 year level
5 sentence. (Id. at ex. D)
January 3, 2017, plaintiff filed a notice of appeal from a
December 9, 2016 Superior Court order that found plaintiff in
violation of his probation. See Giles v. State,
Docket No. 6, 2017 (Del. Jan. 3, 2017, at BL-1, BL-3). On
January 19, 2017, plaintiff filed a "motion to vacate
illegal sentence and over-sentence to go with appeal"
construed as his opening brief. (Id. at BL-7) On
February 6, 2017, the State filed its answering brief noting
that plaintiff did not contest the Superior Court's
decision that he violated his probation but, rather, he
asserted that his VOP sentence was calculated incorrectly,
and his sentence exceeded the amount that could be lawfully
imposed. (Id. at BL-15) On March 15, 2017, the
Supreme Court of the State of Delaware directed the State to
provide it a transcript of the October 14, 2016 VOP hearing,
and the State submitted it the same day. (Id. at
BL-34, BL-35) The case remains pending on appeal.
Younger Abstention Doctrine. As evidenced by the
exhibits plaintiff has submitted in support of his complaint,
he has a criminal matter pending in the Delaware State
Courts. The court takes judicial matter that the case is
currently on appeal in the Supreme Court of the State of
Delaware and that plaintiff has raised an issue nearly
identical to that raised in his initial complaint. Notably,
the criminal action has not yet reached final resolution.
Under the Younger abstention doctrine, a federal
district court must abstain from hearing a federal case which
interferes with certain state proceedings.See Younger
v. Harris,401 U.S. 37 (1971). In Younger, the
United States Supreme Court "established a principle of
abstention when federal adjudication would disrupt an ongoing
state criminal proceeding." Yang v. Tsui, 416
F.3d 199, 202 (3d Cir. 2005) (discussing Younger,401 U.S. 37 (1971)). Younger abstention "is
premised on the notion of comity, a principle of deference
and 'proper respect' for state governmental functions
in our federal system." Evans v. Court of Common
Pleas, Delaware Cnty., Pa.,959 ...