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Giles v. Department of Correction

United States District Court, D. Delaware

April 20, 2017



         1. Introduction.

         Plaintiff 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)

         2. Standard of Review.

         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 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 (citations omitted).

         3. 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; 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).

         4. 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 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).

         5. 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). 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.

         6. 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." Id.

         7. The Original Complaint.

         Named as defendants are the Delaware Department of Correction ("DOC") and unnamed persons.[1] (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.)

         8. On 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)

         9. On 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.

         10. 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.

         11. Under the Younger abstention doctrine, a federal district court must abstain from hearing a federal case which interferes with certain state proceedings.[2]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 ...

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