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Winter v. Mills

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 22, 2019

HERMIONE KELLY IVY WINTER, Plaintiff,
v.
MONICA MILLS, et al., Defendants.

          Hermione Kelly Ivy Winter, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Smyrna, Delaware, Pro Se Plaintiff.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          STARK, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Hermione K. I. Winter ('Plaintiff'), an inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center ("VCC") in Smyrna, Delaware, filed an Amended Complaint in this consolidated action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983[1] and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C § 2000cc-1, et. seq. (D.I. 59) She appears pro se and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (D.I. 5) The Court proceeds to review and screen the Amended Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(b) and § 1915A(a).

         II. BACKGROUND

         In the May 16, 2018 Consolidation Order, Plaintiff was ordered to file an Amended Complaint that contained in one pleading all religious diet and grievance claims and all Defendants against whom the claims were raised. (D.I. 56) Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on May 30, 2018, raising those claims. (D.I. 59) She also filed a motion for reconsideration of the May 30, 2018 Order asking to raise a religious item claims and a medical claim because her diet violated her religious beliefs and caused unwarranted medical issues. (D.I. 57) Plaintiff also requests counsel, asks that Defendant Carla Miller Cooper be voluntarily dismissed, and seeks voluntary dismissal of the Amended Complaint on the condition that the Court order waiver of the filing fee. (D.I. 60, 66, 68)

         Plaintiff is a "hereditary witch" whose religion includes eating "true vegetarian." (D.I. 59 at 9) She has practiced her religion since birth. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that if she does not follow the diet, it "violates the charge given by the Goddess and God." (Id.) Plaintiff also alleges she is not treated humanely during the grievance process, complains of the manner in which grievances are handled, and complains that certain grievances are deemed non-grievable, all in violation of her constitutional rights. (Id. at 17-26) In addition, she alleges that she is not provided a religious diet, another violation of the Constitution. (Id. at 27-34) Plaintiff alleges that the Chaplain's office and the Warden approved her request for a religious diet, and she should be receiving the diet, but she is not. (Id. at 29)

         Plaintiff then describes a "blame game" and alleges that Defendants Food Services Director Christopher Senato ("Senato") and Food Services employee Douglas E. Rose ("Rose") insist that medical is blocking the diet because it causes Plaintiff medical issues, while Defendant Dr. Gardner ("Dr. Gardner") indicates that medical is not blocking the diet and has encouraged Senato to provide Plaintiff the diet requested to solve religious and medication problems. (Id.) In addition, Plaintiff alleges mat Treatment Administrator James Simms ("Simms") blames Senato, and Senato states that it is Simms' responsibility to get Plaintiff her needed food. (Id.)

         She seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief. (D.L 59 at 40)

         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. § l997e (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, her pleading is liberally construed and her Complaint, "however martfully 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 U.S. 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 Tourscber 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 a plaintiff leave to amend her 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." Bell Atl. 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'l Hosp., 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 LLC, 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 be dismissed for imperfect statements of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted. See Id. at 346.

         Under the pleading regime established by Tmmbly 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 the complaint "show" that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing ...


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