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Biggins v. Phelps

United States District Court, D. Delaware

May 8, 2019

JAMES ARTHUR BIGGINS, Plaintiff,
v.
PERRY PHELPS, et al. Defendants.

          James Arthur Biggins, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Smyrna, Delaware. Pro Se Plaintiff.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NOREIKA, U.S. District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff James Arthur Biggins (“Plaintiff), an inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (D.I. 1, 3). His initial pleading titled “Plaintiffs Supporting Affidavit of Imminent Danger” is construed as a complaint. Plaintiff appears pro se and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (D.I. 6). Plaintiff moves for an emergency injunction, a motion for an order compelling discovery, and to stay. (D.I. 8, 13, 17). The Court proceeds to review and screen the matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(b) and § 1915A(a).

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed his original Complaint on October 11, 2018. (D.I. 1). There are forty-three named Defendants[1] and, of the forty-three Defendants, twenty-two[2] are named only in the Complaint's caption. On October 15, 2018, Plaintiff filed a letter, construed as an amendment to the Complaint. (D.I. 3). Defendants are sued in their individual and official capacities. Count I of the Complaint alleges unsafe and hazardous working conditions (D.I. 1 ¶¶ 1-16); Count II alleges deliberate indifference to prescribed medication (id. ¶¶ 17-19); Count III alleges deliberate and intentional interference with prescribed medication (id. ¶¶ 20-26); Count IV alleges deliberate indifference to prescribed medical dietary needs (id. ¶¶ 27-31); and Count V alleges deliberate indifference to nutritionally adequate food (id. ¶¶ 32-34). There is no prayer for relief. (See D.I. 1, 3).

         On February 7, 2019, Plaintiff filed a motion for an emergency injunction. (D.I. 8). In the motion he states that this action is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12132 (“ADA”), and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (“Rehab Act”).[3] The Court ordered VCC Warden Dana Metzger (“Metzger”) to respond to the motion. (D.I. 11). In the meantime, Plaintiff sought discovery from Defendant Perry Phelps (“Phelps”) followed by a motion to compel discovery.[4] (D.I. 12, 13). On April 10, 2019, Metzger filed an opposition to Plaintiff's motion for injunctive relief and, the next day, Plaintiff filed a motion to stay until after Defendants had responded to his discovery requests. (D.I. 17).

         III. SCREENING OF COMPLAINT

         A. 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 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. 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 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 Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 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 a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)). 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, however, 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.” 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 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 presumption of truth; and (3) when there are well-pleaded factual allegations, assume their veracity and 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); see also 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.

         B. Discussion

         1. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         The Complaint does not refer to any statutes in Counts I through V. It appears, however, that Plaintiff attempts to raise claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 given the reference to unsafe hazardous working/conditions of confinement and deliberate indifference to medical needs. The allegations appear to implicate claims under the Eighth Amendment and, if viable, the claims would arise under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         Plaintiff has an obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief. This means that the Complaint must contain more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not suffice. Additionally, when bringing a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must allege that some person has deprived him of a federal right, and that the person who caused the deprivation acted under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). To act under “color of state law” a defendant must be “clothed with the authority of state law.” West, 487 U.S. at 49.

         As previously noted, the following Defendants are named only in the caption of the Complaint: Christopher Cessna, Stanley Baynard, Thomas Soocard, Tony Benson, James Satterfield, Jim Sims, Lt. Wallace, Tim Heald, Gus Christo, Bonita C. Mullen, Mrs. Foraker, C/O Connors, C/O Melky, Tim Martin, Mrs. Bryant, Michael Little, Ken Simpler, Matt Denn, Jack Wagner, Michael Jackson, Ophelia M. Waters, and Global Tel. Link, Inc. See n.2, supra.

         In addition, the original Complaint (D.I. 1) contains no allegations against Defendants Perry Phelps, Clarie Demattis, Steven Wesley, Marc Richman, Jennifer Biddle, Adrian Grinstead, Dana Metzger, Phil Parker, Terrell M. Taylor, II, Megan Falgowski, Wendell Lundy, Tonya Smith, Christopher Moen, Adrian Harwood, and Matthew Wofford. The foregoing Defendants are mentioned in the amendment (D.I. 3) and many, if not all, appear to be named as Defendants based upon their supervisory positions. As is well established, there is no respondeat superior liability under § 1983. See Parkell v. Danberg, 833 F.3d 313, 330 (3d Cir. 2016). Moreover, the allegations against the foregoing Defendants are nothing more than conclusory, without factual basis. Plaintiff raises the same general claim for Counts I through V against the foregoing Defendants, as follows:

Please accept the document as serving additionally as the initial complaint with the following defendants named under the following: As to claim one (1) under individual and official capacities as to each acquaintance, knowledge, participation, custom, policy and or regulation . . . . As to claim two (2) under individual and official capacities as to each acquaintance, knowledge, participation, custom, policy and or regulation . . . . As to claim three (3) under individual and official capacities as to each acquaintance, knowledge, participation, custom, policy and or regulation . . . . As to claim four (4) under individual and official capacities as to each acquaintance, knowledge, participation, custom, policy and or regulation . . . . As to claim five (5) under individual and official capacities as to each acquaintance, knowledge, participation, custom, policy and or regulation . . . .

         (D.I. 3 at 1-2). The repetitive allegations for each Count contain no supporting facts and do not suffice to state any type of constitutional violation or cognizable claim.

         The claims against Defendants Christopher Cessna, Stanley Baynard, Thomas Soocard, Tony Benson, James Satterfield, Jim Sims, Lt. Wallace, Tim Heald, Gus Christo, Bonita C. Mullen, Mrs. Foraker, C/O Connors, C/O Melky, Tim Martin, Mrs. Bryant, Michael Little, Ken Simpler, Matt Denn, Jack Wagner, Michael Jackson, Ophelia M. Waters, Global Tel. Link, Inc., Perry Phelps, Clarie Demattis, Steven Wesley, Marc Richman, Jennifer Biddle, Adrian Grinstead, Dana Metzger, Phil Parker, Terrell M. Taylor, II, Megan Falgowski, Wendell Lundy, Tonya Smith, Christopher Moen, Adrian Harwood, and Matthew Wofford ...


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