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Curtis v. Pierce

United States District Court, D. Delaware

May 14, 2019

GEORGE CURTIS, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVID PIERCE, etal., Defendants.

          George Curtis, Howard R. Young Correctional Institution, Wilmington, Delaware, Pro Se Plaintiff.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CONNOLLY, U.S. District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff George Curtis ("Plaintiff'), a former inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center ("VCC") in Smyrna, Delaware, now housed at the Howard R. Young Correctional Institution ("HRYCI") in Wilmington, Delaware filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] (D.I. 3) He appears pro se and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (D.I. 5) The Court proceeds to review and screen the matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(b) and § 1915A(a).

         II. BACKGROUND

         On October 29, 2016, Plaintiff was attacked and injured by two gang members armed with razors. After receiving medical treatment, Plaintiff was transferred to the Secured Housing Unit ("SHU"). That month, Plaintiff wrote to DOC staff and requested a transfer. He was informed that he would remained housed in the SHU for his own protection.

         In December 2016, a different gang member asked DOC staff to open Plaintiff's cell door, despite the fact that it was not Plaintiffs recreation time. Unnamed staff electronically opened Plaintiffs door, and Plaintiff was attacked by the gang member. Plaintiff alleges the attack was in retaliation because the first two gang members had been charged criminally for the October 2016 incident. As a result of the attack, Plaintiff again asked for a transfer, but his request was denied.

         Plaintiff seeks a transfer to another institution and two million dollars in punitive damages. The Court docket reflects that Plaintiff was housed at the VCC when he commenced this action in September 2018, but an October 24, 2018 filing indicates that he was transferred and is now housed at the HRYCI. (See D.I. 6)

         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 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 Rule 12(b)(6) motions. See Tourscherv. 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 can 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." 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." Daw's 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 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, 574 U.S. 10, 10 (2014). A complaint may not be dismissed for imperfect statements of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted. See Id. at 346.

         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) assume the veracity of any well-pleaded factual allegations and then determine whether those allegations 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. ...


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