Thornton v. McMahon et al
MEMORANDUM. Signed by Judge Gregory M. Sleet on 1/11/13. (dzb, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELA WARE
RAYMOND E. THORNTON,
MICHAEL MCMAHON, et aI.,
) Civ. Action No.
The plaintiff, Raymond E. Thornton ("Thornton"), an inmate at the James T. Vaughn
Correctional Center ("VCC"), Smyrna, Delaware, filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. 1 (D.I. 3.) He appears pro se and was granted permission to proceed in forma pauperis
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. (D.1. 6.) The court now proceeds to review and screen the
complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and § 1915A. Also pending is Thornton's request for
counsel. (D.I. 5.)
Thornton alleges that he was sent to the Security Housing Unit ("SHU") at the Sussex
Correctional Institution ("SCI"), Georgetown, Delaware, for filing a grievance against SCI staff.
He was then transferred to the VCC. He complains that prison officials did not correct the
unlawful transfer. He also makes complaints about the classification process. (D.I. 3.) Thornton
lWhen 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).
seeks a transfer to a different correctional facility. Thornton raised these claims in a case
currently pending in this court, Thornton v. West, Civ. No. 11-1024-GMS.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
This court must dismiss, at the earliest practicable time, certain in forma pauperis and
prisoner actions that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim, or seek monetary relief from a
defendant who is immune from such relief. See 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 apro se plaintiff. Phillips v. County ofAllegheny, 515 F.3d 224,229 (3d Cir. 2008);
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89,93 (2007). Because Thornton 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
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).
"A separate standard for maliciousness is not as well established." Abdul-Akbar v.
Department o/Corr., 910 F. Supp. 986 (D. DeL,I995), aff'd, III F.3d 125 (3d Cir.) (table
decision), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 852 (1997). A court that considers whether an action is
malicious must, in accordance with the definition of the term "malicious," engage in a sUbjective
inquiry into the litigant's motivations at the time of the filing of the lawsuit to determine whether
the action is an attempt to vex, injure, or harass the defendant. Deutsch, 67 F.3d at 1086. Other
circuits have offered more objective instances of malicious claims. For example, a complaint is
malicious when it "duplicates allegations of another [ ] federal lawsuit by the same plaintiff."
Pittman v. Moore, 980 F.2d 994, 995 (5th Cir. 1993). A district court may dismiss a complaint
as malicious if it threatens violence or contains disrespectful references to the court. Crisafi v.
Holland, 655 F.2d 1305 (D.C. Cir. 1981). Additionally, a district court may dismiss a complaint
as malicious if it is plainly abusive of the judicial process or merely repeats pending or
previously litigated claims. Crisafi, 655 F.2d at 1309; Van Meter v. Morgan, 518 F.2d 366 (8th
Cir. 1975); Duhart v. Carlson, 469 F.2d 471 (10th Cir. 1972); see also Banks v. Gillie, 2004 WL
5807334 (E.D. La. Feb. 25,2004) (duplicative and repetitive complaints are considered
malicious for purposes of § 1915); McGill v. Juanita Kraft Postal Serv., 2003 WL 21355439, at
*2 (N.D. Tx. June 6, 2003) (complaint is malicious when it "'duplicates allegations of another
pending federal lawsuit by the same plaintiff or when it raises claims arising out of a common
nucleus of operative facts that could have been brought in the prior litigation") (quotations
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
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 of28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A, the court
must grant Thornton 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 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). The
assumption of truth is inapplicable to legal conclusions or to "[t ]hreadbare recitals of the
elements of a cause of action supported by mere conclusory statements." Id at 678. When
determining whether dismissal is appropriate, the court conducts a two-part analysis. Fowler v.
UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203,210 (3d Cir. 2009). First, the factual and legal elements of a
claim are separated. Id. The court must accept all of the complaint'S well-pleaded facts as true,
but may disregard any legal conclusions. Id at 210-11. Second, the court must determine
whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that Thornton has a "plausible
claim for relief."2 Id at 21 L In other words, the complaint must do more than allege Thornton's
entitlement to relief; rather it must "show" such an entitlement with its facts. Id. "[W]here the
well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than a mere possibility of misconduct,
2A claim is facially plausible when its factual content allows the court to draw a
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The plausibility standard "asks for more than a sheer
possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are
'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it 'stops short of the line between possibility and
plausibility of' entitlement to relief. ,,, Id.
the complaint has alleged - but it has not shown - that the pleader is entitled to relief." Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2».
Last year, Thornton filed a nearly identical lawsuit against the defendants in Civ. No. II
1024-GMS. Thornton was allowed to proceed with many of his claims and the case remains
pending. After reviewing the allegations in the present case and the allegations in Civ. No. II
1024-GMS, the court finds the current action is malicious as that term is defined in the context of
§ 1915. It is obvious in reading both complaints that they contain many ofthe same allegations
that fall within the same time-frame as in the present complaint.
The instant complaint falls squarely within the definition of maliciousness. It duplicates
allegations of another pending federal lawsuit that Thornton filed. Additionally, any claims
newly raised in the present complaint arise out of a common nucleus of operative facts that could
have been brought in the prior litigation in Civ. No. 11-1024-GMS.
Because Thornton has filed a repetitive lawsuit, the complaint will be dismissed as
malicious pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A(b)(1).
For the above reasons, the court will dismiss the complaint as malicious pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A(b)(1). Amendment of the complaint would be futile.
See Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229 (3d Cir. 2004); Grayson v. Mayview State Hasp., 293 F.3d
103, 111 (3d Cir. 2002); Borelli v. City ofReading, 532 F.2d 950,951-52 (3d Cir. 1976).
An appropriate order will be entered.
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