Black v. Coupe et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION regarding the Second Amended Complaint (D.I. 20 ). Signed by Judge Richard G. Andrews on 4/10/2015. (nms)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE
JONATHAN D. BLACK,
: Civ. No. 14-214-RGA
ROBERT COUPE, et al.,
Jonathan D. Black, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Smyrna, Delaware, Pro Se
April / (}, 2015
Plaintiff Jonathan D. Black, an inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional
Center, Smyrna, Delaware, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He appears
prose and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis (D.I. 5). The Court
reviewed and screened the original Complaint, dismissed it, and gave Plaintiff leave to
amend. (D.I. 3, 9, 10). Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint. It was screened by the
Court, and it was also dismissed. (D.I. 15, 16, 17). Plaintiff was given one final
opportunity to file a second amended complaint to cure pleading defects. (D.I. 17). A
Second Amended Complaint was filed on February 2, 2015. (D.I. 20). The Court
proceeds to screen the Second Amended Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§1915(e)(2)(8) and§ 1915A(a).
The Court has compared the original Complaint with the Amended Complaint
and the Second Amended Complaint and finds that the original Complaint and the
Second Amended Complaint are virtually identical. The one difference is that the
Second Amended Complaint adds the allegation, "commencing June 7, 2013 [Plaintiff]
filed [a] series of grievance[s] relating to medical and other issues, medical grievances
denied after appeal processes, grievances relevant to all other issues in complaint
returned by Cp. Mercer, Institution Grievance Chairperson being non-grievable." (D.I.
20 at 1). The remainder of the Second Amended Complaint alleges that Plaintiff suffers
from several medical conditions and that he is in constant pain due to Defendants'
deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. He alleges unlawful conditions of
confinement including overcrowding, the failure to provide shoes or long underwear,
disciplinary punishment for the possession of medical materials, and interference with
medical treatment. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief and compensatory and punitive
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 a pro se plaintiff.
See Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F .3d 224, 229 (3d Cir. 2008). 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).
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. See Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d
Cir. 1999). 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).
A well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere labels and conclusions.
See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009); Bell Atlantic 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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. When determining whether dismissal
is appropriate, the court must take three steps: "(1) identifyO the elements of the claim,
(2) reviewO the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) lookO at the
well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluat[e] whether all of the elements
identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged." Mal/eus v. George, 641
F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011 ). 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
Despite the opportunities to amend, Plaintiff failed to cure the pleading defects.
Similar to the previous complaints, the Second Amended Complaint does not indicate
the when, where, or who in connection with the alleged violations of Plaintiff's
constitutional rights. A civil rights complaint must state the conduct, time, place, and
persons responsible for the alleged civil rights violations. Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d
347, 353 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Boykins v. Ambridge Area Sch. Dist., 621 F.2d 75, 80 (3d
Cir. 1980); Hall v. Pennsylvania State Police, 570 F.2d 86, 89 (3d Cir. 1978)). In
addition, Plaintiff named Defendants Robert Coupe, Vincent Carr, James Welch, David
Pierce, James Scarbrough, Dr. Laurie Spraga, Ralph Bailey, and Jeanieu Mosely based
upon their supervisory positions. As is well established, supervisory liability cannot be
imposed under§ 1983 on a respondeat superior theory. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662;
Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423
U.S. 362 (1976). "'A[n individual government] defendant in a civil rights action must
have personal involvement in the alleged wrongdoing; liability cannot be predicated
solely on the operation of respondeat superior."' Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 353
(3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988).
Purpose, rather than knowledge, is required to impose liability on an official charged
with violations arising from his or her supervisory responsibilities. 1 See Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 677. "Absent vicarious liability, each Government official, his or her title
notwithstanding, is only liable for his or her own misconduct." Id. Other than
generalized statements, Plaintiff does not associate any of his allegations with the
foregoing Defendants, and Plaintiff provides no facts to support a claim against them.
With regard to Defendant Shannon L. Corbette, Plaintiff alleges that she cited
him for illegal possession of health related objects that were prescribed by medical
providers. To the extent Plaintiff alleges that disciplinary reports were false, they will be
dismissed because "mere allegations of falsified evidence or misconduct reports,
without more, are not enough to state a [constitutional] claim." Smith v. Mensinger, 293
F.3d 641, 653-54 (3d Cir. 2002); Thomas v. McCoy, 467 F. App'x 94, 96 (3d Cir.), cert.
denied, 132 S.Ct. 2752 (2012).
The allegations that speak to the filing of grievances beginning on June 7, 2013,
and that the grievances were denied or returned as non-grievable are frivolous. The
1n light of Iqbal, it is uncertain whether proof of personal knowledge, with nothing
more, provides a sufficient basis to impose liability upon a supervisory official. See
Bayer v. Monroe County Children and Youth Services, 577 F.3d 186, 190 n.5 (3d Cir.
filing of prison grievances is a constitutionally protected activity. Robinson v. Taylor,
204 F. App'x 155, 157 (3d Cir. 2006) (not published). To the extent that Plaintiff bases
his claims upon his dissatisfaction with the grievance procedure or denial of his
grievances, the claims fail because an inmate does not have a "free-standing
constitutional right to an effective grievance process." Woods v. First Corr. Med., Inc.,
446 F. App'x 400, 403 (3d Cir. Aug. 18, 2011) (citing Flick v. Alba, 932 F.2d 728, 729
(8th Cir. 1991 )). Notably, the denial of grievance appeals does not in itself give rise to a
constitutional claim as Plaintiff is free to bring a civil rights claim in District Court. Winn
v. Department Of Corr., 340 F. App'x 757, 759 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Flick v. Alba, 932
F.2d at 729). Therefore, the Court will dismiss the grievance claims against as
frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and§ 1915A(b)(1 ).
For the above reasons, the Second Amended Complaint will be dismissed as
frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and§ 1915A(b)(1). The Court finds
amendment futile. Plaintiff was twice provided opportunities to correct his pleading
deficiencies, to no avail. See Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962) (the court may
curtail or deny a request for leave to amend where there is "repeated failure to cure
deficiencies by amendments previously allowed" and there would be "futility of
An appropriate order will be entered.
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