Hicks v. Coupe et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Richard G. Andrews on 1/26/15. (mas)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE
KEITH A. HICKS,
Civil Action No. 14-1402-RGA
COMMISSIONER ROBERT COUPE,
Keith A. Hicks, Jr., James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Smyrna, Delaware. Pro Se
Plaintiff Keith A. Hicks, Jr., 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
proceeds to review and screen the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and
According to Plaintiff's allegations, on July 21, 2014, Plaintiff was standing in
front of the K-tier railing waiting to be called for educational classes. As he was bending
over the railing speaking to another inmate, Defendant Cpl. Boyle threw a chair at him.
The chair hit Plaintiff on the back of both legs, and he sustained injuries to his legs and
back. When Plaintiff asked Boyle why he had thrown the chair at him, Boyle explained
that Plaintiff was "off limits" and that he "needed to secure [his] attention." Plaintiff was
sent to medical for examination and treatment.
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 a/so 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). 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." Id. 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; Wilson v. Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 774
(3d Cir. 1989).
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 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
At/. 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'/ Hosp., 765 F.3d 236, 241 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at
555). 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).
To determine whether a complaint meets the pleading standard as set forth in
Twombly and Iqbal, the Court must: (1) outline the elements a plaintiff must plead to a
state a claim for relief; (2) peel away those allegations that are no more than
conclusions and thus not entitled to the assumption of truth; and (3) look for well-pied
factual allegations, assume their veracity, and then "determine whether they plausibly
give rise to an entitlement to relief." Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352, 365 (3d Cir. 2012)
(internal citations omitted). The last step is "a context-specific task that requires the
reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).
Plaintiff appears to state a claim against Boyle. In addition to Boyle, though,
Plaintiff has named Defendants Delaware Department of Correction Commissioner
Robert Coupe, VCC Warden David Pierce and VCC employees Larrusso, Summers,
and Hersey. Other than to describe these individuals, the Complaint contains no
allegations directed towards them.
It appears that Coupe and Pierce are named as defendants 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 superintendent responsibilities. 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.
In the present case, Plaintiff does not associate any of his allegations with
Coupe, Pierce, Larrusso, Summers or Hersey. The Complaint contains no allegations
against these defendants, Plaintiff provides no facts to support a claim against them,
and it is clear that the claims are facially insufficient. As a result, the claims lack an
arguable basis in law or in fact. Therefore, Defendants Coupe, Pierce, Larrusso,
Summers, and Hersey, and the claims raised against them, will be dismissed as
frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(8) and § 1915A(b)(1 ). Plaintiff will be
allowed to proceed with the excessive force claim against Boyle.
An appropriate order will be entered.
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