Carter v. Phelps
MEMORANDUM. Signed by Judge Sue L. Robinson on 3/20/17. (sar)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE
JERMAINE LAYTON CARTER,
) Civ. No. 16-1043-SLR
1. Introduction. Plaintiff Jermaine Layton Carter ("plaintiff"), an inmate at the
James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Smyrna, Delaware, proceeds prose and has
been granted in forma pauperis status. He filed this complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 claiming violations of his constitutional rights and has filed several amendments
and motions to supplement or to amend. 1 (D.I. 1, 3, 9, 10, 11)
2. Standard of Review. A federal court may properly dismiss an action sua
sponte under the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(8) 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
form a 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. Phillips
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).
v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 229 (3d Cir. 2008); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S.
89, 93 (2007). Because plaintiff proceeds prose, 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
3. 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).
4. 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. 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 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).
5. A well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere labels and
conclusions. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009); Bell At/. Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544 (2007). 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 dismissed, however, for imperfect statements of the legal
theory supporting the claim asserted. See id. at 346.
6. 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 assumption of truth; and
(3) when there are well-pleaded factual allegations, the court should assume their
veracity and then determine whether they 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. 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.
7. Discussion. Plaintiff alleges that he "suffers from an imminent danger of
serious physical injury" because he has not been placed in protective custody despite
his repeated requests. He alleges that protective custody is necessary because
inmates on his housing unit have labeled him as a serial rapist, snitch, and
homosexual. Plaintiff has complained to several prison officials, but none of them has
responded to his requests to place him on protective custody. Defendant Perry Phelps
was not among the individuals to whom plaintiff complained. Plaintiff seeks injunctive
relief to ensure his placement in protective custody, to ensure that he is not housed with
inmates of a violent background, and a policy change.
8. Eighth Amendment. To establish an Eighth Amendment violation based on
a failure to prevent harm, an inmate must show (1) that he was incarcerated under
conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm, and (2) that a prison official was
deliberately indifferent to his safety. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994).
"Deliberate indifference" is a subjective standard. See id. at 837. A prison official must
know of and disregard an excessive risk to inmate health or safety. Id. In Farmer, the
Supreme Court did not address "[a]t what point a risk of inmate assault becomes
sufficiently substantial for Eighth Amendment purposes." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834 n.3.
Here, the allegations are that plaintiff's request to transfer him to protective custody
have been ignored, despite his vulnerability to attack. See e.g., Hamilton v. Leavy, 117
F.3d 742, 747-48 (3d Cir. 1997) (issue of fact on question of official's knowledge of risk
where inmate had a history of being assaulted, had been labeled a "snitch," and was
placed in the general population despite a recommendation to the contrary); Fletcher v.
Phelps, 639 F. App'x 85 (3d Cir. 2015) (unpublished) (fact issue remained whether
sergeant took reasonable steps to protect prisoner after reporting his fear of assault).
9. Personal Involvement. Phelps is the only named defendant, although
plaintiff refers to other prison officials in his complaint. "A 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. Personal involvement can
be shown through allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and
acquiescence." Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). Plaintiff's
complaint makes no mention of Phelps other than to name him as a defendant and
does not allege facts that, if proven, would show his personal involvement.
Accordingly, the court will dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and 1915A(b)(1 ).
However, because it appears that plaintiff may be able to articulate a claim against
defendant or name alternative defendants, he will be given an opportunity to amend his
pleading. See O'Dell v. United States Gov't, 256 F. App'x 444 (3d Cir. 2007) (leave to
amend is proper where the plaintiff's claims do not appear "patently meritless and
beyond all hope of redemption").
10. Conclusion. For the above reasons, the court will: (1) dismiss the
complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(b)(ii) and § 1915A(b)(1 ); (2) deny as moot plaintiff's motions for
leave to amend and to supplement (0.1. 9, 10, 11); and (3) give plaintiff leave to amend
the complaint. A separate order shall issue.
Dated: March _s:lf)__, 2017
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