Phillips v. The State of New York
ORDER and REPORT-RECOMMENDATION. Plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis 2 is GRANTED; and it is RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's complaint 1 be dismissed without leave to amend. (Objections to R&R due by 1/31/2014, Case Review Deadline 2/4/2014). Signed by Magistrate Judge Therese Wiley Dancks on 1/14/2014. [copy sent by regular mail to plaintiff](lah)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
THE STATE OF NEW YORK,
Plaintiff pro se
11 Greenbush Street, Apt. 3
Cortland, NY 13045
THÉRÈSE WILEY DANCKS, United States Magistrate Judge
ORDER AND REPORT-RECOMMENDATION
The Clerk has sent this pro se Complaint together with an application to proceed in forma
pauperis to the Court for review. (Dkt. Nos. 1 and 2.) Plaintiff William Phillips has commenced
this civil rights action against the State of New York pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.1 For the
reasons that follow, I grant Plaintiff’s application to proceed in forma pauperis (Dkt. No. 2) and
recommend the sua sponte dismissal with prejudice of his Complaint. (Dkt. No. 1.)
PLAINTIFF’S APPLICATION TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS
A court may grant in forma pauperis status if a party “is unable to pay ” the standard fee
Although Plaintiff has identified the State of New York as the Defendant in the caption
of his Complaint, he has left blank paragraph 3 of the complaint form which provides space to
list the defendants in the action. (Dkt. No. 1.)
for commencing an action. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). After reviewing Plaintiff’s in forma
pauperis application, I find that Plaintiff meets this standard. Therefore, Plaintiff’s application to
proceed in forma pauperis (Dkt. No. 2) is granted.
ALLEGATIONS OF THE COMPLAINT
Plaintiff’s Complaint contains two allegations. The first is that the District Attorney
allowed a case to go to trial knowing that the victim’s statement was false. Id. at ¶ 4. The
second is that he was falsely accused and knowingly charged on a false statement of the victim
who left the state and refused to testify. Id. at ¶ 5 Plaintiff seeks damages in the amount of
$50,000,000. Id. at ¶ 6.
LEGAL STANDARD FOR INITIAL REVIEW OF COMPLAINT
Even when a plaintiff meets the financial criteria for in forma pauperis, 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e) directs that when a plaintiff proceeds in forma pauperis, “the court shall dismiss the
case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action . . . (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii)
fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a
defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(iii).
In determining whether an action is frivolous, the court must look to see whether the
complaint lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325
(1989). “An action is frivolous when either: (1) the factual contentions are clearly baseless such
as when the claims are the product of delusion or fantasy; or (2) the claim is based on an
indisputably meritless legal theory.” Livingston v. Adirondack Beverage Co., 141 F.3d 434, 437
(2d Cir. 1998) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Although extreme caution
should be exercised in ordering sua sponte dismissal of a pro se complaint before the adverse
party has been served and the parties have had an opportunity to respond, Anderson v. Coughlin,
700 F.2d 37, 41 (2d Cir. 1983), the court still has a responsibility to determine that a claim is not
frivolous before permitting a plaintiff to proceed. See, e.g., Thomas v. Scully, 943 F.2d 259, 260
(2d Cir. 1991) (per curiam) (holding that a district court has the power to dismiss a complaint sua
sponte if the complaint is frivolous).
To survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, a complaint must plead enough facts to
state a claim that is “plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, which sets forth the general rules of pleading, “does not require detailed factual
allegations, . . . it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-harmed-me accusation.” Id.
In determining whether a complaint states a claim upon which relief may be granted, “the court
must accept the material facts alleged in the complaint as true and construe all reasonable
inferences in the plaintiff’s favor.” Hernandez v. Coughlin, 18 F.3d 133, 136 (2d Cir.), cert.
denied, 513 U.S. 836 (1994) (citation omitted). “[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all
of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 678. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory
statements, do not suffice.” Id.
Where a plaintiff proceeds pro se, the pleadings must be read liberally and construed to
raise the strongest arguments they suggest. Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant, 537 F.3d 185,
191 (2d Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). A pro se complaint should not be dismissed “without
giving leave to amend at least once when a liberal reading of the complaint gives any indication
that a valid claim might be stated.” Gomez v. USAA Fed. Sav. Bank, 171 F.3d 794, 795 (2d Cir.
1999) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). An opportunity to amend is not required
where “the problem with [the plaintiff’s] causes of action is substantive” such that “better
pleading will not cure it.” Cuoco v. Moritsugu, 222 F.3d 99, 112 (2d Cir. 2000).
This is not Plaintiff’s first lawsuit against New York State arising out of the Cortland
County District Attorney’s alleged pursuit of a case against Plaintiff based upon a statement by
the victim that was known by the District Attorney to be false. In William Phillips v. New York
State, No. 5:13-CV-927 (DNH/TWD) (“Phillips No. 1"), Plaintiff sued New York State and the
Cortland County District Attorney for (1) knowingly using false statements in a court of law; (2)
mental cruelty; (3) verbal abuse; and (4) engaging in improper actions as officers of the court.
(Phillips No. 1, Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 4.)
In my Order and Report-Recommendation in Phillips No. 1, I recommended that
Plaintiff’s Complaint be dismissed against New York State, without leave to amend, on the
grounds that (1) the State had sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment to the United
States Constitution; and (2) Plaintiff failed to state a claim under § 1983 in any event. (Phillips
No. 1, Dkt. No. 3). The Report-Recommendation was accepted and adopted in all respects, and
the Plaintiff’s Complaint was dismissed without leave to amend in the October 17, 2013,
Decision and Order of the Hon. David N. Hurd, D.J. (Phillips No. 1, Dkt. No. 5.) Judgment
dismissing Plaintiff’s Complaint in Phillips No. 1 was entered by the Clerk on October 17, 2013.
(Phillips No. 1, Dkt. No. 6.)
Under the doctrine of res judicata, or claim preclusion, “a final judgment on the merits of
an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have
been raised in that action.” Monahan v. New York City Dept. of Corr., 214 F.3d 275, 284 (2d
Cir. 2000) (citing Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94 (1980)). Res judicata applies where “(1) the
previous action involved an adjudication on the merits; (2) the previous action involved the
plaintiffs or those in privity with them; (3) the claims asserted in the subsequent action were, or
could have been, raised in the prior action.” Id. at 285.
The doctrine of res judicata applies to pro se litigants whose complaints are dismissed
without leave to amend under 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii)).2 See Berrios v. N.Y.C. Hous. Auth.,
564 F.3d 130, 134 (2d Cir. 2009) (“[D]ismissal for failure to state a claim [under
§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii)] is a final judgment on the merits and thus has res judicata effects.”);
Cieszkowska v. Gray Line N.Y., 295 F.3d 204, 205-06 (2d Cir. 2002) (per curiam) (affirming
district court’s res judicata dismissal of an in forma pauperis action where dismissal of previous
action based on the same facts for failure to state a claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii)
constituted a final adjudication on the merits).
The claim asserted by Plaintiff in this action, that the District Attorney allowed a case to
go to trial knowing that the victim’s statement was false, is for all intents and purposes
indistinguishable from his claim in Phillips No. 1 that the District Attorney knowingly used false
statements in a court of law. It is, therefore, precluded under the doctrine of res judicata, and I
recommend that Plaintiff’s Complaint be dismissed without leave to amend on that ground under
The Second Circuit has regularly upheld the authority of district courts to dismiss sua
sponte a pro se complaint on res judicata grounds. See, e.g., Salahuddin v. Jones, 992 F.2d 447
(2d Cir. 1993).
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).
ACCORDINGLY, it is hereby
ORDERED that Plaintiff’s application to proceed in forma pauperis (Dkt. No. 2) is
GRANTED; and it is further
RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff’s Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) be dismissed without leave to
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the parties have fourteen days within which to file
written objections to the foregoing report. Such objections shall be filed with the Clerk of the
Court. FAILURE TO OBJECT TO THIS REPORT WITHIN FOURTEEN DAYS WILL
PRECLUDE APPELLATE REVIEW. Roldan v. Racette, 984 F.2d 85 (2d Cir. 1993) (citing
Small v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 892 F.2d 15 (2d Cir. 1989)); 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72.
Dated: January 14, 2014
Syracuse, New York
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