Golson v. Harold et al
MEMORANDUM re Complaint 1 and mtn for lv to proceed ifp 2 (Order to follow as separate docket entry)Signed by Honorable Sylvia H. Rambo on 6/8/17. (ma)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA
ZACK HAROLD, et al.
Before the Court for disposition is a civil action filed by pro se Plaintiff, Jarod
Golson, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. No. 1.) Upon review of the
allegations within the complaint, the Court will dismiss the complaint pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) with leave to amend.
Plaintiff initiated this civil action by filing a complaint (Doc. No. 1) on April 4,
2017, naming as defendants two Lackawanna County detectives, Zach Harold and
John Munly, a Lackawanna County Assistant District Attorney, Michael Ossont, and
a Lackawanna County Magisterial District Judge, Terrence Gallagher. (Doc No. 1.)
Plaintiff alleges that he was traveling with a friend to visit his god daughter, when his
friend pulled-over into a hotel parking lot to meet another friend. (Id.) Plaintiff
alleges that they were then “ambushed” by the defendant detectives along with the
Scranton Police Department. (Id.)
Plaintiff’s claim against Magistrate Terrance Gallagher is that the Magistrate
allegedly tried to convince Plaintiff’s co-defendant in a related criminal case to
retract testimony that would have purportedly exonerated Plaintiff from the criminal
case. (Id. at 2 and 3.) Plaintiff’s claim against Assistant District Attorney Michael
Ossont is that Attorney Ossont told Magistrate Gallagher to charge Plaintiff with
conspiracy even though the co-defendant stated that Plaintiff had nothing to do with
the criminal acts. (Id. at 3.) Finally, Plaintiff’s claim against the detectives is that
they incarcerated him knowing that Plaintiff did not have any drugs on him and
falsely accused Plaintiff of being on a wiretap. (Id.) Plaintiff seeks to recover
damages in an excess amount of $5,000,000.00 against Defendants. (Id.)
Standard of Review
Pursuant to the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court is
required to screen in forma pauperis complaints prior to service and “shall dismiss
the case at any time if the court determines that ... the action ... (i) is frivolous or
malicious [or] (ii) fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and (ii). An action is “frivolous where it lacks an
arguable basis in either law or fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325
(1989). Factual allegations are “clearly baseless” if they are “fanciful,” “fantastic,”
or “delusional,” Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 328, or where “the facts alleged rise to the
level of the irrational or the wholly incredible.” Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25,
33 (1992). “[A] finding of factual frivolousness is appropriate when the facts
alleged rise to the level of the irrational or the wholly incredible, whether or not
there are judicially noticeable facts available to contradict them.” Id. at 33.
28 U.S.C. § 1915's failure to state a claim standard mirrors Rule 12(b)(6) of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which authorizes the dismissal of a complaint
for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule
12(b)(6). Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a pleading
must set forth a claim for relief, which contains a short and plain statement of the
claim, showing that the pleader is entitled to relief. The complaint must provide
the defendant with fair notice of the claim. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The issue in a motion to dismiss is whether the plaintiff
should be entitled to offer evidence to support the claim, not whether the plaintiff
will ultimately prevail. See Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F. 3d 224, 232 (3d
Cir. 2008) (the Rule 8 pleading standard “simply calls for enough facts to raise a
reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary
element.”); Nami v. Fauver, 82 F. 3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996).
The onus is on the plaintiff to provide a well-drafted complaint that alleges
factual support for his claims. “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6)
motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s obligation
to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief’ requires more than labels
and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will
not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (alteration in original and internal citations
omitted). The court need not accept unsupported inferences, Cal. Pub. Employees
Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004), nor legal
conclusions cast as factual allegations, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. Legal
conclusions without factual support are not entitled to the assumption of truth. See
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-679 (2009) (“Threadbare recitals of the
elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not”
satisfy the requirements of Rule 8).
Once the court winnows the conclusory allegations from those allegations
supported by fact, which it accepts as true, the court must engage in a common
sense review of the claim to determine whether it is plausible. This is a contextspecific task, for which the court should be guided by its judicial experience. The
court must dismiss the complaint if it fails to allege enough facts “to state a claim
to relief that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677 (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. at 570). 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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677. Lastly, a pro se
complaint is held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by
lawyers” and can only be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it appears beyond
doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which
would entitle him to relief. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972).
Plaintiff’s complaint, as currently drafted, fails to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted. In addition to this shortcoming, the doctrines of judicial
and prosecutorial immunity also provide daunting road blocks for Plaintiff to
overcome in order to state a claim against Magistrate Gallagher and Assistant
District Attorney Ossont.
A plaintiff, in order to state a viable § 1983 claim, must plead two essential
elements: 1) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting
under color of state law, and 2) that said conduct deprived the plaintiff of a right,
privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.
Natale v. Camden County Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 580-81 (3d Cir. 2003).
A basic rule of pleading requires that a “district court . . . determine whether
the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a
‘plausible claim for relief.’ In other words, a complaint must do more than allege
the plaintiff’s entitlement to relief. A complaint has to ‘show’ such an entitlement
with its facts.” Foweler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009).
Plaintiff’s complaint is completely conclusory and devoid of any specifically
alleged conduct, wrongful or otherwise, of the named Defendants. Importantly, as
currently drafted, the Court cannot discern whether the causes of action asserted in
the complaint deprived Plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the
Constitution or laws of the United States. To be sure, the following are the
ostensible causes of action Plaintiff purports to bring against the Defendants: 1)
false imprisonment / false arrest / malicious prosecution; 2) civil conspiracy; 3)
intentional infliction of emotion distress; 4) abuse of process; 5) loss of reputation;
6) intentional interference with economic advantage; 7) battery; and 8) negligence.
(Doc. No. 1.) Section 1983 simply does not provide relief for these causes of
Section 1983 requires the Court to focus on whether the conduct alleged deprived
Plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of
the United States. See Natale v. Camden County Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 58081 (3d Cir. 2003). It appears Plaintiff is merely asserting state law claims. To the
extent Plaintiff is attempting to seek relief from a conviction, a writ of habeas
corpus would be the appropriate avenue, not a § 1983 action.
However, even if Plaintiff asserted cognizable claims, in order to comply
with Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the complaint must contain at
least a modicum of factual specificity, identifying the particular conduct of the
defendant that is alleged to have harmed the plaintiff, so that the Court can
determine that the complaint is not frivolous and a defendant has adequate notice
to frame an answer. Plaintiff fails to provide any factual allegations to support any
of the legal grounds for liability he attempts to bring against any of the named
Defendants. Such claims must be dismissed since Plaintiff fails to even provide
threadbare recitals of the elements of any of the recited causes of action. Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 677-679 (Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action,
supported by mere conclusory statements, do not” satisfy the requirements of Rule
8).2 Accordingly, these claims against Defendants are subject to dismissal
pursuant to Rule 8, as well as 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) as there are no factual
allegations that support the above causes of action brought against any of the
For instance, Plaintiff’s purported negligence claim fails to state which
Defendants were negligent; that is to say, which Defendants owed Plaintiff a duty,
what that duty was, how that duty was breached, and the causation and resulting
damages of that breach. Even if he had sufficiently provided this information,
Plaintiff fails to allege facts that would support a constitutional violation such as
cruel and unusual punishment or deliberate indifference.
Moreover, it is well settled that a “judicial officer in the performance of his
duties has absolute immunity from suit and will not be liable for his judicial acts.
Azubuko v. Royal, 443 F.3d 302, 303 (3d Cir. 2006) (per curiam). “A judge will
not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in error, was done
maliciously, or was in excess of his authority; rather, he will be subject to liability
only when he has acted in the ‘clear absence of all jurisdiction.’ ” Stump v.
Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-57 (1978).
Similarly, a prosecutor also enjoys a degree of immunity. A prosecutor is
entitled to absolute immunity when he is functioning as the state’s advocate in
performing the questioned actions. Yarris v. County of Delaware, 465 F.3d 129,
136 (3d Cir. 2006). That is to say, prosecutors are absolutely immune for actions
performed in a judicial or quasi-judicial role. Odd v. Malone, 538 F.3d 202, 208
(3d Cir. 2008). Prosecutorial immunity extends to “acts undertaken by a
prosecutor in preparing for the initiation of judicial proceedings or for trial, and
which occur in the course of his role as an advocate for the State.” Buckley v.
Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 273 (1993).
With these legal tenets in mind, it appears that Magistrate Gallagher and
Assistant District Attorney Ossont are immune from suit. Despite this apparent
immunity hurdle and the failure to state a cause of action upon which relief can be
granted, it is possible that these deficiencies can be remedied by amendment.
Consequently, Plaintiff will be granted such an opportunity. Plaintiff is advised
that the amended complaint must be complete in all respects. It must be a new
pleading which stands by itself without reference to the complaint already filed.
Such amended complaint should set forth his claims in short, concise and plaint
statements. It should specify which actions are alleges as to which defendants. If
Plaintiff fails to file an amended complaint adhering to the standards set forth
above, this case will be closed.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court will grant Plaintiff’s motion for leave to
proceed in forma pauperis but will dismiss the complaint and allow Plaintiff an
opportunity to submit an amended complaint. An appropriate order follows.
s/Sylvia H. Rambo
SYLVIA H. RAMBO
United States District Judge
Dated: June 8, 2017
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?