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Bryant v. Vessell

November 30, 2009

PONTELL BRYANT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SGT. W. VESSELL, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Susan D. Wigenton United States District Judge

ORDER

Plaintiff submitted a civil complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and an application to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, and it appearing that:

1. Plaintiff's original complaint and his application to proceed in forma pauperis arrived on October 19, 2009. See Docket Entry No. 1.

2. Plaintiff's application for appointment of pro bono counsel arrived on October 10, 2009. See Docket Entry No. 2.

3. Plaintiff's request to submit an amended complaint arrived on the same day. See Docket Entry No. 3. The request was accompanied by Plaintiff's proposed amended complaint. See id. The amended complaint named eight identified defendants and unidentified "John Does." Moreover, the amended complaint consisted of predominantly conclusory statements and made allegations obstructing understanding of what exactly was done (or not done), or what exactly was said (or not said) by each particular defendant, identified by an actual name or as a "John Doe."

4. It is long established that a court should "accept as true all of the [factual] allegations in the complaint and reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Nonetheless, the Third Circuit has noted that courts are not required to credit bald assertions or legal conclusions improperly alleged in the complaint. See Burlington Coat Fact. Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429 (3d Cir. 1997). Therefore, legal conclusions draped in the guise of factual allegations may not benefit from the presumption of truthfulness. See Nice Sys., Ltd. Sec. Litig., 135 F. Supp. 2d 551, 565 (D.N.J. 2001). Last year, addressing the clarifications as to the litigant's pleading requirement stated by the United States Supreme Court in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit provided the district courts with guidance as to what pleadings are sufficient to pass muster under Rule 8. See Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 230-34 (3d Cir. 2008). Specifically, the Court of Appeals observed as follows:

"While a complaint . . . does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation [is] to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' . . . ." Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65 . . ."[T]he threshold requirement of Rule 8(a)(2) [is] that the 'plain statement [must] possess enough heft to 'sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Id. at 1966. [Hence] "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level."

Id. at 1965 & n.3. . . .

Id. at 230-34 (original brackets removed). This pleading standard was further refined by the United States Supreme Court in its recent decision Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009):

[In any civil action, t]he pleading standard . . . demands more than an unadorned ["]the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me["] accusation. [Twombly, 550 U.S.] at 555 . . . . A pleading that offers "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." [Id.] at 555. [Moreover,] the plausibility standard . . . asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Id. [Indeed, even w]here a complaint pleads facts that are "merely consistent with" a defendant's liability, [the so-alleging complaint still] "stops short of [showing] plausibility of 'entitlement to relief.'" Id. at 557 (brackets omitted). [A fortiori,] the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions [or to t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements [,i.e., by] legal conclusion[s] couched as a factual allegation [e.g.,] the plaintiffs' assertion of an unlawful agreement [or] that [defendants] adopted a policy "'because of,' not merely 'in spite of,' its adverse effects upon an identifiable group." . . . . [W]e do not reject these bald allegations on the ground that they are unrealistic or nonsensical. . . . It is the conclusory nature of [these] allegations . . . that disentitles them to the presumption of truth. . . . [Finally,] the question [of sufficiency of] pleadings does not turn [on] the discovery process. Twombly, 550 U.S.] at 559 . . . . [The plaintiff] is not entitled to discovery [where the complaint alleges any of the elements] "generally," [i.e., as] a conclusory allegation [since] Rule 8 does not [allow] pleading the bare elements of [the] cause of action [and] affix[ing] the label "general allegation" [in hope of developing facts through discovery].

Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-54.*fn1

The Third Circuit observed that Iqbal provided the "final nail-in-the-coffin" for the "no set of facts" standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957),*fn2 which was applied to federal complaints before Twombly. See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203 (3d Cir. 2009). Since Iqbal, the Third Circuit has required the district courts to conduct, with regard to Rule 8 allegations, the two-part analysis when the district courts are presented with a motion to dismiss:

First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The District Court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. [See Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50]. Second, a District Court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief" [in light of the definition of "plausibility" provided in Iqbal.] 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. See Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234-35. As the Supreme Court instructed in Iqbal, "[w]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not 'show[n]'-'that the pleader is entitled ...


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