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Kenyada O. Gaston v. Karen Balicki

May 12, 2011

KENYADA O. GASTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KAREN BALICKI, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge:

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Plaintiff Kenyada O. Gaston, a prisoner confined at Northern State Prison in Newark, New Jersey, seeks to bring this action in forma pauperis pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his constitutional rights.*fn1 His claims arise out of his slip-and-fall accident at South Woods State Prison on February 17, 2010, and his subsequent medical condition.

At this time, the Court must review the Complaint to determine whether it should be dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or because it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

I. BACKGROUND

The following factual allegations are taken from Plaintiff's Complaint and are accepted as true for purposes of this review.

Plaintiff alleges that at approximately 4:30 a.m. on February 17, 2010, while he was confined at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton, New Jersey, and during a snowstorm, he was standing in a controlled area outside his workplace in one of three separate facilities that make up South Woods State Prison, waiting for the next controlled movement. He alleges that he slipped on the snow and ice and hit his head on the ground. Plaintiff alleges that, at that time of day, there were no medical personnel at the facility where he was located, so he lay on the ground for approximately 20 minutes until a nurse from U.M.D.N.J.*fn2 arrived, apparently from another facility within the prison. With respect to these events, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Administrator Karen Balicki, Defendant Shift Chief Floyd, and Defendant Shift Sergeant Gibson were "negligent" for failing to clear the snow and ice; he also alleges that Defendant Administrator Karen Balicki was "negligent" for failing to have medical staff in place in the facility he was waiting to enter.

Plaintiff alleges that when the U.M.D.N.J. nurse arrived, she did not have with her the means to remove him from the area, so he had to wait another 20 minutes for a stretcher. He alleges that the U.M.D.N.J. nurse asked him a few questions, then he was removed to a medical unit, where he waited approximately four hours to be seen by a doctor. He alleges that the doctor looked at the bump on his head, but did not examine anything else before prescribing one day of bed rest.

Plaintiff alleges that on February 18, 2010, the next day, he had a headache that hurt the whole left side of his head and his left eye, and which caused his vision to be blurred. He put in a sick call slip, at which time the medical staff prescribed Excedrin for a migraine headache and scheduled him to see an optometrist. He alleges that he was prescribed five days bed rest, during which his blood pressure was taken regularly. Plaintiff alleges that his headaches persisted, accompanied by nausea and tingling in his fingers and toes. He alleges that his appointments to see the optometrist were cancelled, and that he saw a doctor for chronic pain on March 10, 2010, almost three weeks after his fall. Plaintiff alleges that the doctor, on that date, scheduled him for 30 days bed rest, prescribed Tylenol 3 for pain three times a day, and scheduled him for x-rays and therapy. Plaintiff alleges that U.M.D.N.J. was "negligent" for failing to address his actual problems and, instead, choosing to "suppress" them with pills. Plaintiff alleges that he has now been diagnosed with "nerve damage" as well as "post-traumatic stress."

The Complaint is dated August 3, 2010, but, apart from the allegation about his diagnosis, he makes no factual averments related to the period after March 10, 2010. He names as Defendants Administrator Karen Balicki, Shift Chief Floyd, Shift Sergeant Gibson, and U.M.D.N.J. He seeks monetary damages.

II. STANDARDS FOR A SUA SPONTE DISMISSAL

This Court must dismiss, at the earliest practicable time, certain in forma pauperis and prisoner actions that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 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); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (prisoner actions brought with respect to prison conditions).

In determining the sufficiency of a pro se complaint, the Court must be mindful to construe it liberally in favor of the plaintiff. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007; Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); United States v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir. 1992). The Court must "accept as true all of the allegations in the complaint and all 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).

A complaint is frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989) (interpreting the predecessor of § 1915(e)(2), the former § 1915(d)). The standard for evaluating whether a complaint is "frivolous" is an objective one. Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1086-87 (3d Cir. 1995).

In addition, any complaint must comply with the pleading requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Rule 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." A complaint must plead facts sufficient at least to "suggest" a basis for liability. Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 236 n.12 (3d Cir. 2004). "Specific facts are not necessary; the statement need only 'give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (citations omitted). While a complaint ... 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, see Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986) (on a motion to dismiss, courts "are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation"). Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level ... .

Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations omitted).

The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has held, in the context of a § 1983 civil rights action, that the Twombly pleading standard applies outside the § 1 antitrust context in which it was decided. See Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) ("we decline at this point to read Twombly so narrowly as to limit its holding on plausibility to the antitrust context").

Context matters in notice pleading. Fair notice under Rule 8(a)(2) depends on the type of case -- some complaints will require at least some factual allegations to make out a "showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Indeed, taking Twombly and the Court's contemporaneous opinion in Erickson v. Pardus, 127 S.Ct. 2197 (2007), together, we understand the Court to instruct that a situation may arise where, at some point, the factual detail in a complaint is so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8. Put another way, in light of Twombly, Rule 8(a)(2) requires a "showing" rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief. We caution that without some factual allegation in the complaint, a claimant cannot satisfy the requirement that he or she provide not only "fair notice," but also the "grounds" on which the claim rests.

Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232 (citations omitted).

More recently, the Supreme Court has emphasized that, when assessing the sufficiency of any civil complaint, a court must distinguish factual contentions -- which allege behavior on the part of the defendant that, if true, would satisfy one or more elements of the claim asserted -- and "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Although the Court must assume the veracity of the facts asserted in the complaint, it is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Id. at 1950. Thus, "a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id.

Therefore, after Iqbal, when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, district courts should conduct a two-part analysis. 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. 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 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 to relief.'" This "plausibility" determination will be "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense."

Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). It remains true, however, that the Court must be lenient when reviewing a pleading drafted by a prisoner without benefit of counsel, since all pleadings must be construed as necessary to do substantial justice. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. at 93-94.

Where a complaint can be remedied by an amendment, a district court may not dismiss the complaint with prejudice, but must permit the amendment. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 34 (1992); Grayson v. Mayview State Hospital, 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002) (dismissal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000) (dismissal pursuant to 42 ...


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