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Larry O. Johnson v. Nsp L.T. Dennis Demico

June 1, 2011

LARRY O. JOHNSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NSP L.T. DENNIS DEMICO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Faith S. Hochberg, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

IT APPEARING THAT:

1. Plaintiff, an inmate confined at the Northern State Prison, 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 Based on his affidavit of indigence and the absence of three qualifying dismissals, within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g), the Court will grant Plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a), and will order the Clerk of the Court to file the Complaint.

2. 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.

3. Plaintiff asserts three claims. First, he asserts that Defendant Demico did not respond to Plaintiff's administrative grievances. See Docket Entry No. 1, at 3 and 5. Second, Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Oliveira did not put Plaintiff's name on the "phone list" when Plaintiff wished to call his family. See id. at 4 and 5. Finally, Plaintiff asserts that either Defendant Demico or Defendant Oliveira exposed Plaintiff to second-hand smoking. See id. at 5.

4. In determining the sufficiency of a complaint, the Court must be mindful to construe the facts stated in the complaint liberally in favor of the plaintiff. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89 (2007); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972); United States v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir. 1992). Indeed, 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). However, while a court will accept well-pled allegations as true, it will not accept bald assertions, unsupported conclusions, unwarranted inferences, or sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations. See id. Addressing the clarifications as to the litigant's pleading requirement stated in 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 courts in this Circuit with detailed and careful guidance as to what kind of allegations qualify as pleadings sufficient to pass muster under the Rule 8 standard. 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' [by stating] more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action . . . ." Twombly, 127 S. Ct. at 1964-65 . . . Rule 8 "requires a 'showing,' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief." Id. at 1965 n.3. . . . "[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. . . . [Indeed, it is not] sufficient to allege mere elements of a cause of action; instead "a complaint must allege facts suggestive of the proscribed conduct." Id.

Id. at 230-34 (original brackets removed). This pleading standard was further refined by the United States Supreme Court in 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. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders "naked assertion[s]" devoid of "further factual enhancement." Id. at 557. . . . A claim has facial plausibility [only] when the plaintiff pleads factual content . . . . Id. at 556. [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, rather than their extravagantly fanciful nature, that disentitles them to the presumption of truth. . . . [Finally,] the question [of sufficiency of] pleadings does not turn . . . 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 to develop facts through discovery].

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

5. A plaintiff may have a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for certain violations of his constitutional rights. Section 1983 provides in relevant part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .

Thus, to state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege, first, the violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and, second, that the alleged deprivation was committed or caused by a person acting under color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Piecknick v. Pennsylvania, 36 F.3d 1250, 1255-56 (3d Cir. 1994).

6. Plaintiff's claims asserting that his civil rights were violated because his grievances were left unanswered are facially subject to dismissal. "[T]he First Amendment does not impose any affirmative obligation on the government to listen, to respond or . . . to recognize [a grievance]." Smith v. Ark. State Highway Employees, Local 1315, 441 U.S. 463, 465 (1979); see also Minnesota State Bd. for Community Colleges v. Knight, 465 U.S. 271, 285 (1984) ("[This] Court rejected due process as a source of an obligation to listen. Nothing in the First Amendment or in this Court's case law interpreting it suggests that the rights to speak, associate, and petition require government policymakers to listen or respond to individuals' communications"); San Filippo v. Bongiovanni, 30 F. 3d 424, 437 (3d Cir. 1994) ("the petition clause does not require the government to respond to every communication that the communicator may denominate a petition"). Moreover, to the extent Plaintiff might seek to assert a constitutional claim based on the government's failure to provide an administrative appeal or to comply with prison regulations requiring an administrative appeal process, this claim also fails. "Prisoners do not have a constitutional right to prison grievance procedures. Thus, defendants' alleged obstruction of such procedures is not independently actionable." Heleva v. Kramer, 214 Fed. App'x 244, 247 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Massey v. Helman, 259 F. 3d 641, 647 (7th Cir. 2001)); see also Pressley v. Johnson, 268 Fed. App'x 181, 184 (3d Cir. 2008) ("[plaintiff] also complained about the investigation and processing of his inmate grievances. Because there is no due process right to a prison grievance procedure, [plaintiff's] allegations did not give rise to a Fourteenth Amendment violation"); Stringer v. Bureau of Prisons, 145 Fed. App'x 751, 753 (3d Cir. 2005). Accordingly, inmate grievance procedures which may set forth or specify an administrative appeal do not give rise to a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause. See Antonelli v. Sheahan, 81 F.3d 1422, 1430 (7th Cir. 1996); Buckley v. Barlow, 997 F.2d 494, 495 (8th Cir. 1993) (per curiam); Mann v. Adams, 855 F.2d 639 (9th Cir.) (per curiam), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 898 (1988). Therefore, Demico's failure to respond to Plaintiff's administrative grievances is not actionable under ยง 1983. See Graw v. Fantasky, 68 Fed. App'x 378 (3d Cir. 2003) (observing that "an allegation of a failure to investigate, without another recognizable constitutional right, is not sufficient to sustain a section ...


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