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McKinney v. Sevino

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 27, 2017

IVAN G. MCKINNEY, Plaintiff,
OFFICER SEVINO, et al., Defendants.


          KEVIN MCNULTY United States District Judge


         The plaintiff, Ivan G. McKinney, is currently incarcerated at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, New Jersey. He is proceeding pro se with what this Court has interpreted as a civil rights complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Presently pending before this Court is the motion of defendant Officer Savino[1] to dismiss the complaint or for a more definite statement. For the following reasons, the motion will be denied.


         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A, I screened the complaint in June, 2016, to determine whether Mr. McKinney had stated a claim upon which relief may be granted. In doing so, I applied the same standard that would be applied in ruling on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Schreane v. Seana, 506 F.App'x 120, 122 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000)); Courteau v. United States, 287 F.App'x 159, 162 (3d Cir. 2008). I further noted that pro se pleadings are liberally construed. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972). With respect to Mr. McKinney's allegations against Officer Savino, I noted the following:

Mr. McKinney alleges that Officer S [a]vino and Officer John Doe used excessive force against him on July 25, 2013. This apparently occurred in connection with a court appearance for sentencing. Officer S [a]vino and John Doe, he says, slammed his head into an elevator without justification. Depending on the context, these allegations might support a claim. The Court will permit Mr. McKinney's excessive force claims against these two defendants to proceed past screening so that they can be developed factually.

(Dkt. No. 11 at p. 18-19)


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. See Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In deciding a motion to dismiss, a court must take all allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Worth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975); Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage Resorts Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998); see also Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) ("reasonable inferences" principle not undermined by later Supreme Court Twombly case, infra).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) does not require that a complaint contain detailed factual allegations. Nevertheless, "a plaintiffs obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his "entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." BellAtl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Thus, the factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiffs right to relief above a speculative level, such that it is "plausible on its face." See Id. at 570; see also Umland v. PLANCO Fin. Serv., Inc., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008). 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) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). While "[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement' ... it asks for more than a sheer possibility." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (2009).

         As I noted previously, Mr. McKinney is proceeding pro se. In such a case, the complaint is "to be liberally construed, " and, "however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007). Nevertheless, it must meet some minimal standard. "While a litigant's pro se status requires a court to construe the allegations in the complaint liberally, a litigant is not absolved from complying with Twombly and the federal pleading requirements merely because s/he proceeds pro se." Thakar v. Tan, 372 F.App'x 325, 328 (3d Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).


         It is not altogether clear from the face of Mr. McKinney's complaint whether he was a state prisoner at the time of the incident outlined above, or whether he was still a pretrial detainee. Accordingly, I will analyze Mr. McKinney's claims under the standards applicable to both. Claims of excessive force against a defendant by a plaintiff who is a pretrial detainee are analyzed under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, rather than the Eighth Amendment, because pretrial detainees are not properly subject to punishment, whether cruel and unusual or otherwise. See Dean v. Gloucester Cnty., No. 13-5197, 2016 WL 818708, at *5 (D.N.J. Mar. 2, 2016) (citing Tapp v. Proto, 404 F.App'x 563, 566 (3d Cir. 2010)) (remaining citations omitted). Courts apply an objective standard when considering a pretrial detainee's claim of excessive force. See Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466, 2472-73 (2015). Thus, "a pretrial detainee must show only that the force purposely or knowingly used against him was objectively unreasonable." Id. at 2473. That objective test "turns on the 'facts and circumstances of each particular case.'" Id. (quoting Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989)). "A court must make this determination from the prospective of a reasonable officers on the scene, including what the officer knew at the time, not with the 20/20 vision of hindsight." Id. Additionally, in Kingsley, the Supreme Court explained:

A court must also account for the "legitimate interests that stem from [the government's] need to manage the facility in which the individual is detained, " appropriately deferring to "policies and practices that in th[e] judgment" of jail officials "are needed to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security." Bell v. Wolfish, ...

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