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Branch v. MacHen

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

November 25, 2014



HANNAH LAUCK, District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Clarence Branch's Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis. (ECF No. 1). Upon due consideration of Branch's affidavit in support of his request and 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1), [1] the Motion is hereby GRANTED. Branch may proceed in this case without payment of the Court's filing fee. The Clerk is DIRECTED to file the Complaint.

A. Preliminary Review

This matter is also before the Court for evaluation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) ("Section 1915(e)(2)").[2] Section 1915(e)(2) "is designed largely to discourage the filing of, and waste of judicial and private resources upon, baseless lawsuits that paying litigants generally do not initiate because of the costs of bringing suit....'" McLean v. United States, 566 F.3d 391, 399 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989). The Court must sua sponte dismiss a claim filed in forma pauperis under Section 1915(e)(2) if the action is frivolous or malicious or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Michau v. Charleston Cnty, S.C., 434 F.3d 725, 728 (4th Cir. 2005); Section 1915(e)(2). Although the word "prisoner" is occasionally used in 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the court must screen any complaint filed by a plaintiff, whether a prisoner or not, when he or she files in forma pauperis. See id. (affirming the district court's dismissal of non-prisoner's complaint, filed in forma pauperis, pursuant to Section 1915(e)(2) because the section "governs [in forma pauperis] filings in addition to complaints filed by prisoners").

For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds this action fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The Court will dismiss the complaint without prejudice.

B. Standard of Review

Whether a complaint states a claim upon which relief can be granted under Section 1915(e)(2) is determined by the familiar standard for a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). De'Lonta v. Angelone, 330 F.3d 630, 633 (4th Cir. 2003); Sumner v. Tucker, 9 F.Supp.2d 641, 642 (E.D. Va. 1998). "A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint; importantly, it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing 5A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1356 (1990)). In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations are taken as true and the complaint is viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993); see also Martin, 980 F.2d at 952. This principle applies only to factual allegations, however, and "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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "require[] only a short and plain statement of the claim 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.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (omission in original) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Plaintiffs cannot satisfy this standard with complaints containing only "labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Id. (citations omitted). Instead, a plaintiff must assert facts sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, " id. (citation omitted), stating a claim that is "plausible on its face, " id. at 570, rather than merely "conceivable." Id. "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 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 556). Therefore, in order for a claim or complaint to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, the plaintiff must "allege facts sufficient to state all the elements of [his or] her claim." Bass v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 324 F.3d 761, 765 (4th Cir. 2003) (citing Dickson v. Microsoft Corp., 309 F.3d 193, 213 (4th Cir. 2002); Iodice v. United States, 289 F.3d 270, 281 (4th Cir. 2002)).

District courts have a duty to construe pro se pleadings liberally. Bracey v. Buchanan, 55 F.Supp.2d 416, 421 (E.D. Va. 1999). However, a pro se plaintiff must nevertheless allege a cause of action. Id. (citing Sado v. Leland Mem'l Hosp., 933 F.Supp. 490, 493 (D. Md. 1996). The Court cannot act as a pro se litigant's "advocate and develop, sua sponte, statutory and constitutional claims" that the litigant failed to raise on the face of the complaint. Newkirk v. Circuit Court of the City of Hampton, No. 3:14cv372-HEH, 2014 WL 4072212, at *1 (E.D. Va. Aug. 14, 2014). To state a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, [3] a plaintiff must allege facts indicating he or she was deprived of rights guaranteed by the Constitution or laws of the United States and that this deprivation resulted from conduct committed by a person acting under color of state law. See id. at *3 (citing Dowe v. Total Action Against Poverty in Roanoke Valley, 145 F.3d 653, 658 (4th Cir. 1998)).

C. Factual Allegations

Branch filed a form entitled "Complaint Under Civil Rights Act 42 U.S.C. § 1983." (ECF No. 1.) He names as defendants Ronald Machen, the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, and Irvin B. Nathan, the Attorney General for the District of Columbia.[4] ( Id. at 1-2.) Branch's request for relief asks the Court to "[a]ward monetary damages in the amount of $ undisclosed" and to "[g]rant injunctive relief by Inpersonam [sic]." ( Id. at 5.) The entire body of the complaint is the following: "Nolle prosequi, citation # PDID 663926... Bail Reform Act - Misd.... (Not alleged)." ( Id. at 4.)

D. Analysis

Branch's complaint contains deficiencies well beyond any plausibility analysis this Court must undertake. Branch alleges no specific "misconduct" at all, much less any facts allowing the Court to draw a "reasonable inference" that the Defendants would be liable for any misconduct. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Branch fails to even mention the Defendants in the body of the Complaint. See Newkirk, 2014 WL 4072212, *2 (dismissing pro se complaint for failure to state a claim when named defendants were not referenced in the body of the complaint) (citing Potter v. Clark, 497 F.2d 1206, 1207 (7th Cir. 1974) ("Where a complaint alleges no specific act or conduct on the part of the defendant and the complaint is silent as to the defendant except for his name appearing in the caption, the complaint is ...

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