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Alston v. Chapdelaine

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 10, 2016

IRA ALSTON, Plaintiff,


CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. Senior United States District Judge


Pro se plaintiff Ira Alston, currently incarcerated at the Northern Correctional Institution ("NCI") in Somers, Connecticut, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against various employees of the State of Connecticut Department of Correction ("DOC") (collectively "Defendants").[1] Currently pending before the Court are Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend his Complaint [Doc. 10] and Plaintiff's three motions for emergency relief [Doc. 9, 11, 12], all seeking an expeditious determination by the Court as to whether his Complaint and/or proposed Amended Complaint may proceed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. The Court addresses and resolves these motions herein.


A. Plaintiff's Motion For Leave to Amend Complaint

Plaintiff has moved for leave to amend his Complaint "as of right, " pursuant to Rule 15, Fed.R.Civ.P., and has attached his proposed Amended Complaint to the motion. Under Rule 15(a)(1), "[a] party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course within: (A) 21 days after serving it, or (B) if the pleading is one to which a responsive pleading is required, 21 days after service of a responsive pleading or 21 days after service of a motion under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f), whichever is earlier."

In the case at bar, Plaintiff presented his original Complaint to the relevant prison authority for filing on March 23, 2015 and subsequently moved to file an Amended Complaint on June 15, 2015. Given the fact that three months elapsed between those two filings, Plaintiff's requested amendment falls outside of the 21-day filing period under Rule 15(a)(1)(A). Furthermore, because the Court has granted Plaintiff the right to proceed in forma pauperis, and in light of the § 1915A judicial screening requirement, the Complaint has not yet been served upon the Defendants in this action. Therefore, no "responsive pleading or motion under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f)" can be, or has been, filed by Defendants. Accordingly, no responsive pleading or motion has triggered an additional opportunity to amend as a matter of course.

Pursuant to Rule 15(a)(2), captioned "Other Amendments, " in all cases other than those when one may amend as a matter of course, "a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave." Under such circumstances, "the court should freely give leave when justice so requires." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Defendants, who have not yet been served and have thus not appeared, have not consented to the proposed amendment. Therefore, whether to allow the amendment lies within the Court's discretion.

Leave to amend is granted liberally when justice so requires, Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Such leave should be denied, however, when the amendment fails to state a claim, Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).[2] See also, e.g., Hunt v. All. N. Am. Gov't Income Trust, Inc., 159 F.3d 723, 728 (2d Cir. 1998) ("leave to replead where there is no merit in the proposed amendments or amendment would be futile"). Leave to amend must also be denied if the amendment seeks to add a defendant in violation of the limits on permissive joinder of defendants under Rule 20(a)(2), Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 20(a)(2) provides that permissive joinder of defendants is allowed only if a "right to relief is asserted against them jointly, severally or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences;” and "any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action."[3]

In addition, "[i]t is well established that a court is ordinarily obligated to afford a special solicitude to pro se litigants."[4] Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101 (2d Cir. 2010) (citing, inter alia, Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474-75 (2d Cir. 2006); McDonald v. Head Criminal Court Supervisor Officer, 850 F.2d 121, 124 (2d Cir.1988)). The Court is thus mindful of its duty to review a pro se litigant's complaint with leniency.

"Although a pro se litigant should generally be granted leave to amend his complaint 'when a liberal reading of the complaint gives any indication that a valid claim might be stated, ' Shomo v. City of N.Y., 579 F.3d 176, 183 (2d Cir.2009) . . ., leave to amend need not be granted where amendment would be 'futile, ' Ellis v. Chao, 336 F.3d 114, 127 (2d Cir.2003)." United States v. Brow, No. 10-1908-cv, 2012 WL 75361, at *2 (2d Cir. Jan. 11, 2012). Accord Pangburn v. Culbertson, 200 F.3d 65, 70-71 (2d Cir. 1999) ("futility is a valid reason for denying a motion to amend . . . where it is beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of its amended claims.").

In the case at bar, Plaintiff's initial Complaint was approximately 19 pages, attached to a court form entitled, "Pro Se Prisoner Civil Rights Complaint, " and set forth § 1983 claims against eight DOC employees. Doc. 1, at 1-24. The basis of the claims was alleged retaliation by these Defendants, including placement of Plaintiff "on administrative segregation, " due to Plaintiff's "engaging in protected activity such as filing grievances and/or complaints." Doc. 1, at 7.

In contrast, Plaintiff's proposed Amended Complaint is comprised of 34 handwritten pages, names 3 additional defendants, and contains more than 70 new paragraphs of allegations. The three additional defendants include "Jacqueline Bachan, Captain Robles, and Ann Cournoyer, " who, according to Plaintiff were "at all times relevant to this Complaint . . . employee[s] of the CT DOC" and "assigned or posted at [the] Northern Correctional Institution." Doc. 10-1, at 4 (¶ 7). The basis of Plaintiff's claims is once again § 1983, stemming from alleged retaliation against Plaintiff for complaints he made to prison authorities regarding mistreatment he allegedly received and mismanagement of inmates. Plaintiff has provided additional details and fleshed out allegations he made in his previous Complaint.

Adding the three defendants is permissible under Rule 20(a)(2), Fed. R. Civ. P., because the § 1983 claims asserted against them "aris[e] out of the same . . . series of transactions or occurrences" and involve a "question of law or fact common to all defendants." In addition, the greater detail Plaintiff has provided in his Amended Complaint comports with the interests of justice. The sole remaining question is whether amendment would be futile.

Before accepting the Amended Complaint as the operative complaint, the Court will thus address futility of the amendments as the Court performs its mandatory initial review pursuant to § 1915A. As set forth infra, if one or more claims in the Amended Complaint survive the initial review, the Amended Complaint will be deemed accepted and any claims that are "futile" will be stricken.

B. Judicial Review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

1. Standard of Review

Whenever a plaintiff requests to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court must conduct an initial screening to determine whether the Complaint sets forth any claims upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Section 1915, the very statute that authorizes a court to grant in forma pauperis status, protects against abuses of that privilege by specifying proper grounds for dismissal. Section 1915(e) thus mandates that the Court "shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . (B) the action or appeal - (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(iii). See also Id. § 1915A (b)(1)-(2) ("Grounds for dismissal"); Johnson v. U.K. Government, No. 3:07-CV-106 (JCH), 2007 WL 4522458, at *1 (D. Conn. Dec. 18, 2007) ("When a plaintiff proceeds in forma pauperis, his lawsuit is subject to dismissal 'at any time if the court determines . . . that the action is frivolous or malicious, ' 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), or if the court determines that the lawsuit 'fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.'") (citations omitted).

A complaint is deemed "frivolous" under § 1915 if it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). See also Nance v. Kelly, 912 F.2d 605, 606 (2d Cir. 1990) (an action is considered "frivolous" when either: (1) "the 'factual contentions are clearly baseless, ' such as when allegations are the product of delusion or fantasy;" or (2) ...

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