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Truman v. Armstrong

United States District Court, D. Maine

August 11, 2017

PETER P. TRUMAN, Plaintiff


          John H. Rich III, United States Magistrate Judge

         The plaintiff has filed suit against two employees in the Maine offices of United States Senator Angus King claiming that they discriminated against him because of his disability. I grant the plaintiff's request for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, but recommend that the court dismiss the action with prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         I. Application To Proceed in Forma Pauperis

         In forma pauperis status is available under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). In his application to proceed in forma pauperis - that is, without prepaying fees or costs - the plaintiff lists his total monthly income as $753.00, consisting entirely of Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income payments. ECF No. 3 ¶ 2. The plaintiff's only listed asset is a 1996 vehicle with an approximate value of $300.00, and he states that he has $175.53 in a bank account. Id. ¶¶ 4-5. The plaintiff's expenses total $619.00 per month, consisting of rent, food, and transportation costs. Id. ¶ 6. The plaintiff lists no dependents, and no outstanding financial obligations. Id. ¶¶ 7-8. These financial circumstances entitle him to proceed in forma pauperis.

         II. Section 1915(e)(2)(B) Review

         A. Applicable Legal Standard

         The federal in forma pauperis statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915, is designed to ensure meaningful access to the federal courts for those persons unable to pay the costs of bringing an action. When a party is proceeding in forma pauperis, however, “the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines[, ]” inter alia, that the action is “frivolous or malicious” or “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted” or “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         “Dismissals [under § 1915] are often made sua sponte prior to the issuance of process, so as to spare prospective defendants the inconvenience and expense of answering such complaints.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989); see also Mallard v. United States Dist. Court S.D. Iowa, 490 U.S. 296, 307-08 (1989) (“Section 1915(d), for example, authorizes courts to dismiss a ‘frivolous or malicious' action, but there is little doubt they would have power to do so even in the absence of this statutory provision.”).[1]

         When considering whether a complaint states a claim for which relief may be granted, a court must assume the truth of all well-plead facts and give the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom. Ocasio-Hernández v. Fortuño-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011). A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

         Although a pro se plaintiff's complaint is subject to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, ” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), this is “not to say that pro se plaintiffs are not required to plead basic facts sufficient to state a claim[, ]” Ferranti v. Moran, 618 F.2d 888, 890 (1st Cir. 1980). To allege a civil action in federal court, it is not enough for a plaintiff merely to allege that a defendant acted unlawfully; a plaintiff must affirmatively allege facts that identify the manner in which the defendant subjected the plaintiff to a harm for which the law affords a remedy. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). As noted, the statute that provides for waiver of the filing fee also requires the court to determine whether the plaintiff's case may proceed. In other words, the plaintiff's complaint must be dismissed if the court finds it to be frivolous or malicious, seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). In this regard, a pro se plaintiff's complaint must be read liberally. Donovan v. Maine, 276 F.3d 87, 94 (1st Cir. 2002).

         B. Factual Background

         So read, the plaintiff's complaint alleges that he reached out to both the Washington, D.C., and Maine offices of United States Senator Angus King on multiple occasions in 2013, offering his services as a volunteer, and that defendants Paula Armstrong and Edie Smith, members of Senator King's staff, discriminated against him based on his disability by failing to give him appropriate volunteer work. Complaint (ECF No. 1) ¶¶ 1, 4-10. The plaintiff had met Senator King when the plaintiff was a member of the Maine House of Representatives from Biddeford from 1975-79 and Senator King was an attorney and lobbyist. Id. ¶ 1. He had volunteered in 2012 for then-Candidate King's Senate campaign and had made monetary contributions to that campaign totaling $1, 000. Id. ¶¶ 1-3. At the outset of the plaintiff's work as a volunteer for the King campaign, he “let it be known by letter and via telephone the fact that he was afflicted with a severe major depression 20 years ago, and asked whether or not this fact would preclude him from volunteering for Mr. King in his quest for the U.S. Senate.” Id. ¶ 11. He states that “[t]he response from all quarters was an, empathetic and emphatic, No.” Id.

         The plaintiff states that, in January 2013, after he wrote to Senator King offering to volunteer for him doing constituent work in Maine, he quickly received a phone call from Senator King's Washington, D.C., staff, accepting the offer and stating that defendant Edie Smith shortly would be contacting him with an assignment. Id. ¶ 4. When the plaintiff asked to volunteer for Senator King after the senator assumed office, he “let it be known to all” that his request to volunteer, coupled with his political donation to the King campaign, “was not, in any way, a quid pro quo.” Id. ¶ 12. “The ‘Team' concurred.” Id. The staff member who phoned the plaintiff to inform him of the acceptance of his offer told him that Senator King was “very pleased” and “glad to have a Volunteer who had political . . . experience, as a public office holder, and a person who has helped a score of men and women who sought political office in Maine in their campaigns.” Id. ¶ 4.

         The plaintiff heard nothing from Smith as of spring 2013, at which point he obtained a phone number for her in Augusta, Maine, and telephoned her. Id. ¶¶ 5-6. Smith apologized for the delay, stating that organizational work was still being done and informing the plaintiff that she was well aware that Senator King had approved his request to volunteer. Id. ΒΆ 6. She told him that he would be doing constituent volunteer work out of Senator King's ...

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