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Muhammad v. Smith

United States District Court, Second Circuit

October 16, 2013

JUDGE MARTIN E. SMITH, et al., Defendants.

Jamil Abdul Muhammad, Pro Se Brocton, NY, for Plaintiff.


DAVID E. PEEBLES, Magistrate Judge.

Pro se plaintiff, Jamil Abdul Muhammad, who is currently a New York State prisoner but was not at the time this action was commenced, has commenced this civil rights action, and requested that he be granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP").[1] In his complaint, plaintiff asserts claims against a sitting judge, an assistant district attorney, a county court and the American Bar Association. In addition to requesting IFP status, plaintiff has also requested that pro bono counsel be assigned to represent him in this matter.

For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed IFP is granted, and his application for assignment of counsel is denied, without prejudice. In addition, based upon the court's review of plaintiff's complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e), I recommend that it be dismissed, with leave to replead only with respect to defendant American Bar Association.[2]


Plaintiff's complaint, which is largely unintelligible, lacks crucial information concerning the circumstances surrounding his present incarceration and those giving rise to his claims. From other submissions received by the court from the plaintiff, it appears that he was sentenced by Broome County Court Judge Martin E. Smith, a named defendant, based upon a plea of guilty entered in that court. Dkt. No. 7 at 2. Plaintiff appears to allege that, as a result of those proceedings, Judge Smith is guilty of kidnapping, and liable for conspiracy to violate his civil rights in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 241.


A. Plaintiff's IFP Application

When a civil action is commenced in a federal district court, the statutory filing fee, currently set at $400, must ordinarily be paid. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1914(a). A court is authorized, however, to permit a litigant to proceed IFP if it determines that he is unable to pay the required filing fee. 28 U.S.C. §' 1915(a)(1).[3] In this instance, because I conclude that plaintiff meets the requirements for IFP status, his application for leave to proceed IFP is granted.[4]

B. Sufficiency of Plaintiff's Complaint

1. Legal Standard

Because I have found that plaintiff Muhammad meets the financial criteria for commencing this case IFP, I must next consider the sufficiency of the claims set forth in his complaint in light of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e).[5] Section 1915(e) directs that, when a plaintiff seeks to proceed IFP, "the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that... the action... (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on 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).

In deciding whether a complaint states a colorable claim, a court must extend a certain measure of deference in favor of pro se litigants, Nance v. Kelly, 912 F.2d 605, 606 (2d Cir. 1990) (per curiam), and extreme caution should be exercised in ordering sua sponte dismissal of a pro se complaint before the adverse party has been served and the parties have had an opportunity to address the sufficiency of plaintiff's allegations, Anderson v. Coughlin, 700 F.2d 37, 41 (2d Cir. 1983). However, the court also has an overarching obligation to determine that a claim is not legally frivolous before permitting a pro se plaintiff's complaint to proceed. See, e.g., Fitzgerald v. First East Seventh St. Tenants Corp., 221 F.3d 362, 363 (2d Cir. 2000) (holding that a district court may sua sponte dismiss a frivolous complaint, notwithstanding the fact that the plaintiff paid the statutory filing fee). "Legal frivolity... occurs where the claim is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory [such as] when either the claim lacks an arguable basis in law, or a dispositive defense clearly exists on the face of the complaint.'" Aguilar v. United States, Nos. 99-MC-0304, 99-MC-0408, 1999 WL 1067841, at *2 (D. Conn. Nov. 8, 1999) (quoting Livingston v. Adirondack Beverage Co., 141 F.3d 434, 437 (2d Cir. 1998)); see also Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989) ("[D]ismissal is proper only if the legal theory... or factual contentions lack an arguable basis."); Pino v. Ryan, 49 F.3d. 51, 53 (2d Cir. 1995) ("[T]he decision that a complaint is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, for the purposes of dismissal under section 1915(d), may be based upon a defense that appears on the face of the complaint.").

When reviewing a complaint under section 1915(e), the court looks to applicable requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for guidance. Specifically, Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a pleading must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The purpose of Rule 8 "is to give fair notice of the claim being asserted so as to permit the adverse party the opportunity to file a responsive answer, prepare an adequate defense and determine whether the doctrine of res ...

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