Allen v. V.I. Hous. Auth.

Docket Number3:22-cv-0048
Decision Date28 August 2023
CourtU.S. District Court — Virgin Islands

Jacquelyn A. Allen, Pro se ST. THOMAS, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS Plaintiff



This case is before the Court upon the motion of pro se Plaintiff, Jacquelyn A. Allen, to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP) (see ECF No. 2) and for initial screening of Plaintiff's pleading pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 1915(e)(2).[1]


Plaintiff is a citizen of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. It appears that, at the time of filing her Complaint (Compl.) (ECF No 1) on August 2, 2022, Plaintiff was a resident at the Lucinda Millin public housing community, owned and operated by the Virgin Islands Housing Authority (VIHA).[2]Plaintiff asserts claims against VIHA for violation of her “civil, [sic] and constitutional rights as well as ADA and fair housing laws.” Id. at 5.

Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that she moved into Apartment 63, Lucinda Millin, on June 22, 2022. Compl. at 3. She further alleges that the apartment is located next to a busy street and that, as a result, she is subject to loud road noise. Id. Plaintiff next alleges that on July 14, 2022, she submitted a “request for reasonable accommodation” to VIHA for a asking that she be moved to another apartment, away from the street, because the road noise is causing her anxiety. Id. at 4; ECF No. 1-1 (the document is dated July 12, 2022). According to Plaintiff, VIHA orally refused her request, indicating that she needed to submit confirmation from a doctor that she suffers from anxiety. Compl. at 4.[3]Plaintiff attaches a copy of correspondence addressed to VIHA, dated July 26, 2022, indicating that she attempted to obtain the documentation, but she could not afford the doctor's fees. See ECF No. 1-3. Plaintiff also alleges harassment by VIHA security guards and other Lucinda Millin residents. Id. at 5. Plaintiff asks the Court to “order Defendant to move [her] to an apartment with a bedroom away from the street.” Id. at 6. No damages are sought. See id.


The authority to allow litigants to proceed without the prepayment of fees is found in 28 U.S.C. Section 1915. Section 1915(a)(1) provides, in pertinent part:

[A]ny court of the United States may authorize the commencement . . . of any suit, action or proceeding, . . . without prepayment of fees or security therefor, by a person who submits an affidavit that includes a statement of all assets such prisoner [person] possesses that the person is unable to pay such fees or give security therefor....

28 U.S.C.S § 1915(a)(1) (alteration in original). See also Rodriguez v. Wawa Inc., 1:18-cv-13586-NLH-JS, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 49365, *2 (D.N.J. Mar. 23, 2020) ([A]lthough § 1915 refers to "prisoners," federal courts apply § 1915 to non-prisoner IFP applications ....” (citing Hickson v. Mauro, Civil Action No. 11-6304, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 137260, at *1 (D.N.J. Nov. 30, 2011) (citing Lister v. Dep't of Treasury, 408 F.3d 1309, 1312 (10th Cir. 2005) ("Section 1915(a) applies to all persons applying for IFP status, and not just to prisoners.")) (other citations omitted))).

Where a plaintiff has applied for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, a court must screen the complaint for cognizable claims and sua sponte dismiss all or any part of an action that is “frivolous,” “malicious,” “fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted,” or “seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Furthermore, "[i]f the court determines at any time that it lacks subjectmatter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3).

A complaint is frivolous when it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989), quoted in Emrit v. Barkley, No. 23-1275, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 11188, at *2 (3d Cir. May 8, 2023). A claim lacks an arguable basis in law when it is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory." Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327.

When considering whether an action is malicious, the Court:

must, in accordance with the definition of the term 'malicious,' engage in a subjective inquiry into the litigant's motivations at the time of the filing of the lawsuit to determine whether the action is an attempt to vex, injure or harass the defendant." Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1086 (3d Cir. 1995). In that regard, "a district court may dismiss a complaint as malicious if it is plainly abusive of the judicial process or merely repeats pending or previously litigated claims." Brodzki v. CBS Sports, Civ. A. No. 11-841, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4929, 2012 WL 125281, at *1 (D. Del. Jan. 13, 2012).

Bush v. Phila. RedevelopmentAuth., Civil Action No. 20-CV-5631, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4348, at *4-5 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 8, 2021); see also Donahue v. Dauphin Cty., 852 Fed.Appx. 630, 632 (3d Cir. 2021) ([T]his Court and our sister circuits have held that [r]epetitious litigation of virtually identical causes of action may be dismissed under § 1915 as frivolous or malicious.'" (quoting McWilliams v. Colorado, 121 F.3d 573, 574 (10th Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted))); Cunningham v. JP Morgan Chase Bank N.A., 815 Fed.Appx. 686, 687 (3d Cir. 2020) ("'A court that considers whether an action is malicious must . . . engage in a subjective inquiry into the litigant's motivations at the time of the filing of the lawsuit to determine whether the action is an attempt to vex, injure or harass the defendant.'" (quoting Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1086 (3d Cir. 1995)).

Whether a complaint fails to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) is governed by the same standard as Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See, e.g., Green v. LG Elecs. USA, No. 23-1062, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 14393, at *4 n.1 (3d Cir. June 9, 2023) (“The standard for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) and § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) though is the same.” (citing Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999) (applying Rule 12(b)(6) standard in appeal of dismissal under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii))). Accordingly, a court must determine whether the complaint includes "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Finally, the remaining ground for dismissal under § 1915, immunity of the defendants, relates to the protection the law affords certain governmental entities and officials against particular types of lawsuits. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(iii).

Pleadings drafted by a pro se litigant, “however inartfully pleaded,” are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). See, e.g., Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). Accordingly, such pro se pleadings are to be “liberally construed.” Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106. The principles requiring generous construction of pro se complaints are not without limits, however. Courts are not required "to conjure up questions never squarely presented to them." Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985). Moreover, “a pro se plaintiff ‘must still plead the essential elements of his claim and is not excused from conforming to the standard rules of civil procedure.'" Nayak v. Voith Turbo, Inc., No. 1:14-cv-01053, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46469, at *10-12 (M.D. Pa. Apr. 9, 2015) (quoting Smith v. Social Security Administration, 54 F.Supp.2d 451, 454 (E.D. Pa.1999) (citation omitted) (also citing McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993) ("[W]e have never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel."))); Sykes v. Blockbuster Video, 205 Fed.Appx. 961, 963 (3d Cir. 2006) (opining that pro se litigants, filing in federal court, are expected to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure). In addition, the "Court need not . . . credit a pro se plaintiff's ‘bald assertions' or ‘legal conclusions.'" Purpura v. JPMorgan Chase, Civil Action No. 16-3765, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43946, at *8 (D.N.J. Mar. 24, 2017) (quoting D'Agostino v. CECOM RDEC, Civ. Action No. 10-4558(FLW), 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95666, at *1 (D.N.J. Sept. 13, 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted).


A. Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis

The federal in forma pauperis ("IFP") statute 28 U.S.C. § 1915, "is designed to ensure that indigent litigants have meaningful access to the federal courts." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989). Even though Section 1915 refers to ‘prisoners,' federal courts apply Section 1915 to non-prisoner IFP applications.” Cuello v. District of New Jersery, Civil Action No. 06-2117 (MCA), at *1 (D.N.J. May 2, 2016) (citations omitted). As the Cuello court notes, [t]he decision to grant or deny an IFP application is based solely on the economic eligibility of the litigant.” Id. See also Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1085 n. 5 (3d Cir. 1995) (“In this Circuit, leave to proceed in forma pauperis is based on a showing of indigence.” (citing Roman v. Jeffes, 904 F.2d 192, 194 n.1 (3d Cir. 1990))). A party need not be destitute to warrant such status. Adkins v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 335 U.S. 331, 339 (1948). An affidavit demonstrating that the petitioner cannot, because of her poverty, provide herself and any dependents with the necessities of life is sufficient. Id.; Deutsch, 67 F.3d at 1085 n. 5 (We review the affiant's financial statement, and, if convinced...

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