On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. (D.C. Civil No. 93-cv-04258).
Before: Sloviter, Chief Judge Cowen and Lewis, Circuit Judges.
Appellant Keith Jones, who is currently incarcerated at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, filed this complaint in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking a declaratory judgment and damages for violation of his constitutional rights. Jones named as defendants six employees of the New Jersey Department of Corrections. The gravamen of Jones's claim is that his right to due process was denied in connection with a prison disciplinary charge for which he was originally adJudged guilty and served time in detention before it was reversed.
Facts and Procedural History
The disciplinary charge was based on the following facts: On August 20, 1991, Senior Corrections Officer Marren of the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton found a letter that stated that "Twin, Malik and myself is [sic] waiting on those things (fiber Joints (shank) . . ." App. at 40. Prison officials determined that "Twin" referred to appellant Jones. Based on this letter, Jones was charged with attempting to possess a weapon. On August 21, 1991, Jones was removed from the mainstream prison population and placed in what the district court referred to as the "hole" pending a hearing.
On August 28, 1991, defendant Gary Sheppard, a hearing officer, conducted an administrative hearing in which this letter and a confidential report constituted the evidence against Jones, and at which Jones was found guilty of attempting to possess weapons. As a result of the administrative ruling, Jones was placed in detention for fifteen days, and it was recommended that he lose 180 days commutation credits and that he be subjected to 180 days of administrative segregation. Jones appealed this decision through administrative channels. On September 9, 1991, defendant Vernon Johnson, the Assistant Superintendent, upheld the decision of Hearing Officer Sheppard. Jones sought reconsideration of this decision, which was denied by Superintendent Howard Beyer on September 16, 1991.
Jones then appealed to the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division. In an opinion dated July 14, 1993, that court reversed the decision of the prison officials and vacated the sanctions imposed on Jones, finding that the decision was not based on substantial evidence. The Appellate Division court found the confidential report to lack probative value and characterized the evidence against Jones "as superficial at best." Jones v. Department of Corrections, No. A-3121-91T5 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. July 14, 1993) (per curiam) at 2, reprinted in App. at 41.
Jones then filed this action in federal court. Defendants moved for summary judgment on two grounds. First they argued that Jones's complaint was barred by the statute of limitations, using as the filing date the official filing which followed the court's evaluation of Jones's in forma pauperis application, rather than the date on which the complaint was received. Second, the defendants interposed a res judicata defense.
The district court rejected defendants' argument that the suit was time barred, finding that the relevant date for statute of limitations purposes was the date of receipt of Jones's complaint. However, the district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment, agreeing that Jones's action was barred by application of the doctrine of res judicata and New Jersey's entire controversy doctrine. The court reasoned that the judgment in the New Jersey state case was final, had been adjudicated on the merits, and involved the same parties and the same occurrence or transaction. As a result, Jones was barred from raising any claims which he could have raised in the first action. The court determined that Jones could have raised the section 1983 claim asserted here in the New Jersey state court proceeding, and thus found this action to be barred.
Jones filed a timely pro se appeal to ...