United States District Court, D. New Jersey
May 2, 2005.
DAVID BANKES, a/k/a DAVID BANKS, Plaintiff,
STEVEN FELICE, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JEROME SIMANDLE, District Judge
Plaintiff David Bankes, a/k/a David Banks, a prisoner currently
confined at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton, New Jersey,
seeks to bring this action in forma pauperis pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his constitutional rights.
Based on his affidavit of indigence and the absence of three
qualifying dismissals within 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g), the Court will
grant Plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) and order the Clerk of the Court
to file the Complaint. At this time, the Court must review the Complaint to determine
whether it should be dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for
failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or
because it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune
from such relief.
The following factual allegations are taken from Plaintiff's
Complaint and are accepted as true for purposes of this review.
On February 26, 2003, Plaintiff was arrested pursuant to a
warrant that he alleges was defective. The arresting police
officer was Defendant Steven Felice, and the court officer
signing the warrant was Defendant Jeanne DuBois, the City of
Millville Court Administrator. The Court construes this as a
allegation that Plaintiff was arrested without probable cause and
was unlawfully detained pursuant to that arrest. Plaintiff was
later convicted of some or all of the charges pursuant to a
Plaintiff also alleges that the Hon. Richard Geiger, of the
Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Cumberland County,
named as a defendant here, refused to permit him to withdraw his
guilty plea due to the defects in the arrest warrant. Plaintiff
asserts that the refusal to permit him to withdraw his guilty
plea violates Plaintiff's right to due process, under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and his right
under the Sixth Amendment to a jury determination of his guilt.
Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, expungement
of the criminal conviction, and immediate release. All Defendants
are sued in their individual and official capacities.
II. STANDARDS FOR A SUA SPONTE DISMISSAL
This Court must dismiss, at the earliest practicable time,
certain in forma pauperis and prisoner actions that are
frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim, or seek monetary
relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) (in forma pauperis actions);
28 U.S.C. § 1915A (actions in which prisoner seeks redress from a
governmental defendant); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (prisoner actions
brought with respect to prison conditions).
In determining the sufficiency of a pro se complaint, the
Court must be mindful to construe it liberally in favor of the
plaintiff. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972);
United States v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir. 1992). The Court
must "accept as true all of the allegations in the complaint and
all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view
them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Morse v.
Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). The
Court need not, however, credit a pro se plaintiff's "bald
assertions" or "legal conclusions." Id.
A pro se complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a
claim only if it appears "`beyond doubt that the plaintiff can
prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle
him to relief.'" Haines, 404 U.S. at 521 (quoting Conley v.
Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)); Milhouse v. Carlson,
652 F.2d 371, 373 (3d Cir. 1981). Where a complaint can be remedied
by an amendment, a district court may not dismiss the complaint
with prejudice, but must permit the amendment. Denton v.
Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 34 (1992); Grayson v. Mayview State
Hospital, 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002) (dismissal pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113,
116-17 (3d Cir. 2000) (dismissal pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1)); Urrutia v. Harrisburg County Police Dept.,
91 F.3d 451, 453 (3d Cir. 1996).
III. SECTION 1983 ACTIONS
A plaintiff may have a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
for certain violations of his constitutional rights. Section 1983
provides in relevant part:
Every person who, under color of any statute,
ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State
or Territory . . . subjects, or causes to be
subjected, any citizen of the United States or other
person within the jurisdiction thereof to the
deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities
secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable
to the party injured in an action at law, suit in
equity, or other proper proceeding for redress. . . . Thus, to state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must
allege, first, the violation of a right secured by the
Constitution or laws of the United States and, second, that the
alleged deprivation was committed or caused by a person acting
under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48
(1988); Piecknick v. Pennsylvania, 36 F.3d 1250, 1255-56 (3d
A. The False Arrest/False Imprisonment Claims
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides
that "The right of the people to be secure in their persons . . .
against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be
violated." A seizure triggering Fourth Amendment protection
occurs when a government actor "by means of physical force or
show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a
citizen." Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 n. 16 (1968). To
determine the reasonableness of a seizure, a court "must balance
the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's
Fourth Amendment interests against the importance of the
governmental interests alleged to justify the intrusion." United
States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, 703 (1983), quoted in
Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 8 (1985) and Graham v.
Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989). It is well established in the Third Circuit that an arrest
without probable cause is a constitutional violation actionable
under § 1983. See Walmsley v. Philadelphia, 872 F.2d 546 (3d
Cir. 1989) (citing cases); see also, Albright v. Oliver,
510 U.S. 266, 274 (1994) (a section 1983 claim for false arrest
may be based upon an individual's Fourth Amendment right to be
free from unreasonable seizures). Under New Jersey law, false
arrest has been defined as "the constraint of the person without
legal justification." Ramirez v. United States,
998 F. Supp. 425, 434 (D.N.J. 1998) (quoting Fleming v. United Postal
Service, Inc., 604 A.2d 657, 680 (N.J. Law Div. 1992)).
To state a claim for false arrest, a plaintiff must allege two
elements: (1) that there was an arrest; and (2) that the arrest
was made without probable cause. Dowling v. City of
Philadelphia, 855 F.2d 136, 141 (3d Cir. 1988). Moreover "where
the police lack probable cause to make an arrest, the arrestee
has a claim under § 1983 for false imprisonment based on a
detention pursuant to that arrest." Groman v. Manalapan,
47 F.3d 628, 636 (3d Cir. 1995); Palma v. Atlantic County,
53 F. Supp. 2d 743, 755 (D.N.J. 1999) (citing Groman). See also
Anela v. City of Wildwood, 595 F. Supp. 511, 512 (D.N.J. 1984)
(holding a person for any length of time without legal
justification may be a violation of the right to liberty under
the Fourteenth Amendment and thus states a claim of false imprisonment under §
1983).*fn1 In contrast, an arrest based upon probable cause
does not give rise to claims for false imprisonment or false
Here, Plaintiff alleges that he was arrested without probable
cause on February 26, 2003. A § 1983 claim for false arrest
accrues on the date of the plaintiff's arrest. See Montgomery
v. De Simone, 159 F.3d 120, 126 (3d Cir. 1998); Rose v.
Bartle, 871 F.2d 331, 348-51 (3d Cir. 1989). Thus, Plaintiff has
stated a claim for false arrest and false imprisonment,
sufficient to avoid dismissal at this preliminary stage of the
litigation, and it appears to be ripe. This claim may proceed
against Defendants Steven Felice and Jeanne DuBois.
B. The Claims against Judge Geiger
"On its face § 1983 admits no immunities." Tower v. Glover,
467 U.S. 914, 920 (1984). The Supreme Court has recognized,
however, a number of absolute and qualified immunities. "[Section] 1983 is to be read in harmony with general
principles of tort immunities and defenses rather than in
derogation of them. . . . [Any § 1983 immunity is] predicated
upon a considered inquiry into the immunity historically accorded
the relevant official at common law and the interests behind it."
Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 418-21 (1976). "If an
official was accorded immunity from tort actions at common law
when the Civil Rights Act was enacted in 1871, the Court next
considers whether § 1983's history or purposes nonetheless
counsel against recognizing the same immunity in § 1983 actions."
Tower v. Glover, 467 U.S. at 920 (citations omitted).
As a general rule, judges acting in their judicial capacity are
absolutely immune (in both their individual and official
capacities) from suit for monetary damages under the doctrine of
judicial immunity. See Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 9 (1991).
Judicial immunity can be overcome only for actions not taken in a
judicial capacity, id., or for actions taken in a complete
absence of all jurisdiction, 502 U.S. at 11-12. Allegations that
actions were undertaken with an improper motive diminishes
neither their character as judicial actions nor the judge's
immunity. See Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 227 (1988).
Judicial immunity also shields judges from suit for injunctive
relief. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (state judges) ("in any action
brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief
shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or
declaratory relief was unavailable") (abrogating in part Pulliam
v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522, 541-42 (1984)). See also Bolin v.
Story, 225 F.3d 1234 (11th Cir. 2000) (and cases cited therein)
(federal judges); Mullis v. United States Bankruptcy Court,
828 F.2d 1385, 1391-94 (9th Cir. 1987), cert. denied, 486 U.S. 1040
(1988) (adequate remedies are provided through the appeals
process and the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651).*fn2 Here, Plaintiff's allegations against Judge Geiger clearly
arise from actions taken in his judicial capacity. Accordingly,
all claims against Judge Geiger will be dismissed with prejudice.
C. The Request for Expungement and Release
To the extent Plaintiff seeks through an action in this Court
to have a state court criminal conviction "expunged," it is not
generally the role of the federal courts to interfere in pending
state judicial proceedings. A federal court must abstain from
addressing requests for injunctive relief against state court
proceedings so long as the constitutional issues involved may be
addressed adequately in the course of the state proceedings.
Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971) (addressing abstention
from state criminal proceedings); Middlesex Co. Ethics Committee
v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982) ("The
policies underlying Younger are fully applicable to noncriminal
judicial proceedings when important state issues are involved."). The United States Court of Appeals for the Third
Circuit has enunciated three requirements that must be met before
Younger abstention may be invoked:
(1) there are ongoing state proceedings that are
judicial in nature; (2) the state proceedings
implicate important state interests; and (3) the
state proceedings afford an adequate opportunity to
raise federal claims. Whenever all three of these
requirements are satisfied, abstention is appropriate
absent a showing of bad faith prosecution,
harassment, or a patently unconstitutional rule that
will cause irreparable injury to the plaintiff.
Port Auth. Police Benevolent Ass'n Inc. v. Port Auth. Of New
York and New Jersey Police Dept., 973 F.2d 169
, 173 (3d Cir.
1992) (citing Schall v. Joyce, 885 F.2d 101
, 106 (3d Cir.
Here, it appears that state proceedings implicating important
state interests are ongoing, and that Plaintiff has the
opportunity to raise his claim in those proceedings. New Jersey
law provides for direct appeal of criminal convictions and for
collateral attacks on criminal conviction. Plaintiff can assert
his claims in such proceedings. Plaintiff has failed to plead any
special circumstances that would take this case out of the
Younger abstention doctrine. Thus, Plaintiff must present his
challenges to his conviction, at least in the first instance, to
the state courts of New Jersey. See Roberts v. Childs,
956 F.Supp. 923, 925 (D.Kan.), aff'd, 125 F.3d 862 (10th Cir.
Simarly, to the extent Plaintiff seeks release from custody, he
can obtain relief here only through a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, following exhaustion
of his state-court remedies. Accordingly, the challenge to his
continued custody must be dismissed without prejudice.
For the reasons set forth above, only the claim for false
arrest and false imprisonment against Defendants Steven Felice
and Jeanne DuBois may proceed at this time. It does not appear
that the defects in the Complaint with respect to the other
claims could be cured by amendment. An appropriate order follows.