United States District Court, D. New Jersey
May 3, 2005.
GLEN JACKSON, a/k/a GLENN JACKSON, Plaintiff,
LT. BUTTER, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOSEPH IRENAS, District Judge
Plaintiff Glen Jackson, a prisoner currently confined at New
Jersey State Prison in Trenton, 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.
In May of 1980, Plaintiff's parents died. Pursuant to their
wills, he inherited certain real property. In 1980, while
Plaintiff was confined at the Cumberland County Jail in
Bridgeton, New Jersey, the named defendants denied Plaintiff
access to the deeds to this property. Plaintiff has not received
any notice from anyone concerning his inheritance since he left
the jail in Bridgeton.
Plaintiff has filed another lawsuit regarding these claims, but
he does not state the result of that litigation.*fn1
Here, Plaintiff seeks access to the deeds that were withheld
and he asks that the defendants be "held accountable," which the
Court construes as a request for compensatory and/or punitive
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.
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
(1988); Piecknick v. Pennsylvania, 36 F.3d 1250
, 1255-56 (3d
It is not clear whether Plaintiff intends to assert a claim for
deprivation of property, interference with his legal mail, denial of access to the courts, or some other constitutional
claim. Any such constitutional claim, however, is untimely.
Civil rights claims are best characterized as personal injury
actions and they are governed by the applicable state's statute
of limitations for personal injury actions. See Wilson v.
Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 280 (1985). Accordingly, New Jersey's
two-year limitations period on personal injury actions, N.J.
Stat. Ann. § 2A:14-2, governs Plaintiff's claims. See
Montgomery v. DeSimone, 159 F.3d 120, 126 & n. 4 (3d Cir.
1998); Cito v. Bridgewater Township Police Dept., 892 F.2d 23,
25 (3d Cir. 1989). A court may dismiss a complaint for failure to
state a claim, based on a time-bar, where "the time alleged in
the statement of a claim shows that the cause of action has not
been brought within the statute of limitations." Bethel v.
Jendoco Construction Corp., 570 F.2d 1168, 1174 (3d Cir. 1978)
(citation omitted). Although the statute of limitations is an
affirmative defense which may be waived by the defendant, it is
appropriate to dismiss sua sponte under § 1915(e)(2) a pro
se civil rights claim whose untimeliness is apparent from the
face of the Complaint. See, e.g., Pino v. Ryan, 49 F.3d 51,
53 (2d Cir. 1995) (holding, under former § 1915(d) in forma
pauperis provisions, that sua sponte dismissal prior to
service of an untimely claim is appropriate since such a claim
"is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory"); Hall v.
Geary County Bd. of County Comm'rs, 2001 WL 694082 (10th Cir. June 12, 2001)
(unpub.) (applying Pino to current §§ 1915(e)); Rounds v.
Baker, 141 F.3d 1170 (8th Cir. 1998) (unpub.); Johnstone v.
United States, 980 F.Supp. 148 (E.D. Pa. 1997) (applying Pino
to current § 1915(e)).
Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that the events complained of
occurred in 1980. The Complaint is signed and dated August 13,
2004, more than 20 years later.
New Jersey statutes set forth certain bases for "statutory
tolling." See, e.g., N.J.S.A. § 2A:14-21 (detailing tolling
because of minority or insanity); N.J.S.A. § 2A 14-22 (detailing
tolling because of nonresidency of persons liable). New Jersey
law permits "equitable tolling" where "the complainant has been
induced or tricked by his adversary's misconduct into allowing
the filing deadline to pass," or where a plaintiff has "in some
extraordinary way" been prevented from asserting his rights, or
where a plaintiff has timely asserted his rights mistakenly by
either defective pleading or in the wrong forum. See Freeman
v. State, 347 N.J. Super. 11, 31 (citations omitted), certif.
denied, 172 N.J. 178 (2002). "However, absent a showing of
intentional inducement or trickery by a defendant, the doctrine
of equitable tolling should be applied sparingly and only in the
rare situation where it is demanded by sound legal principles as
well as the interests of justice." Id. When state tolling rules contradict federal law or policy, in
certain limited circumstances, federal courts can turn to federal
tolling doctrine. See Lake v. Arnold, 232 F.3d 360, 370 (3d
Cir. 2000). Under federal law, equitable tolling is appropriate
in three general scenarios:
(1) where a defendant actively misleads a plaintiff
with respect to her cause of action; (2) where the
plaintiff has been prevented from asserting her claim
as a result of other extraordinary circumstances; or
(3) where the plaintiff asserts her claims in a
timely manner but has done so in the wrong forum.
Id. n. 9. Plaintiff alleges no facts that would suggest a basis
for either statutory or equitable tolling. To the contrary, he
acknowledges that he has brought other litigation arising out of
these same events.
For the reasons set forth above, the Complaint must be
dismissed for failure to state a claim. An appropriate order