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SEASE v. PARVIN

United States District Court, D. New Jersey


May 6, 2005.

JOHN SEASE, Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER PARVIN, et al., Defendants.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: JEROME SIMANDLE, District Judge

OPINION

Plaintiff, John Sease, currently incarcerated at the South Woods State Prison, Bridgeton, New Jersey, seeks to bring this action in forma pauperis without prepayment of fees pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Based on Plaintiff's affidavit of indigence and institutional account statement, the Court will grant his 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 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A 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.

  BACKGROUND

  The following factual allegations are taken from Plaintiff's Complaint and are accepted as true for purposes of this review.

  Plaintiff seeks to sue three Bridgeton Police Officers for violating his constitutional rights. He states that on April 30, 2003, defendant Officer Parvin "forged [his] signature on the Miranda card during [his] arrest." He further alleges that in 2002, defendant Detectives Zanni and Callebrese falsely charged him with burglary and theft and that he was falsely imprisoned due to these charges. Plaintiff asks for monetary relief and a declaratory judgment that the officers violated his rights.

  DISCUSSION

  A. Section 1915 Review

  In 1996, Congress enacted the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), Title VIII of the Omnibus Consolidated Rescissions and Appropriations Act of 1996, Pub.L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (April 26, 1996). Congress's purpose in enacting the PLRA was "primarily to curtail claims brought by prisoners under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Federal Tort Claims Act . . . many of which are routinely dismissed as legally frivolous." Santana v. United States, 98 F.3d 752, 755 (3d Cir. 1996). A crucial part of the congressional plan for curtailing meritless prisoner suits is the requirement, embodied in 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), that a court must dismiss, at the earliest practicable time, any prisoner actions that are frivolous or malicious, fail to state a claim, or seek monetary relief from immune defendants. "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.'" Milhouse v. Carlson, 652 F.2d 371, 373 (3d Cir. 1981) (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)).

  In determining the sufficiency of a complaint, the Court must be mindful to construe it liberally in favor of the plaintiff. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972); United States v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir. 1992). The Court should "accept as true all of the allegations in the complaint and 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, lend credit to a pro se plaintiff's "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions." Id.

  B. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

  A plaintiff may have a federal cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged 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 establish a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the challenged conduct was committed by a person acting under color of state law and that the conduct deprived him of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. See Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535 (1981), overruled in part on other grounds by Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327 (1986); Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 152 (1970); Piecknick v. Pennsylvania, 36 F.3d 1250, 1255-56 (3d Cir. 1994).

  C. Claim Against Officer Parvin.

  Plaintiff claims that defendant Officer Parvin violated his constitutional rights by forging his name on a Miranda card.*fn1

  In a series of cases beginning with Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475 (1973), the Supreme Court has analyzed the intersection of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the federal habeas corpus statute, 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In Preiser, state prisoners who had been deprived of good-conduct-time credits by the New York State Department of Correctional Services as a result of disciplinary proceedings brought a § 1983 action seeking injunctive relief to compel restoration of the credits, which would have resulted in their immediate release. 411 U.S. at 476. The prisoners did not seek compensatory damages for the loss of their credits. 411 U.S. at 494. The Court held that "when a state prisoner is challenging the very fact or duration of his physical imprisonment, and the relief he seeks is a determination that he is entitled to immediate release or a speedier release from that imprisonment, his sole federal remedy is a writ of habeas corpus." Id. at 500.

  In Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), the Court addressed a corollary question to that presented in Preiser, whether a prisoner could challenge the constitutionality of his conviction in a suit for damages only under § 1983, a form of relief not available through a habeas corpus proceeding. Again, the Court rejected § 1983 as a vehicle to challenge the lawfulness of a criminal judgment.

 

[I]n order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254. A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983.
512 U.S. at 486-87 (footnote omitted). The Court further instructed district courts, in determining whether a complaint states a claim under § 1983, to evaluate whether a favorable outcome would necessarily imply the invalidity of a criminal judgment.

 

Thus, when a state prisoner seeks damages in a § 1983 suit, the district court must consider whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence; if it would, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated. But if the district court determines that the plaintiff's action, even if successful, will not demonstrate the invalidity of any outstanding criminal judgment against the plaintiff, the action should be allowed to proceed, in the absence of some other bar to the suit.
512 U.S. at 487 (footnotes omitted). The Court further held that "a § 1983 cause of action for damages attributable to an unconstitutional conviction or sentence does not accrue until the conviction or sentence has been invalidated." Id. at 489-90. To the extent Plaintiff seeks damages arising from the allegedly unlawful actions of this defendant, and if, as pleaded by Plaintiff, evidence was obtained unlawfully that should have been excluded at trial, a judgment in Plaintiff's favor on these claims necessarily would imply the invalidity of his conviction. Thus, based upon the facts as pleaded, these claims appear to be barred by Heck until such time as the conviction is otherwise invalidated.

  D. Claims Against Detectives Zanni and Callebrese.

  Plaintiff claims that defendants Zanni and Callebrese violated his constitutional rights by falsely arresting him in October of 2002, and subjecting him to false imprisonment.

  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 surrounding his arrest and associated false imprisonment took place in October of 2002. The Complaint is signed and dated April 10, 2005, more than two years later. Plaintiff alleges no facts that would suggest a basis for either statutory or equitable tolling.*fn2 Nevertheless, the Court will allow Plaintiff to show cause, if any, why these claims should not be dismissed as untimely. See, e.g., Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. at 269 (unless their full application would defeat the goals of the federal statute at issue, courts should not unravel states' interrelated limitations provisions regarding tolling, revival, and questions of application).*fn3 Accordingly, Plaintiff will be ordered to show cause why these claims should not be dismissed with prejudice as time-barred.

  CONCLUSION

  For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff's claims against defendant Parvin will be dismissed, without prejudice, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Plaintiff will be ordered to show cause as to why the claims against Detectives Zanni and Callebrese should not be dismissed as time-barred.

  An appropriate Order accompanies this Opinion. ORDER

  The Court having considered Plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis and file the Complaint without prepayment of fees pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915; and the Court having screened the Complaint to determine whether dismissal is warranted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A; and for the reasons set forth in this Court's Opinion issued this same day;

  It is on this 6th day of May, 2005,

  ORDERED that Plaintiff may proceed in forma pauperis without prepayment of the $250.00 filing fee pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) and (b); and it is further

  ORDERED that the Clerk of the Court is directed to file the Complaint in the above-captioned action; and it is further

  ORDERED that the Clerk of the Court shall serve a copy of this Order by regular mail on the Attorney General for the State of New Jersey, and on the warden of the South Woods State Prison; and it is further ORDERED that Plaintiff is assessed a filing fee of $250.00 and shall pay the entire filing fee in the manner set forth in this Order pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1) and (2), regardless of the outcome of the litigation; and it is further

  ORDERED that in each month that the amount in Plaintiff's account exceeds $10.00, until the $250.00 filing fee is paid, the agency having custody of Plaintiff shall assess, deduct from Plaintiff's account, and forward to the Clerk of the Court payment equal to 20% of the preceding month's income credited to Plaintiff's account, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2), and each payment shall reference the civil docket number of this action; and it is further

  ORDERED that Plaintiff's claims against defendant Parvin will be dismissed, without prejudice, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and 1915A(b)(1); and it is further

  ORDERED that Plaintiff shall show cause, in writing, within 30 days after entry of this Order, why the claims for false arrest and imprisonment against defendants Zanni and Callebrese should not be dismissed, with prejudice, as time-barred; and it is further

  ORDERED that if Plaintiff should fail, within 30 days of entry of this Order, to show cause as to why the false arrest and false imprisonment claims should not be dismissed, the Court may dismiss the claims for the reasons stated in the Opinion filed herewith, without further notice to Plaintiff.


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