United States District Court, D. New Jersey
May 6, 2005.
JOHN SEASE, Plaintiff,
OFFICER PARVIN, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JEROME SIMANDLE, District Judge
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
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
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.
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
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
[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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.