United States District Court, D. New Jersey
August 16, 2005.
ANTHONY SANCHEZ, Plaintiff,
OFC. M. GONZALEZ, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBERT KUGLER, Magistrate Judge
Plaintiff Anthony Sanchez is currently confined at the Camden
County Correctional Facility, Camden, New Jersey. Plaintiff seeks
to bring this action in forma pauperis pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983, and alleges violations of his constitutional
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
Plaintiff, a pretrial detainee, states that on January 24,
2005, he was illegally stopped and searched without probable
cause by defendant Officer M. Gonzalez. In particular, he states:
1-24-05 Officer M. Gonzalez #1249, stoped [sic] and
searched me in violation of my 4th Amendment
Constitutional Right and retrieved a handgun. This
officer did not have probable cause to search me. To
my knowledge, there was no calls or complaints made
about a suspect with a gun. There is nothing to
justify this officer's actions, which would warrant
probable cause to be searched.
Plaintiff further states that the Camden County Prosecutor's
Office and defendant Vincent Sarubbi, the Camden County
Prosecutor, violated his civil rights by failing to provide him a
speedy trial, and by denying him a probable cause hearing under
New Jersey law.
He asks the Court to order a probable cause hearing in his
state criminal case.
A. Standard of 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.
When 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.
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 520 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)); Milhouse v. Carlson,
652 F.2d 371, 373 (3d Cir. 1981).
B. 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 laws or
Constitution of the United States and, second, that the alleged
deprivation was committed or caused by a person acting under
color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42
(1988); Piecknick v. Pennsylvania, 36 F.3d 1250
, 1255-56 (3d
C. Plaintiff's Complaint Will Be Dismissed.
First, Plaintiff's claim that he was denied a probable cause
hearing in the course of his state criminal proceedings is
essentially a matter of state law procedure. Liberally construing
the complaint, Plaintiff asserts a due process claim due to the
absence of a probable cause hearing. However, 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. See Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971)
(addressing abstention from state criminal proceedings). 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.
In the instant case, it is clear that state proceedings
implicating important state interests are ongoing, and that
Plaintiff has the opportunity to raise his instant claims in that
proceeding. Plaintiff has failed to plead any special
circumstances that would take this case out of the Younger
abstention doctrine. Thus, Plaintiff must present his complaints
about his criminal proceedings to the court in which his action is pending. See Roberts v. Childs, 956 F. Supp. 923, 925 (D.
Kan.), aff'd, 125 F.3d 862 (10th Cir. 1997).
Additionally, although this Court has mandamus jurisdiction
under 28 U.S.C. § 1361 ("The district courts shall have original
jurisdiction of any action in the nature of mandamus to compel an
officer or employee of the United States or any agency thereof to
perform a duty owed to the plaintiff."), section 1361 does not
confer on this Court jurisdiction to issue a writ of mandamus to
compel a state judicial officer to act in matters pending in that
officer's court. See Urich v. Diefenderfer, 1991 WL 17820
(E.D. Pa. Feb. 11, 1991). Thus, this Court does not have
jurisdiction to order the state court to conduct a probable cause
hearing in Plaintiff's criminal case.
However, even if Plaintiff were to amend his complaint to
request relief in the form of monetary damages, his complaint
would not state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 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. 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 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.
Taken collectively, Plaintiff's claims of search and arrest
without probable cause, present the type of claim addressed in
Heck; that is, a finding that Plaintiff's conviction was
procured by such extensive unconstitutional means would
necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction. As Plaintiff
does not contend that his conviction has been invalidated, any
potential damages claims have not yet accrued. Accordingly, these
claims must be dismissed for failure to state a claim.
Moreover, specifically addressing, albeit in dicta, whether a
§ 1983 suit, for damages attributable to an allegedly
unreasonable search, would lie in advance of a judicial
determination of the invalidity of the related conviction, the
Supreme Court said,
For example, a suit for damages attributable to an
allegedly unreasonable search may lie even if the
challenged search produced evidence that was
introduced in a state criminal trial resulting in the
§ 1983 plaintiff's still-outstanding conviction.
Because of doctrines like independent source and
inevitable discovery, and especially harmless error,
such a § 1983 action, even if successful, would not
necessarily imply that the plaintiff's conviction
was unlawful. In order to recover compensatory
damages, however, the § 1983 plaintiff must prove not only that the search was
unlawful, but that it caused him actual, compensable
injury, which, we hold today, does not encompass
the "injury" of being convicted and imprisoned (until
his conviction has been overturned).
Heck, 512 U.S. at 487 n. 7.
The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently held that
"in those cases in which a district court determines that success
on the § 1983 claim would imply the invalidity of the conviction,
the cause of action is deferred until the conviction is
overturned." Gibson v. Superintendent, 411 F.3d 427, 449 (3d
Cir. 2005). Adopting a fact-based approach to interpreting
footnote seven of Heck, the Court of Appeals stated:
. . . under Heck, a district court is required only
to make a threshold determination as to whether a
plaintiff's § 1983 claim, if successful, would have
the hypothetical effect of rendering the criminal
conviction or sentence invalid. If this threshold is
satisfied, the district court's analysis is at an
end, and the Heck deferred accrual rule is
Id. at 451.
In this case, if Plaintiff's § 1983 case alleging a violation
of his constitutional rights due to an improper search and
seizure were successful, it would have the hypothetical effect of
rendering his future conviction invalid. Thus, the Heck
deferred accrual rule is triggered, and Plaintiff's complaint
must be dismissed, without prejudice. CONCLUSION
For the reasons set forth above, Plaintiff's complaint will be
dismissed, without prejudice. An appropriate order follows.
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