United States District Court, D. New Jersey
September 21, 2005.
THOMAS A. IANACCI, Plaintiff
BRENDA MINARI, et al. Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JEROME SIMANDLE, District Judge
Plaintiff Thomas A. Iannaci ("Ianacci"), a prisoner who is
confined at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Avenel,
New Jersey ("ADTC"), seeks to bring this action in forma
pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (1998). This Court will
(1) permit this action to proceed in forma pauperis; (2)
direct the Clerk of the Court to file the Complaint without
pre-payment of the filing fee; (3) assess the $250.00 filing fee
against Plaintiff; and (4) direct the head of the ADTC to forward
payments from Plaintiff's institutional account to the Clerk of
the Court each month the amount in the account exceeds $10.00, until the $250.00 filing
fee is paid in full, regardless of the outcome of the litigation.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a), (b)(1), (b)(2), (b)(4).
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court has reviewed the
Complaint to identify cognizable claims. The Court will dismiss
the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (e)(2)(B)(ii) and
(iii) and 1915A (B)(1) and (2).
Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
seeking damages for alleged violations of his rights secured by
the Constitution and laws of the United States.*fn1 The
Defendants are Brenda Minari, Esq., of the Burlington County
Prosecutor's Office ("BCPO"); Detectives Fred D'Ascentis and
William McGovern of the BCPO; and Detective Campbell of the New
Jersey State Police. (Compl., Caption and ¶¶ 4-5.) Plaintiff asserts the following facts:
On the night of 6/19/1996, I was called to the
B.C.P.O. for a job interview, but I was really being
called in to be charged with having sex with my
step-daughter. At approximately 5:10 P.M. I was
placed in an office and told to fill out the
application, and if I needed to use the phone to feel
free to use it. At 5:15 my beeper went off and it was
my step-daughter and since I left them about six
weeks before, I thought that it was strange but
called her back at 5:16 P.M. anyway.
The conversation was very strange. She was trying to
get me to admit to having sex with her. I asked her
what her mother was up to this time. I told her that
I was coming home to find out what was going on now.
This phone call ended at 5:21 and when I came out of
the office Det. D'Ascentis told me that I could not
leave, that he had to get his Sgt. A few minutes
later, he returned with his Sgt. and I was tak[en] to
an interview room and told that my step-daughter told
them that I had sex with her.
As soon as we got into this room, this detective told
me to sign my rights card and then he signed it which
was 5:30 P.M. There was also Det. Campbell from the
State Police taking notes for them but not saying
anything at all to me.
At this point, he tells me that if I want to go home
tonight I will have to give him a confession about me
and Ashley. I told him that I wanted a lawyer. He
told me you know that you can't find a lawyer this
time of night, you will see one tomorrow. He then
takes out a black mini tape recorder and said let's
take some background information for the record. We
went on for about an hour talking and all during this
time he is turning the tape record on and off while
we spoke. I realized that there would be no way in
which he would be able to use this tape in court with
him stopping it so many times, but obviously Det.
D'Ascentis was banking on me thinking this way.
After a while, he convinced me that I was not getting
a phone call, and I was not getting out until I gave
him a statement. He then told me that he would tell
me what Ashley said happened and all that I had to do
was put it into my own words for him, and he would
release me ROR that night so that I could get a lawyer. So we
rehearsed what he told me to say and did the
statement. During both statements he left the room
telling me that he had to let his boss hear the tape.
And each time returned saying that "she" needed more
specific [sic]; there was much that I would not agree
to say and during both tapes I kept saying on tape
"that I was only doing this to get out of going to
jail that night." This of course never showed up
anywhere on the statement, but of course the
statement when giv[en] to my lawyer was on a
"standard size tape" and not the mini tape that he
really took the statement on.
You must keep in mind that there was 2 statements
taken that night. The first was 7 minutes long and
started at 6:20 P.M. Det. D'Ascentis testified that
after the phone call ended at 5:21 he took background
information for about 30 minutes before reading me my
rights. But as you can see from the time of the phone
call until he signed my rights card that it was only
7 minutes. And you will see that he admitted to the
court that he did not read my rights, that he handed
me the card.
The second tape was 15 minutes long and started at
8:25 P.M. Now he also testified that I gave my
statement freely. If this is to be believed that I
gave it freely, what do you think we were doing in
this interview room for  hours [if] we were not
rehearsing as I have stated. And why didn't I take
the deal that was offered to me?
Please also keep in mind that Det. D'Ascentis
testified that his office does not use [mini] tape
recorders. Yet on his own evidence log that night he
put into evidence a mini tape and labeled it as the
phone call between myself and Ashley, so this
evidence log shows two tapes of the same
There should be no doubt that he also taped this
phone call from the office that he placed me in to
get a jump on the interview, on a mini tape recorder,
the very [same] one that he used to take my so-called
statement on. Which once again shows that he was
caught in another lie to the court and the jury, and
no one want[s] to do anything about it except to
cover it up and let me do the time for him falsifying
evidence. [Compl., ¶ 8.] Plaintiff concludes that all four Defendants are guilty of
obstruction of justice, falsifying evidence, false swearing,
conspiracy, and conduct unbecoming a public official. (Compl., ¶
5(c).) He seeks a "fair trial . . . being able to say everything
that needs to be said;" that the B.C.P.C. pay for his "7 long
years in this phony therapy center . . .;" for "the public to
know exactly what `really' goes on here at ADTC with tax payers
money," and to prevent the Defendants from doing injustice to
others. (Compl., ¶ 9.)
The Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub.L. No. 104-134, §§
801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66, 1321-77 (1996), requires the Court,
prior to docketing or as soon as practicable after docketing, to
review a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks
redress against a governmental entity or employee.
28 U.S.C. § 1915A. The Act requires the Court to identify cognizable claims
and to dismiss any claim that is frivolous, malicious, fails to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary
relief from a Defendant who is immune from such relief. Id.
A. Standard for Dismissal
Rule 8(a)(2) requires a complaint to include "a short and plain
statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8 (a) (2); accord Leatherman v.
Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit,
507 U.S. 163, 168 (1993). Plaintiff is "required to `set forth
sufficient information to outline the elements of his claim or to
permit inferences to be drawn that these elements exist.'" Kost
v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (quoting 5A
Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and
Procedure § 1357, at 340 (2d ed. 1990). The Court "must
determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the pleadings,
the plaintiff? may be entitled to relief, and . . . must accept
as true the factual allegations in the complaint and all
reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom." Nami v.
Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996) (citing Holder v.
Allentown, 987 F.2d 188, 194 (3d Cir. 1993)); Eli Lily & Co. v.
Roussel Corp., 23 F. Supp.2d 460, 474 (D.N.J. 1998) (citing
Nami and Holder).
A pro se complaint is held to less stringent standards than
formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Estelle v. Gamble,
429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520
(1972); Then v. I.N.S., 58 F. Supp.2d 422, 429 (D.N.J. 1999),
aff'd sub nom. Then v. Quarantino, 208 F.3d 206 (3d Cir.
2000). "Under our liberal pleading rules, during the initial
stage of litigation, a district court should construe all
allegations in a complaint in favor of the complainant" and give
"credit to the allegations of the complaint as they appear? in the complaint." Gibbs v.
Roman, 116 F.3d 83, 86 (3d Cir. 1997); see also Kulwicki v.
Dawson, 969 F.2d 1454, 1462 (3d Cir. 1992). But a court need not
credit a complaint's "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions"
when deciding whether dismissal is appropriate. Morse v. Lower
Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997); see also
Fernandez-Montes v. Allied Pilots Ass'n, 987 F.2d 278, 284
(5th Cir. 1993) ("[C]onclusory allegations or legal conclusions
masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent a
motion to dismiss."). "When it appears beyond doubt that no
relief could be granted under any set of facts which could be
proved consistent with the allegations of the complaint, a
dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is proper." Robinson v.
Fauver, 932 F. Supp. 639, 642 (D.N.J. 1996) (citing Conley v.
Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)).
The Court will construe the Complaint as raising claims of
presentation of false testimony and evidence in court by
Defendants, conspiracy, and violations of state law. To establish
such claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff must demonstrate
that the challenged conduct was committed by persons 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. 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).
Plaintiff also must assert and prove some causal connection
between a Defendant and the alleged wrongdoing in order to
recover against that Defendant. See Mt. Healthy,
429 U.S. at 287; Lee-Patterson, 957 F. Supp. at 1401-02. Liability under §
1983 cannot be predicated solely on the operation of respondeat
superior. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir.
1988) (citing Parratt, 451 U.S. at 537 n. 3). The Court will
now analyze Plaintiff's claims to determine whether dismissal
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) is warranted.
B. Defendant Minari
The Court notes that claims against Defendant Minari fail
because a prosecutor is absolutely immune from a damage action
under § 1983 for initiating and pursuing a prosecution. Kalina
v. Fletcher, 522 U.S. 118, 123 (1997); Imbler v. Pachtman,
424 U.S. 409, 410, 431 (1976) (prosecutor enjoys absolute immunity
"in initiating a prosecution and presenting the State's case"
even if prosecutor knowingly submitted false evidence at trial);
Michaels v. New Jersey, 50 F. Supp.2d 353, 359 (D.N.J. 1999),
aff'd, 222 F.3d 118 (3d Cir. 2000), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 1118
(2001) (citing Imbler). See also House v. Belford,
956 F.2d 711, 720 (7th Cir. 1992) (prosecutor absolutely immune from claim of
conspiracy to present false testimony to court).
C. False Testimony and Evidence at Trial
Defendant's claims against the remaining Defendants are barred
by the United States Supreme Court decision in Briscoe v.
LaHue, 460 U.S. 325, 330 (1983) (police officer who allegedly
had given perjured testimony at the defendant's trial was
absolutely immune from liability under § 1983); See also
Williams v. Hepting, 844 F.2d 138 (3d Cir.), cert. denied,
488 U.S. 851 (1988); Gatter v. Zappile, 54 F.Supp.2d 454
(E.D.Pa. 1999), aff'd, 225 F.3d 648 (3d Cir. 2000) (defendant
officers were immune from liability on claim of perjured
testimony). The Court will, therefore, dismiss all claims against
these Defendants because they are absolutely immune from
liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Moreover, to the extent that the Complaint alleges the
existence of a conspiracy on the part of all Defendants to
violate Plaintiff's constitutional rights, this claim is barred
by the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Heck v.
Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994).
In Heck, the Supreme Court held that if a judgment in favor
of a plaintiff in a § 1983 suit would necessarily imply the
invalidity of his conviction or sentence, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the
conviction or sentence has already been invalidated. Id. at
487. See also Rashid v. Monteverde & Hemphill, 1997 WL
360922, *7 (E.D.Pa. June 24, 1997), aff'd, 149 F.3d 1165 (3d
Cir. 1998) (§ 1983 claim that public defender conspired with
federal agents during course of Plaintiff's criminal trial to
deprive him of constitutional rights barred by Heck); St.
Germain v. Isenhower, 98 F. Supp.2d 1366, 1372 (S.D.Fla. 2000);
Smith v. Coyne, 984 F.Supp. 1186, 1188 (N.D.Ill. 1998) (§ 1983
claim of an unconstitutional conspiracy among defendants to
deprive Plaintiff of due process implied the invalidity of his
conviction and was barred by Heck). The Court will also dismiss
D. Violations of New Jersey Law
The Complaint also appears to allege that the actions of the
Defendants violated New Jersey law. Violation of state law does
not state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Elkin v. Fauver,
969 F.2d 48, 52 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 977 (1992);
Green v. Patterson, 971 F. Supp. 891, 903 (D.N.J. 1997) (citing
Elkin). The Court will dismiss this claim pursuant to
28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 (e) (2) (B) (ii) and 1915A (b) (1) for failure to state a
claim upon which relief may be granted. III. CONCLUSION
Based on the foregoing, the Court will grant Plaintiff's
application to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1915, and will dismiss the Complaint as against all
Defendants pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and (iii)
and 1915A(b)(1)and (2). The Complaint fails to state a cognizable
claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the Defendants are absolutely
immune from liability.
An appropriate Order accompanies this Opinion.
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