United States District Court, D. New Jersey
October 5, 2005.
ARTHUR WAKEFIELD, JR., Plaintiff,
TERRANCE MOORE, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAM MARTINI, District Judge
This matter comes before the Court upon Pro se Plaintiff,
Arthur Wakefield, Jr.'s ("Wakefield") civil rights complaint,
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and other federal statutes, seeking
monetary damages in recompense for allegedly "being held hostage
as a modern day slave in involuntary servitude" while he was in
prison. Wakefield also submits an application to proceed in
forma Pauperis ("IFP").
Wakefield has a long history of filing complaints with in
forma pauperis applications in the District of New
Jersey.*fn1 Since 1984, Wakefield has filed more than 50 civil actions in
this district. On December 27, 1994, the Honorable Anne E.
Thompson, U.S.D.J., then Chief Judge for the District of New
Jersey, entered an Order against Wakefield in Civil Action No.
94-6302 (AET), which precludes Wakefield from filing further
actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 without leave of court.
On June 9, 2005, this Court received Wakefield's complaint for
remedies under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and other various federal
statutes. The Complaint and IFP application are signed and dated
by Wakefield on May 30, 2005. His complaint lodges claims of
conspiracy and cruel and unusual punishment against seven prison
officials for allegedly holding Wakefield in prison beyond his
maximum term and for holding him "hostage as a modern day slave
in involuntary servitude." He alleges the dates these unlawful
actions occurred as June 18, 2002, July 3, 2002, August 8, 2002,
October 31, 2002, January 3, 2003, and April 15, 2003.
Based on Wakefield's allegations, it appears on the face of the
Complaint that his action is time-barred.
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, 12 Fed. Appx. 855 (10th Cir. 2001) (unpub.)
(applying Pino to current § 1915 (e)); Rounds v. Baker,
141 F. 3d 1170 (8th Cir. 1998) (unpub.) (same); Johnstone v. United
States, 980 F.Supp. 148 (E.D. Pa. 1997) (same).
Civil rights claims are best characterized as personal injury
actions and are governed by the applicable state's statute of
limitations for personal injury actions. 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).
Here, the statute of limitations began to run, at the latest,
when the last alleged incident occurred on April 15, 2003. See
Sameric Corp. of Delaware v. City of Philadelphia, 142 F.3d 582, 599 (3d Cir. 1998) (a section 1983 cause of action
accrues when the plaintiff knew or should have known of the
injury upon which the action is based). This Complaint was
received by the Court on or about June 9, 2005, after Wakefield's
the two-year statute of limitations had expired. Therefore, any
potential § 1983 claim based on this event is time-barred.
Moreover, Wakefield has not asserted facts suggesting any basis
for statutory tolling. See, e.g., N.J. STAT. ANN. § 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 also 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
(N.J.Super. App. Div.) (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.
Here, the Complaint alleges no extraordinary circumstances that
would permit equitable tolling under either New Jersey or federal
law. There are no allegations that Wakefield was unaware of his
rights in 2002 and 2003, nor are there any allegations that
defendants prevented Wakefield in any way from timely filing his
Complaint. Indeed, as mentioned above, Wakefield has filed more
than 50 actions in the District of New Jersey. It is plain from
his repetitive and litigious nature as demonstrated by his
numerous filings, that Wakefield can not allege any extraordinary
circumstance to permit equitable tolling.*fn2 Therefore,
because it is clear on the face of the Complaint that this action by
Wakefield is time-barred, and no extraordinary circumstances are
alleged to warrant equitable tolling, the Complaint should be
dismissed with prejudice as untimely.*fn3
Nevertheless, because Wakefield is subject to an Order in the
District of New Jersey that precludes him from filing an action
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 without first obtaining leave of court,
this Court, having considered the Complaint and finding it to be
time-barred, will deny Wakefield leave to file the Complaint. The
Clerk of the Court will be directed to close the file without
assessing any fees or costs. III. CONCLUSION
For the reasons stated above, Wakefield is denied leave to file
his Complaint, pursuant to the December 27, 1994 Order against
Wakefield in Civil Action No. 94-6302 (AET), which precludes him
from filing further actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 without leave
of court. The Clerk will be directed to close the file without
assessing any fees or costs. An appropriate Order to this effect
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