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Wright v. Evans

March 24, 2009

SHAWN WRIGHT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CALVIN EVANS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jerome B. Simandle United States District Judge

OPINION

HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE

SIMANDLE, District Judge

This suit arises from the confidential informant relationships between Plaintiff and federal and county law enforcement agencies. This matter is before the Court on three motions. Defendant Calvin Evans ("Agent Evans"), an Agent with the United States Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA"), has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint filed by Plaintiff Shawn Wright ("Plaintiff" or "Mr. Wright") for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted [Docket Item No. 27]. Defendants Salem County Prosecutor's Office ("SCPO"), Prosecutor John Lenehan ("Mr. Lenehan"), Assistant Prosecutor Jason Witcher ("Mr. Witcher") and Officer Ralph Padilla ("Officer Padilla") and Defendant Special Officer Edmund Spinelli ("Officer Spinelli") (collectively "the Salem County Defendants") have filed identical motions [Docket Item Nos. 31, 33].

Plaintiff has brought suit against Agent Evans and John Doe ("Mr. Doe"), whom he identifies simply as "[s]upervisor to [Drug Enforcement Agency] Agent Calvin Evans," (Compl. at ¶ 2b) (collectively "the Federal Defendants") under the authority of Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), for a violation of his constitutional rights by federal agents or employees. He has further brought suit against the Salem County Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a violation of his constitutional rights by state actors.

Mr. Wright has also alleged a breach of his written Confidential Informant Agreement by Agent Evans. (Compl. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff has claimed that the conduct of the investigation by and the lack of oversight of the SCPO by Agent Evans violated the plea agreement entered into by Plaintiff and the United States Attorney's Office. (Id.) Mr. Wright has alleged a breach by the SCPO of an oral contract between the parties that was entered into on three different occasions. (Id. ¶ 5.) Finally, Plaintiff alleges common law tort claims against the DEA and the SCPO for a conspiracy to bring him harm. (Id. ¶ 14.)

The Court, for reasons discussed below, will now grant the defendants' motions in full.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Claims Against All Defendants

According to his Complaint, Mr. Wright, who has been and currently is an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution at Fairton ("F.C.I. Fairton"), served as a confidential informant for the DEA and Defendant SCPO throughout the period of time encompassed by this action. (Compl. ¶ 5.) As a result of Plaintiff's service, the SCPO was able to build a case against various other persons for dealing in narcotics. (Id.) However, according to Mr. Wright's Complaint, the Defendants collectively forced him to cooperate in potentially harmful investigations, abused their discretion in prosecuting those persons whom he had informed against in state court and leaked confidential information about him to the press in an effort to bring him harm. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 13, 20.)

Mr. Wright makes specific allegations in his Complaint of wrongs performed by the individual defendants against him that have resulted in "extreme mental anguish, distress and mental [fatigue], [u]nnecessary stress and worrying, sleeping disorders, and continuous panic and anxiety." (Id. ¶ 21.) According to the Complaint, during the course of Plaintiff's period of cooperation as a confidential informant for both the DEA and the SCPO, Defendants Officer Spinelli and Agent Evans forced Mr. Wright to "participate in actions that could bring him great harm even after there were clear signs that investigations were dangerous and nonproductive." (Id. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff does not specify the manner in which the actions that he was requested to participate in could bring him harm, nor does he point out the specific clear signs that the investigations were dangerous and nonproductive.

Plaintiff further alleges that Agent Evans violated a written Confidential Informant Agreement by forcing him to work with SCPO, failing to monitor the actions of the SCPO in relation to Mr. Wright and allowing the SCPO to exercise jurisdiction over the subjects of Plaintiff's information. (Id. ¶ 4.)

Mr. Wright also alleges that the SCPO, contrary to an oral agreement between all parties, allowed the subjects of Plaintiff's information to be both tried and incarcerated in Salem County, New Jersey, thus exposing Plaintiff to even greater danger of reprisal. (Id. ¶¶ 18-19.) He further asserts that the SCPO and its employees released confidential information intentionally, and in violation of an oral agreement. (Id. ¶ 5.) Specifically, Mr. Wright alleges that the confidential information was released in the form of articles printed in June 2004 and on October 7, 2004 and August 5, 2005 in the Salem County Today's Sunbeam newspaper and placed him danger of reprisal from the very persons upon whom he had informed. (Id. ¶¶ 7-9, 12.) Plaintiff does not identify the source of the June 2004 article in his Complaint (Id. ¶ 12.) However, he specifically attributes the publication of the October 7, 2004 article to Mr. Lenehan. (Id. ¶ 7.) He also specifically attributes the publication of the August 5, 2005 article to the SCPO, Mr. Witcher and Officer Spinelli. (Id. ¶ 9)

B. Procedural History

This action was originally filed on August 8, 2007 and was originally assigned to Judge Robert B. Kugler in this vicinage [Docket Item No. 1]. In addition to the current defendants, Plaintiff in his original Complaint named the DEA, the Salem County Today's Sunbeam newspaper and Philip Sean Curran, a reporter for same, as defendants. (Compl. ¶ 2.) These three defendants were dismissed by Judge Kugler sua sponte on August 28, 2007 [Docket Item No. 2]. Defendant Officer Spinelli answered Plaintiff's Complaint on January 11, 2008 [Docket Item No. 14]. The case was then reassigned to the undersigned on January 28, 2008 [Docket Item No. 23].

Defendants SCPO, Mr. Lenehan, Mr. Witcher and Officer Padilla thereafter jointly answered Plaintiff's Complaint [Docket Item No. 26]. In lieu of answering the Complaint, the Federal Defendants filed one of the three motions currently before the Court [Docket Item No. 27]. Defendants SCPO, Mr. Lenehan, Mr. Witcher and Officer Padilla followed suit [Docket Item No. 31]; and Defendant Officer Spinelli filed a similar motion thereafter [Docket Item No. 33]. After Plaintiff was granted the assistance of pro bono counsel by order of this Court, all motions were reopened and are again before the Court [Docket Item No. 49].

As all parties have had opportunity to reply to the motions at issue, the Court will now turn to deciding their merits collectively.

II. PRELIMINARY MATTERS

A. Motions to Dismiss by the SCPO, Mr. Lenehan, Mr. Witcher, and Officer Spinelli are More Properly Analyzed under Rule 12(c), not Rule 12(b)(6)

Plaintiff argues that the motions to dismiss filed in this case by the Salem County Defendants should be denied as they are untimely under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)[Docket Item 52 at 6].*fn1 Specifically, Plaintiff argues that, since the motions by these defendants have been styled as motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, they were only properly filed "before filing an answer or other responsive pleading" [Id. at 5].

However, under Rule 12(h)(2): "Failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted . . . may be raised . . . by a motion under Rule 12(c) [for judgment on the pleadings]." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(2)(B). As a result of this rule, the courts in this Circuit have construed motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) filed after the close of pleadings as motions for a judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c). See, e.g. Turbe v. Gov't of the V.I., 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991); Toy v. Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union No. 74 Pension Plan, 439 F. Supp. 2d 337, 341 (D. Del. 2006); Snyder v. Baumecker, 708 F. Supp. 1451, 1462 n.6 (D.N.J. 1989); Angleton v. Pierce, 574 F. Supp. 719, 722 n.1 (D.N.J. 1983); West v. Williamsport Area Comty. Coll., 492 F. Supp. 90, 93 n.3 (M.D. Pa. 1980); Broadcast Employees v. Int'l Bhd of Teamsters, 419 F. Supp. 263, 275 n.15 (E.D. Pa. 1976); cf. Stanley v. St. Croix Basic Serv., Inc., 291 F. Supp. 2d 379, 381 (D.V.I. 2003) (partial motion to dismiss when filed at same time as answer should have been framed as motion under Rule 12(c)); Penzoil Prods. Co. v. Colelli & Assocs., Inc., 953 F. Supp. 669, 671 n.1 (W.D. Pa. 1997) (converting a post-answer motion for a preserved Rule 12(b)(2) defense to a motion under Rule 12(c)) rev'd on other grounds 149 F.3d 197 (3d Cir. 1998). Similarly, this Court will thus address the merits of the motions by the Salem County Defendants as though they had been submitted as motions under Rule 12(c) instead of under Rule 12(b)(6).

Under Third Circuit precedent, when deciding a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) which raises the defense that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be based, the Court should "apply the same standards as under Rule 12(b)(6)." Turbe, 938 F.2d at 428. Thus the motions to dismiss from the Salem County Defendants under Rule 12(c) and the motion from the Federal Defendants under Rule 12(b)(6) will be analyzed by this Court using the same standard of review, that established under Rule 12(b)(6).

B. Standard of Review under Rule 12(b)(6)

On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, the Court must "'accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, Plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'" Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)).

While Rule 12(b)(6) does not permit dismissal of a well-pleaded complaint simply because "it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable," the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level."

Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234. "To survive a motion to dismiss, a civil plaintiff must allege facts that 'raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).'" Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007) ...


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