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Tucker v. Arnold

June 9, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Walls, Senior District Judge


Defendants Michael Arnold, Beverly Bailey and Danielle Barnave move for summary judgment. Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 78, the Court decides these motions without oral argument. The motions are granted.


Pro se plaintiff Matthew Tucker is an involuntary inmate of the Greystone Psychiatric Hospital ("Greystone"). (Certification of Matthew Sapienza ("Sapienza Cert.") ¶ 3, Exh. A at 3.) On November 23, 2003, Tucker filed a complaint naming "John Doe - Jane Doe, Clerk of the Superior Court of N. Jersey, Morristown, NJ" as defendant.*fn1 The Complaint alleges that defendant John or Jane Doe violated Tucker's right of access to court when (s)he did not file five civil complaints which Tucker had mailed from Greystone to the Superior Court of New Jersey in Morristown, New Jersey (the "Superior Court Complaints"). (Dkt. Entry No. 2.) The Court dismissed the Complaint on April 30, 2004, on the basis of absolute immunity. (Dkt. Entry Nos. 3-4.) Following a timely appeal, the Third Circuit vacated the Court's order and remanded the case on April 6, 2006. (Dkt. Entry No. 14.)

On August 9, 2006, default was entered against Joan Bramhall. (Dkt. Entry No. 19.) On November 9, 2006, however, default was vacated because the Court learned that Michael Arnold, not Bramhall, was the true party-in-interest. (Dkt. Entry No. 32.) The State agreed to accept service of the Complaint made against defendant John/Jane Doe, on behalf of Michael Arnold, Deputy Clerk of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Morris Vicinage. (Id.) Plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint on May 16, 2007, adding as defendants Greystone employees Beverly Bailey and Danielle Barnave, to whom plaintiff claims he gave the Superior Court Complaints to take to the mailroom of Greystone for posting and mailing, and "John - Jane Doe, employees of mail room, Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, State of New Jersey." (Dkt. Entry No. 61.) Plaintiff alleges that Bailey, Barnave, and unknown defendants of the Greystone mail room negligently mishandled his mail denying him access to the courts in violation of his constitutional rights. (Id.) Default was entered against the newly added defendants on May 28, 2008 but was vacated. (Dkt. Entry Nos. 97, 114.)

Defendants now move for summary judgment. Plaintiff opposes the motions.*fn2


Summary judgment is appropriate where the moving party establishes that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that [it] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A factual dispute between the parties will not defeat a motion for summary judgment unless it is both genuine and material. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510 (1986). A factual dispute is material if, under the substantive law, it would affect the outcome of the suit and it is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. See id. at 248. The moving party "always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553 (1986).

Once the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56, "its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts" in question. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356 (1986). To survive a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must present "more than a scintilla of evidence showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Woloszyn v. County of Lawrence, 396 F.3d 314, 319 (3d Cir. 2005). The non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and, by affidavits or other evidence, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24. "Conclusory statements, general denials, and factual allegations not based on personal knowledge [are] insufficient to avoid summary judgment." Olympic Junior, Inc. v. David Crystal, Inc., 463 F.2d 1141, 1146 (3d Cir. 1972).

At the summary judgment stage, the court's function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but rather to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. In doing so, the court must construe the facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See id. at 255; Curley v. Klem, 298 F.3d 271, 276-77 (3d Cir. 2002).


Plaintiff contends that defendant Arnold violated his right of access to the courts by "fail[ing] to process [his] complaints timely and refus[ing] to acknowledge receipt or not of [his] complaints and refus[ing] to process [his] complaints" (Dkt. Entry No. 2). In order to state a claim for denial of access to the courts, a plaintiff must demonstrate first, that a deliberate act by the defendant hindered his access to the courts; allegations of simple negligence will not do. See Turner v. Donnelly, 156 Fed. Appx. 481, 483 (3d Cir. 2005) ("the Supreme Court has removed negligent denials of access from the reach of § 1983.") (citing Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 328 (1986)); see also Berg v. County of Allegheny, 219 F.3d 261, 274 (3d Cir. 2000) ("Negligence by public officials is not actionable as a due process violation."); Snyder v. Nolen, 380 F.3d 279, 291 n.1 (7th Cir. 2004) ("An allegation of simple negligence will not support a claim that an official has denied an individual access to the courts."). Second, a plaintiff must "prove that he suffered an actual injury, and the claim must be alleged with sufficient clarity to show that it has some arguable merit." Tucker v. Monroe, 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 17373 (3d Cir. Aug. 12, 2008) (citing Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 415 (2002); Oliver v. Fauver, 118 F.3d 175, 177 (3d Cir. 1997); Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351 (1996)). Plaintiff must also show that the lost claim he was denied a chance to litigate was non-frivolous because "depriving someone of a frivolous claim ... deprives of nothing at all." Lewis, 518 U.S. at 353 n.3. Plaintiff fails on both fronts.

In this case, plaintiff says that he attempted to file five civil complaints in the Morris Vicinage of the Superior Court of New Jersey in a three-month period from September to November 2003. The complaints that plaintiff allegedly submitted for filing are: Tucker v. Presiding Judge Sylvia B. Pressler, et al. ("Tucker v. Judge Pressler I"), on September 29, 2003; Tucker v. Danielle Barnave, et al., on October 3, 2003; Tucker v. Presiding Judge Sylvia B. Pressler, et al. ("Tucker v. Judge Pressler II"), on October 20, 2003; Tucker v. John Main, et al., on November 10, 2003; and Tucker v. Stephen Townsend, et al., on November 10, 2003. (Dkt. Entry No. 2.) Defendant Arnold has submitted evidence that two of these complaints that Tucker says were not filed were, in fact, received and filed by the Morris Vicinage Clerk and adjudicated by the Superior Court. First, the complaint captioned Tucker v. Stephen Townsend, et al., mailed on November 17, 2003, was received and filed by the Morris Vicinage Clerk on November 17, 2003 and assigned docket number MRS-L-3085. (Defendant Arnold's L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 22-25.) Second, the complaint entitled Tucker v. Judge Pressler I, which plaintiff allegedly mailed on September 29, 2003 was received by Morris Vicinage Clerk on October 10, 2003, filed and assigned docket number MRS-L-2841-03. (Defendant Arnold's L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 13-16.) Tucker admitted at his deposition that these two complaints were, in fact, filed and that they were no longer at issue in this case. (Sapienza Cert. ¶ 5, Exh. C at 22:9-16.) As to the rest of the complaints, Tucker v. Barnave, Tucker v. Judge Pressler II, and Tucker v. Main, the Morris Vicinage Clerk has no record of receiving these pleadings. (Defendant Arnold's L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 13-16.) The Clerk, however, has a record of two additional complaints from Tucker which were duly filed and adjudicated: Tucker v. Thomas Vena, et al., No. MRS_L-2620-03 and Tucker v. Gregory Roberts, et al., No. MRS-L-2710-03. (Certification of Robert Tracy ("Tracy Cert.") ¶¶ 15-18, Exhs.2-3, 7, 9.)

The evidence presented by defendant Arnold with respect to plaintiff's four complaints which were filed supports the conclusion that when defendant received a complaint from Tucker, he duly filed them in accordance with New Jersey Rules of Court and standard procedures of his office. In opposition to the defendant's motion, Tucker ...

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