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Lee Dawn Troutwein Thomas v. Jeffrey Wilbert

January 10, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Brown, Chief Judge


Plaintiff, Lee Dawn Troutwein Thomas, currently incarcerated at the A.C. Wagner Youth Correctional Facility in Bordentown, New Jersey, filed a complaint pro se alleging violations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On June 6, 2010, counsel for defendant Global Tel-Link filed a motion to dismiss (docket entry 20). Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to the motion (docket entry 24), and a cross motion for summary judgment (docket entry 25). On July 21, 2010, defendants Handler, Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office, Valentin, and Wilbert filed a motion to dismiss (docket entry 35). On September 10, 2010, defendant Monmouth County Correctional Institution and Osborne filed a motion to dismiss (docket entry 43). Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment was denied on September 13, 2010 (docket entry 44). The Court has reviewed all submissions and has decided the motions without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the following reasons, the motions will granted.


According to the complaint, Plaintiff states that while housed at the Monmouth County Correctional Institution pending his criminal trial, his co-defendant informed jail officials that Plaintiff was attempting to contact someone outside the institution in order to tamper with the victims in his pending criminal case. Based on those suspicions, a "Joint Task Force," consisting of the Monmouth County Correctional Institution, the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office, and the Long Branch Police Department requested defendant Global Tel-Link to make a warrantless disclosure of Plaintiff's stored inmate calls from December 1, 2006 to January 4, 2007, to scrutinize the contents of those recordings to determine whether or not the allegations of Plaintiff's co-defendant were true. Plaintiff's live inmate calls from January 23, 2007 to April 24, 2007 were monitored. Recorded copies of the calls were disclosed to the Monmouth County Grand Jury by defendant Handler on June 20, 2007.

The recordings were presented to the Grand Jury. Plaintiff was heard on a motion contesting the interception of the calls. According to Plaintiff, the judge found that the interception of calls violated the New Jersey Wiretap Act. A captain at the Monmouth County Correctional Institution made a statement to a defense investigator that it is not the procedure of the jail to monitor or record inmate calls unless upon application to the court. A prosecutor confirmed on the record that inmate calls are not monitored by jail officials, but recorded by a system that is owned and serviced by defendant Global Tel-Link. No subpoenas had been issued to the defendant requesting disclosure of Plaintiff's stored communications. The Court notes that Plaintiff entered into a plea agreement whereby the charges arising out of the alleged wiretapping violations were dismissed.

Plaintiff asks for monetary relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, because interception of his inmate calls was done wilfully, intentionally and without regard to state and federal laws. He seeks to sue various state actor defendants who monitored and released the contents of his calls, and the service that provided access to the calls.


A. The Motion to Dismiss

The moving defendants ask this Court to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). They argue that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted because Plaintiff's complaint was filed outside of the statute of limitations period, because Plaintiff has not asserted a claim for relief under either the Fourth Amendment, or the relevant wiretapping statutes, because Plaintiff cannot profit from his own wrongdoing, and because Plaintiff has not shown damages due to the fact that the criminal charges based on the monitored phone calls were dismissed.

Plaintiff opposes the motion, arguing that monitoring calls was not in the ordinary course of defendants' investigative duties, that the consent exception is not applicable concerning calls forwarded to certain defendants' cell phones, that the interceptions made pursuant to the grand jury subpoena violate state and federal wiretapping laws, and that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated.

B. Standard of Review

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court may dismiss an action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. With a motion to dismiss, "'courts accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'" Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)). In other words, a complaint survives a motion to dismiss if it contains sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

In making this determination, a court must engage in a two part analysis. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, -- U.S. --, --, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949-50 (2009); Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210-11. First, the court must separate factual allegations from legal conclusions. See Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. Second, the court must determine whether the factual allegations are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." Id. at 1950. Determining plausibility is a "context-specific task" that requires the court to "draw on ...

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