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Mundella Sabu v. New Jersey Department of Corrections


August 24, 2011


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Docket No. L-2268-10.

Per curiam.


Submitted August 17, 2011

Before Judges J. N. Harris and Fasciale.

Pro se plaintiff Mundella Sabu appeals from an October 29, 2010 order that (1) dismissed his complaint against defendant New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC), and (2) denied his motion to amend the complaint. We affirm.

On April 29, 1994, plaintiff was arrested; he was subsequently convicted and later incarcerated in State prison. Plaintiff appealed from his conviction, succeeded in dismissing the indictment, and was released from prison on May 18, 1998. Twelve years later, on May 5, 2010, plaintiff filed a complaint against the DOC and sought damages for pain and suffering and earned work credits that he accrued while in prison.

The DOC filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, pursuant to Rule 4:6-2(e). The judge granted the motion and found that plaintiff's complaint was barred by the statute of limitations. This appeal followed.

On appeal, Sabu argues primarily that the DOC does not have the legal authority to withhold, deprive, or deny compensation for his property interest derived from work credits earned while incarcerated.

"In reviewing a complaint dismissed under Rule 4:6-2(e) our inquiry is limited to examining the legal sufficiency of the facts alleged on the face of the complaint." Printing Mart-Morristown v. Sharp Elec. Corp., 116 N.J. 739, 746 (1989). "[A] reviewing court 'searches the complaint in depth and with liberality to ascertain whether the fundament of a cause of action may be gleaned even from an obscure statement of claim, opportunity being given to amend if necessary.'" Ibid. (quoting Di Christofaro v. Laurel Grove Memorial Park, 43 N.J. Super. 244, 252 (App. Div. 1957)). Thus, a motion to dismiss should be rarely granted. Printing Mart-Morristown, supra, 116 N.J. at 772. If the complaint, however, fails to state a basis for relief and discovery would not provide one, dismissal of the complaint is proper. Energy Rec. v. Dep't of Env. Prot., 320 N.J. Super. 59, 64 (App. Div. 1999), aff'd o.b., 170 N.J. 246 (2001).

Claims against public entities arising out of either a tortious injury or a breach of contract must be brought within two years of their accrual. N.J.S.A. 59:8-8(b); N.J.S.A. 59:13-5(b). Federal civil rights claims, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983, that accrue in New Jersey must also be brought within the state's two-year limitation period for personal injury actions after a complainant knew or should have known of the injury that is the basis of the action. Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 236, 109 S. Ct. 573, 574, 102 L. Ed. 2d 594, 597 (1989); Cito v. Bridgewater Twp. Police Dep't, 892 F.2d 23, 25 (3d Cir. 1989). Furthermore, the statute of limitations for non-personal injury actions is six years from the accrual date. N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1.

Plaintiff's complaint is untimely whether characterized as a tortious injury, breach of contract, a federal civil rights claim, or as a property interest. The accrual date for plaintiff's cause of action was on May 18, 1998, the date when his conviction was overturned and the indictment was dismissed. Assuming the more generous six-year period of N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1 applies, plaintiff's commencement of the action in 2010 is out of time.



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