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Steven Jude Hoffenberg v. United States of America

February 6, 2012

STEVEN JUDE HOFFENBERG, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT.



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

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

Steven Jude Hoffenberg, a federal inmate in New Jersey, filed this "Federal Tort Claims Action" against the United States of America for what Hoffenberg characterizes as torts allegedly committed by Bureau of Prisons' staff. [Docket Item 1.] This Court administratively terminated the Complaint as duplicative of Civil Action 09-4784. [Docket Item 7.] However, because that related action raised claims under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971) rather than the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), the Court of Appeals vacated this Court's termination and ordered that this Court consider Plaintiff's application to proceed without paying a filing fee and screen the Complaint in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A.

Plaintiff's application to proceed without prepaying his filing fee shows that he is indigent, and the Court will therefore permit the Complaint to be filed without prepayment of fees. However, for the reasons detailed below, Plaintiff's Complaint will be dismissed.

II. BACKGROUND

In 1995, Plaintiff pleaded guilty to various fraud charges relating to his service as chief executive officer, president and chairman of the board of Towers Financial Corporation. See United States v. Hoffenberg, No. 94 Cr. 213 (RWS), 95 Cr. 321 (RWS), 1997 WL 96563 (S.D.N.Y. March 5, 1997) (sentencing opinion). He was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment and assessed large fines. Id. From prison he has filed numerous challenges to his conviction, sentence, and conditions of confinement. Hoffenberg v. United States, 333 F. Supp. 2d 166, 169-171 (S.D.N.Y. 2004) (recounting some of Hoffenberg's suits).*fn1

Since his conviction, Plaintiff has been incarcerated at several different federal institutions, eventually having been placed at F.C.I. Fort Dix, in Fort Dix, New Jersey, where he is presently incarcerated.

A. Civil Action 09-4784

On September 21, 2009, Plaintiff filed a civil complaint against the Warden at Fort Dix in Hoffenberg v. Grondolsky, Civ. Action No. 09-4784 (RMB), 2009 WL 3230330 (D.N.J. Sept. 30, 2009). Because of the relationship of that case to this one, the Court will briefly detail its procedural history.

The complaint in Civil Action 09-4784 was a 100-page submission "encompassing 371 virtually incomprehensible paragraphs," and Judge Bumb dismissed the initial pleading for failure to comply with the procedural and substantive requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, as well as Rules 18 and 20. Hoffenberg v. Grondolsky, Civ. Action No. 09-4784 (RMB), 2011 WL 124632, at *3 (D.N.J. Jan. 14, 2011). Over the course of several further iterations of the pleadings, Judge Bumb went to great lengths to help Hoffenberg bring his submissions into compliance with the Federal Rules. Id. at *5-6. Unfortunately, Hoffenberg ignored these efforts and filed additional incomprehensible and prolix pleadings. Id. at *4-9.

Four subsequent amendments failed to remedy the problem, and so the Court dismissed the matter with prejudice given the disregard for the Court's multiple efforts to explain the pleading requirements to Plaintiff. Id. at *18.

Judge Bumb did attempt to discern claims from the difficult-to-follow pleadings, and determined that -- to the extent they were properly interpreted by the Court -- they were without merit. The claims included, as relevant here: (1) an access to courts claim based on confiscation of certain legal documents; (2) a claim that Plaintiff should not have been placed in solitary confinement; (3) a claim involving medical malpractice; (4) a vague claim involving retaliation; and (5) a claim that the prison was interfering with Hoffenberg's criminal restitution payments. Id. at *16-18.

As to the access to the courts claim, Judge Bumb dismissed the claim for failure to allege any actual injury to Hoffenberg's ability to litigate any claims as a result of removal of certain legal documents from his posssession, noting that his argument that the documents were necessary to file concise future pleadings was transparently meritless. Hoffenberg v. Grondolsky, Civ. Action No. 09-4784 (RMB), 2011 WL 124632, at *13 (D.N.J. Jan. 14, 2011). As to the allegation that Plaintiff's rights were violated because, for a certain period of time, Plaintiff was moved from the general prison population to solitary confinement, Judge Bumb understood the claim to be that Plaintiff had some right not to be placed in solitary confinement, and she determined that Hoffenberg had no such general right. Hoffenberg v. Grondolsky, Civ. Action No. 09-4784 (RMB), 2010 WL 1706304, at *2 (D.N.J. Apr. 27, 2010) (citing Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 478 (1995)). As to the medical malpractice claim, Judge Bumb determined that such a claim was not cognizable as a Bivens action in the absence of any allegations that Plaintiff was denied care for his medical needs, or was denied for non-medical reasons. Id. at *4 (citing Monmouth County Correctional Institutional Inmates v. Lanzaro, 834 F.2d 326 (3d Cir. 1987)). As to the retaliation claim, Judge Bumb determined that Plaintiff's "retaliation" claim did not specify either the protected activity, or why that activity was the motivating factor driving each particular Defendant's actions, or the relevant timeline of events. Id. at *6. And, finally, as to the restitution-related claim, Judge Bumb determined that Hoffenberg did not articulate any cognizable civil rights claim related to his ability to pay restitution to his victims. Hoffenberg v. Grondolsky, Civ. Action No. 09-4784 (RMB), 2011 WL 124632, at *17 (D.N.J. Jan. 14, 2011).

On November 30, 2011, after providing Hoffenberg with notice and an opportunity to be heard on the matter, Judge Bumb entered a limited order of preclusion against Hoffenberg. Hoffenberg v. Grondolsky, Civ. Action No. 09-4784 (RMB) (D.N.J. Nov. 30, 2011). For all non-emergent non-habeas civil actions in which Hoffenberg seeks in forma pauperis status, Hoffenberg is required to file a one-page single-sided application for leave to file pleadings. The application is required to contain the information Judge Bumb determined to be ...


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