United States District Court, District of New Jersey
November 7, 2014
AMOS BROWN, III, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendants
AMOS BROWN, III, Plaintiff, Pro se, PINE HILL, NJ.
For UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant: PAUL A. BLAINE, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, CAMDEN, NJ.
ROBERT B. KUGLER, United States District Judge.
Plaintiff is a former federal prisoner. He is proceeding pro se with a civil rights complaint which the Court construes as being filed pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971). Plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis is granted based on the information provided therein and the Clerk will be ordered to file the complaint.
The complaint must be screened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) to determine whether it should be dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or because it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from suit. For the reasons set forth below, the complaint will be dismissed without prejudice. Plaintiff shall not be given leave to amend.
The allegations of the complaint will be construed as true for purposes of this screening. Plaintiff states that he was charged in 1983 in the District of Maryland of armed bank robbery, kidnapping and other related offenses. Ultimately, a jury convicted plaintiff and he was sentenced to thirty years imprisonment in 1984. Plaintiff was released from prison on July 16, 2014. See http://www.bop.gov/inmateloc/ (last visited on November 5, 2014).
On September 9, 2014, plaintiff submitted his complaint in this action. Plaintiff requests compensatory and punitive damages arising from his District of Maryland conviction. He seeks an award of monetary damages because " the prosecution's case-in-chief hinged 'solely' upon informant testimony derived from the crime of 'bribing a witness.'" (Dkt. No. 1 at p. 3.) He claims the government bribed witness at this trial by reducing their sentences in exchange for their testimony.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
A. Standard for Sua Sponte Dismissal
District courts must review complaints in those civil actions in which a person is proceeding in forma pauperis, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). The statute directs district courts to sua sponte dismiss any claim that is frivolous, is malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.
According to the Supreme Court's decision in Iqbal, " a pleading that offers 'labels or conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). To survive sua sponte screening for failure to state a claim, the complaint must allege " sufficient factual matter" to show that the claim is facially plausible. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). " A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Belmont v. MB Inv. Partners, Inc., 708 F.3d 470, 483 n.17 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Moreover, while pro se pleadings are liberally construed, " pro se litigants still must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim." Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245, 58 V.I. 691 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted) (emphasis added).
B. Bivens Actions
Bivens is the federal counterpart to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Walker v. Zenk, 323 F.App'x 144, 145 n. 1 (3d Cir. 2009) (per curiam) (citing Egervary v. Young, 366 F.3d 238, 246 (3d Cir. 2004)). In order to state a claim under Bivens, a plaintiff must allege: (1) a deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and (2) that the deprivation of the right was caused by a person acting under color of federal law. See Couden v. Duffy, 446 F.3d 483, 491 (3d Cir. 2006) (stating that under Section 1983 " an individual may bring suit for damages against any person who, acting under color of state law, deprives another individual of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the United States Constitution or federal law, " and that Bivens held that a parallel right exists against federal officials); see also Collins v. F.B.I., No. 10-3470, 2011 WL 1627025, at *6 (D.N.J. Apr. 28, 2011) (" The Third Circuit has recognized that Bivens actions are simply the federal counterpart to § 1983 claims brought against state officials' and thus the analysis established under one type of claim is applicable under the other.") (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
Plaintiff seeks an award of monetary damages because he claims that the prosecution's case-in-chief against him was derived from the crime of bribing witnesses for their testimony. In Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994), the Supreme Court proscribed a § 1983 plaintiff's right to recover for certain causes of action if the plaintiff has been criminally convicted of charges directly related to the § 1983 claim. Heck dealt with a plaintiff's ability to recover damages for an " allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid." Heck, 512 U.S. at 486. In order to be able to recover damages in such a case, a plaintiff " must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such a determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus[.]" Id. at 486-87. Accordingly, when a prisoner seeks damages in a civil suit, " the district court must consider whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence; if it would, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated." Id. at 487. The Heck rule also bars such claims brought under Bivens. See Rogers v. Mills, 516 F.App'x 108, 109 (3d Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (citing Lora-Pena v. F.B.I., 529 F.3d 503, 506 n.2 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Williams v. Hill, 74 F.3d 1339, 1341, 316 U.S.App.D.C. 78 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (per curaim))).
In this case, plaintiff's complaint is barred by Heck . As plaintiff himself indicates, the prosecutor's case-in-chief against him was purportedly brought about by improper and criminal bribery. Thus, it follows that plaintiff's claims, if successful, would necessarily imply the invalidity of his federal conviction. Furthermore, plaintiff has not alleged that his federal sentence has ever been overturned or otherwise declared invalid or called into question. Indeed, as noted in supra Part II, it appears that plaintiff only recently completed serving his sentence on his conviction. Therefore, the complaint will be dismissed without prejudice as it is barred by Heck. See Brown v. City of Phila., 339 F.App'x 143, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2009) (per curiam) (stating that when a claim is dismissed under Heck, the dismissal should be without prejudice) (citing Fottler v. United States, 73 F.3d 1064, 1065-66 (10th Cir. 1996)). As plaintiff's complaint is completely barred by Heck, he shall not be given leave to amend. Accord Abbott v. Machen, No. 12-0308, 2012 WL 5288790, at *1 (W.D. Pa. Oct. 24, 2012) (denying leave to amend complaint as futile where plaintiff cannot overcome Heck bar); see also Banks v. Hayward, 221 F.App'x 98, 101 (3d Cir. 2007) (noting that district court did not abuse its discretion in disallowing leave to amend as plaintiff would face insurmountable Heck bar to claim).
For the foregoing reasons, the complaint will be dismissed without prejudice. An appropriate order will be entered.