United States District Court, D. New Jersey
FREDA L. WOLFSON, District Judge.
Plaintiff, currently confined at the Monmouth County Correctional Institution, brings this civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arising from his arrest on January 13, 2015 pursuant to a warrant. Plaintiff contends that he was arrested without probable cause and in retaliation for his protected speech, legal problems, and intrinsic characteristics and has sued Defendants for their respective roles in issuing the warrant and setting Plaintiff's bail. For the reasons expressed in this opinion, Plaintiff's claims against the unidentified judge who issued the warrant and against Judge Sonnenblick are dismissed with prejudice. Plaintiff's remaining claims against William Beckenstein are dismissed without prejudice.
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff, a pretrial detainee presently confined at Monmouth County Correctional Facility, filed the instant Complaint on March 9, 2015. Plaintiff's Complaint is cryptic and only vaguely alludes to the criminal charges that give rise to his Section 1983 claims. Plaintiff's handwritten Complaint indicates that a warrant was issued in Freehold (the "Freehold warrant") on January 13, 2015 for two violations of N.J.S.A. 2C:12-3b, the statutory provision for making terroristic threats, but Plaintiff has crossed out the references to the statutory provision in his Complaint ( see id. at 7-8.), making it unclear whether he was arrested for making terroristic threats or for some other offense.
Plaintiff has sued three Defendants for their respective roles in issuing the arrest warrant and setting his bail. Plaintiff has sued William Beckenstein, an investigator at Monmouth County Correctional Facility who initially signed the warrant. Plaintiff alleges that there was no probable cause for seeking the warrant and that Beckenstein sought to obtain the warrant "because of [Plaintiff's] speech and... legal circumstances and... inherent traits." ( Id. at 4.) Plaintiff also states in his Complaint that Beckenstein "filed a criminal complaint/warrant to effect (sic) another criminal case that concerned [Plaintiff]...." ( Id. at 9-10.) He additionally contends in his Complaint that "William Beckenstein had filed a criminal complaint do [sic] to the plaintiff [sic] intrinsic traits not equally protecting Gary Wolchesky's legal rights...." Plaintiff has also sued the judge who signed the warrant because the acts for which Plaintiff was charged did not occur and because the warrant itself allegedly did not provide the facts to indicate that each element of the alleged offense had occurred." ( Id. at 7-8.) It appears that Plaintiff has not identified the judge who signed the warrant because the signature on the warrant is illegible. ( See id. at 7.) Finally, Plaintiff has sued "Nicole Sonnerblick, J.M.L." [sic] for allegedly setting his bail too high and for setting bail for criminal offenses that did not occur, as well as for violating his "protected speech." ( Id. at 8-9.) With respect to the Judge, Plaintiff alleges that Judge Sonnenblick "set a bail amount at [ten times] the recommended maximum by not providing a 10% option...." ( Id. at 8.) Although Plaintiff indicates that Defendant Sonnenblick's place of employment is "unknown" ( Id. at 5.), the Freehold Municipal Court webpage lists Nicole Sonnenblick, J.M.C. as a Municipal Court Judge for the municipality.
a. Standard for Sua Sponte Dismissal
The Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub.L. No. 104-134, §§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 1321-77 (April 26, 1996), requires a district court to review a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner is proceeding in forma pauperis or seeks redress against a governmental employee or entity. The Court is required to identify cognizable claims and to sua sponte dismiss any claim that is frivolous, 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. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). This action is subject to sua sponte screening for dismissal under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A because Plaintiff is proceeding as an indigent and is a prisoner.
According to the Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, "[a] pleading that offers "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders "naked assertion[s]" devoid of "further factual enhancement." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). For a complaint to survive dismissal, it "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570); see also Fowler v. UPMS 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." Fair Wind Sailing, Inc. v. Dempster, 764 F.3d 303, 308 n.3 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). The Third Circuit summarized the pleading requirement post- Twombly as follows:
The Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus: stating... a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest' the required element. This does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, ' but instead simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element.'
Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556) (internal citations and quotations omitted).
In determining the sufficiency of a pro se complaint, the Court must also be mindful to construe it liberally in favor of the plaintiff. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007) (following Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976) and Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972)); see also United States v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir. 1992). The Court must "accept as true all of the allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). The Court need not, however, credit a pro se plaintiff's "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions." Id. Moreover, while pro se pleadings are ...