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Iantosca v. Magnone

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 19, 2017

LAURA MAGNONE, ESQ., Defendants.




         This matter has been opened to the Court by Plaintiffs filing of a civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This Court previously granted Plaintiffs application to proceed in forma pauperis. Federal law requires this Court to screen Plaintiffs Complaint for sua sponte dismissal prior to service, and to dismiss any claim if that claim fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and/or to dismiss any defendant who is immune from suit. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). For the reasons explained below, the Court will dismiss with prejudice the § 1983 claims raised in the Complaint. The Court will also deny Plaintiffs request to convert this matter to a habeas case. Because it is not clear whether Plaintiff has any additional § 1983 claims against the Defendants identified in his Complaint or against individuals referenced in his numerous filings, the Court will permit Plaintiff to submit an amended complaint within 30 days of the date of the Order accompanying this Opinion.


         The Court recounts only the facts necessary to this Opinion. Plaintiff has sued Laura Magnone, who is identified in the Complaint as an Assistant Prosecutor with Morris County Prosecutor's Office, and Robert Scrivo, Esq., who is identified in the Complaint as an "Attorney at Law" with the law firm of McElroy, Deusch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, LLP, for alleged violations of his civil rights under 28 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1, Compl. at page 4.) Plaintiff appears to be a convicted prisoner and alleges that prior to his acceptance of a plea deal for unspecified state court charges, Scrivo asked Magnone if Plaintiff could apply for the Pre-Trial Intervention Program ("PTI").[1] (Id. at 5.) Magnone allegedly replied: "Absolutely not, he can not (sic) apply." (Id.) She also allegedly stated to Plaintiff that she would make sure that he did not get PTI. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Magnone's conduct violated his rights by discriminating against him and showing bias. He further alleges that Scrivo violated his rights by providing ineffective assistance of counsel for not objecting to the denial of PTI and by advising Plaintiff to take a plea deal. (Id.) Plaintiff seeks damages in the amount of $1, 750, 000.00. (Id. at 6.)


         Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, §§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 1321-77 (April 26, 1996) ("PLRA"), district courts must review complaints in those civil actions in which a prisoner is proceeding in forma pauper is, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), seeks redress against a governmental employee or entity, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), or brings a claim with respect to prison conditions, see 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. The PLRA 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. "The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is the same as that for dismissing a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)." Schreane v. Seana, 506 F.App'x 120, 122 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000)); Mitchell v. Beard, 492 F.App'x 230, 232 (3d Cir. 2012) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1)); Courteau v. United States, 287 F.App'x 159, 162 (3d Cir. 2008) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)).

         Here, Plaintiffs Complaint is subject to screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). When reviewing a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), courts first separate the factual and legal elements of the claims, and accept all of the well-pleaded facts as true. See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). All reasonable inferences must be made in the plaintiffs favor. See In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010). The complaint must also allege "sufficient factual matter" to show that the claim is facially plausible. 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).

         Courts are required to liberally construe pleadings drafted by pro se parties. Tucker v. Hewlett Packard, Inc., No. 14-4699 (RBK/KMW), 2015 WL 6560645, at *2 (D.N.J. Oct. 29, 2015) (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)). Such pleadings are "held to less strict standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Id. Nevertheless, pro se litigants must still allege facts, which if taken as true, will suggest the required elements of any claim that is asserted. Id. (citing Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013)). To do so, [a plaintiff] must plead enough facts, accepted as true, to plausibly suggest entitlement to relief." Gibney v. Fitzgibbon, 547 F.App'x 111, 113 (3d Cir. 2013) (citing Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352, 365 (3d Cir. 2012)). Furthermore, "[l]iberal construction does not, however, require the Court to credit a pro se plaintiffs 'bald assertions' or 'legal conclusions.' Id. (citing Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. DisL, 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997)). That is, "[e]ven a pro se complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim if the allegations set forth by the plaintiff cannot be construed as supplying facts to support a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief. Id. (citing Milhouse v. Carlson, 652 F.2d 371, 373 (3d Cir. 1981)).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         As explained below, the Court construes Plaintiff to allege claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Magnone and Scrivo.[2] The Court considers the § 1983 claims against each Defendant as alleged in the Complaint and separately addresses Plaintiffs additional filings.

         a. Claims against Defendant Magnone

         Plaintiff alleges that that Defendant Magnone discriminated against him by refusing to allow him to apply to PTI and by stating that she would deny his PT1 application. The Court construes Plaintiff to allege § 1983 claims of malicious and/or selective prosecution against Defendant Magnone. Under federal law, however, prosecutors have absolute immunity from civil liability, i.e., damages, for their conduct in their role as prosecutors.[3] See Newsome v. City of Newark, No. 13-CV-06234 CCC, 2014 WL 4798783, at *2 (D.N.J. Sept. 25, 2014) (citing Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 427-28 (1976)). It is well established that prosecutors sued under § 1983 enjoy absolute immunity for their conduct in "initiating a prosecution and in presenting the State's case." Imbler, 424 U.S. at 431. This immunity extends to any acts the prosecutor undertakes "as the state's 'advocate, '" Yarris v. County of Delaware, 465 F.3d 129, 136 (3d Cir. 2006), and is not defeated by allegations that the prosecutor acted in bad faith, see Ernst v. Child & Youth Servs., 108 F.3d 486, 502 (3d Cir. 1997), or "committed] perjury or falsifie[d] evidence, " Davis v. Grusemeyer, 996 F.2d 617, 630 n. 27 (3d Cir. 1993), overruled on other grounds by Rolo v. City Investing Co. Liquidating Trust, 155 F.3d 644 (3d Cir.1998); see also Tindell v. Pennsylvania, 398 F.App'x 696, 698 (3d Cir. 2010) (explaining same).

         In Davis, 996 F.2d at 631, an indictee sued both the prosecutors and detective for their efforts to deny him access to PTI, and their decision to instead continue with criminal prosecution. Id. at 627-29. The Third Circuit found that the decision to continue a criminal prosecution through trial "is at the heart of the prosecutorial decision-making process ..." and should therefore be immune from civil liability. Id. at 629. Further, the Court held that a detective performing investigative work in connection with a criminal prosecution receives the same absolute immunity as would the prosecutor. Id. at 631-32. Thus, under well-established Third Circuit precedent, Defendant Magnone is entitled to prosecutorial immunity for her decision to deny Plaintiff PTI and continue with his prosecution, which ultimately resulted in a plea deal. As ...

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