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Brown v. Mellaci

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 5, 2017

MR. JOSEPH J. BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
ANTHONY J. MELLACI, JR., et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          Freda L. Wolfson, United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter has been opened to the Court by Plaintiff's filing of a civil action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court previously granted Plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”). (ECF No. 3.) In the instant Complaint, Plaintiff has sued a state court judge, a prosecutor, and several defense attorneys who were involved in his criminal case. Federal law requires this Court to screen Plaintiff's 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).

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff's Complaint is dated February 25, 2016. (ECF No. 1, Complaint at 12.) In his Complaint, he alleges that on February 26, 2009, Prosecutor Melanie Falco and Public Defender Jeffrey W. Coghlan informed him that he had been indicted on a charge of second degree eluding. At the time of his arraignment on May 4, 2009, Plaintiff was represented by Public Defender Coghlan. On March 15, 2010, Plaintiff was represented by Ralph E. Stubbs, who is described in the Complaint as a “pool attorney.” According to the Complaint, Stubbs, Falco, and Coghlan committed “illegal Representation and Malicious Prosecution.” On October 22, 2010, Plaintiff allegedly informed the Honorable Anthony J. Mellaci in open court that the plea agreement was “based on a Lie and Fabrication” by Stubbs and Falco. On January 14, 2011, Plaintiff appeared before Judge Mellaci with a new pool attorney, Anthony Fazioli. At this appearance, Plaintiff requested “leave to appeal a motion, ” and Judge Mellaci allegedly “Made terroristic threats, Slanderous bias remarks, verbal bias intimidation remarks, and committed official Judicial felony misconduct.” (Id.) The Complaint alleges that on November 29, 2012 Plaintiff filed a petition for post-conviction relief (“PCR”). Plaintiff alleges, however, that he was “deprived of his civil rights to appeal his conviction by the assigned designated counsel, ” who is not named in the Complaint. (Id.) On March 3, 2015, Plaintiff refiled his PCR “to no avail.” (Id.) On June 15, 2015, Plaintiff alleges that he “learned that the indictment and case had all been a lie fabricated in retaliation by the Public Defender, Jeffrey W. Coghlan, and the State Prosecutor Melanie Falco.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff has attached to his Complaint a letter he wrote to Public Defender Joseph E. Krakora, which is dated February 10, 2016. (Id. at 13-14.) That letter repeats his allegation that he was never properly indicted on the eluding charge, and further alleges that “there or [sic] no grand jury minutes transcripts from April 1st, 2009 on the second-degree Eluding charge.” (Id. at page 13.) The letter also states that the Public Defender's and Prosecutor's Offices fabricated the indictment “in Retaliation for another criminal case that [he] was framed and rail-road [sic] for in 2001.” (Id.) He further states in the letter that he was rushed and misled into pleading guilty to the eluding charge by Defendants Coghlan and Stubbs. (Id. at 14.) Plaintiff explains that he “requested that a motion be filed on [his] behalf to dismiss the sentence and charge, base [sic] on the fact that I had not been indicted on the second-degree Eluding charge. However, [he was] informed by the Public defender's office for Post-conviction relief unit that this case should be handled as a PCR.” (Id. at 14.)

         In the relief section of his Complaint, Plaintiff seeks to have his sentence vacated and receive monetary compensation for his other losses. He also seeks “a full federal investigation and review of the full record in regard to this illedge [sic] criminal case.” (Id. at 12.)

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under the PLRA, 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 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. Id. “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, Plaintiff's Complaint is subject to screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(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 plaintiff's 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 plaintiff's ‘bald assertions' or ‘legal conclusions.' Id. (citing Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 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

         From the facts alleged in the Complaint, Plaintiff has sued the Defendants named in the Complaint for their alleged participation in a conspiracy to maliciously prosecute him for an offense for which he was never indicted. He additionally appears to allege that the defense attorneys identified in the Complaint provided ineffective assistance of counsel. He seeks the ...


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