United States District Court, D. New Jersey
G. Sheridan, U.S.D.J.
matter has come before the Court on a civil rights Complaint
filed by pro se Plaintiff Ronald Allen pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983. Because Plaintiff is proceeding in
forma pauperis, see ECF No. 4, the Court must screen the
Complaint to determine whether the case shall be dismissed
because it is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim
on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief
against a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2). Having completed this screening, for the
reasons stated below, the Complaint is dismissed with
crux of Plaintiffs claims is that he did not receive notice
of status and filing dates during the pendency of his state
post-conviction relief ("PCR") proceeding, which
deprived him of the ability to fully litigate the matter.
Plaintiff names the presiding judge, Gerald J. Council, and
John doe court staff as the only defendants. However, in the
Complaint, he acknowledges that Judge Council issued an order
assigning Plaintiff counsel in the PCR proceeding. ECF No. 1
at 5. As such, the fact that Plaintiff was not personally
notified of the status of his PCR proceeding is not
necessarily a deprivation of his constitutional rights, since
he makes no allegation that counsel was not notified during
the pendency of the PCR proceeding. To the extent his
attorney may have kept him in the dark, that cannot be the
basis of any claim against Judge Council or the court staff,
nor can Plaintiff name his PCR attorney as a party in a
§ 1983 action. See Vermont v. Brillon, 556 U.S.
81, 91 (2009) ("[T]he relationship between a defendant
and the public defender representing him is identical to that
existing between any other lawyer and client. Unlike a
prosecutor or the court, assigned counsel ordinarily is not
considered a state actor.") (citation and quotation
omitted); Rieco v. Hebe, No. 15-2323, 633 Fed.Appx.
567, 569 (3d Cir. 2015) ("Public defenders are generally
not considered state actors for § 1983 purposes when
acting in their capacities as attorneys.") (quoting
Polk Cty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 325 (1981)).
judges are absolutely immune from suit for actions taken in
their judicial capacity. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S.
9, 11 (1991). "[J]udicial immunity is an immunity from
suit, not just from ultimate assessment of damages."
Id. "[J]udicial immunity is not overcome by
allegations of bad faith or malice, the existence of which
ordinarily cannot be resolved without engaging in discovery
and eventual trial." Id. Plaintiffs factual
basis for his claim against Judge Council, the alleged
failure to provide Plaintiff notice of status during his PCR
proceeding, is indisputably judicial in nature. Therefore,
Judge Council is immune from Plaintiffs suit.
judicial staff are entitled to quasi-immunity from §
1983 claims so long as they did not act outside their
discretion, outside the scope of their duties, or contrary to
the direction of a judicial officer. Kulesa v. Rex,
519 Fed.Appx. 743, 746 (3d Cir. 2013) (citing Gallas v.
Sup. Ct. of Pa., 211 F.3d 760, 772-73 (3d Cir. 2000));
Lusick v. City of Phila., 549 Fed.Appx. 56, 58 (3d
Cir. 2013). The Complaint is devoid of any factual allegation
that any court staff acted in such fashions. Indeed, as the
Court stated above, Plaintiff has not established that no
notice was provided whatsoever; he merely alleges that he
himself did not receive notice personally.
damningly, Plaintiffs claims are time-barred. According to
the Complaint, the PCR proceeding in question concluded on
December 8, 2011, when Judge Council denied PCR, almost six
years before the filing of the Complaint. ECF No. 1 at 6.
Under New Jersey law, an action for an injury caused by a
wrongful act, neglect, or default must be commenced within
two years of accrual of the cause of action. N.J.S.A. §
2A:14-2; Estate of Lagano v. Bergen Cty. Prosecutor's
Office, 769 F.3d 850, 859 (3d Cir. 2014). Federal courts
look to state law to determine the limitations period for
§ 1983 actions. Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384,
387-88 (2007); Lagano, 769 F.3d at 859. Civil rights
or constitutional tort claims are best characterized as
personal injury actions and are governed by the applicable
state's statute of limitations for personal injury
actions. Lagano, 769 F.3d at 859. Accordingly, New
Jersey's two-year limitations period on personal injury
actions governs Plaintiffs claims. Id.
PCR was allegedly denied on December 8, 2011, Plaintiffs
alleged injury, the inability to fully litigate his PCR
matter, concluded on that date. Under the relevant statute of
limitations, Plaintiff had two years to bring his civil
rights claims for said injury, but he did not do so until
more than five years later, rendering his claims grossly
untimely. Accordingly, the Court dismisses the Complaint with
prejudice, both for raising meritless claims, as well as
being untimely, thus failing to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted. To be explicit, the Court's
dismissal constitutes a strike for the purpose of the
three-strike statute under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). See
Trimble v. Cty. of ...