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Matthews v. Hillegass

United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage

February 20, 2018

Stanley John MATTHEWS, Plaintiff,
Judge Thomas HILLEGASS, et al., Defendants.



         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Stanley John Matthews' complaint and application to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. No. 1), alleging violation of his civil rights. For the reasons stated herein, Plaintiff's complaint is DISMISSED.

         I. THE FACTS

         Plaintiff Stanley John Matthews brings a civil rights action against Judge Thomas Hillegass, Judge Donna M. Taylor, Judge Michael J. Donahue, Judge James Pickering (collectively, the “Judicial Defendants”), District Attorney Robert Johnson, D.E.A Prosecutor Mike Jefferson (collectively, the “Prosecutor Defendants”), Detective Jack Trombetter, Officer Shawn Karge, Chief Cris Luesner, Detective Joseph Boyle (collectively, the “Police Defendants”), Judicial Clerk Ray Teller, Judicial Clerk Jen Karusso (collectively, the “Clerk Defendants”), Rebecca Watson, “DYFS, ” “Head of Cape Counseling, ” and the “Social Security Office.” (Compl. at 1.) Although Plaintiff has not stated a cause of action, we will interpret this case as one brought under 28 U.S.C. § 1983.

         Plaintiff's complaint defies easy comprehension, but it appears to plead as follows. This controversy arises from an indictment for failing to register as a sex offender. What happened beyond that is frankly inscrutable. Plaintiff's complaint consists primarily of sentence fragments, parenthetical interpolations, and conclusory allegations. We discern, however, that the indictment and subsequent prosecution perturbed him, and may have required him to testify at some personal expense. And in a series of exchanges between Plaintiff and various individuals, including his court-assigned counsel, Plaintiff alleges that his communications were unfairly misunderstood or disregarded. The extent of each Defendants' involvement in this case is something of a mystery.

         Plaintiff seeks (among other things) relief of “fairness, ” damages for emotional distress, recusal of New Jersey judges and prosecutors, an evidentiary hearing (possibly under 28 U.S.C. § 2254), vindication of his constitutional rights, and repayment of attorneys' fees for the three court-appointed lawyers who were possibly, but not certainly, connected to this episode. (Compl. at 8.)


         District courts must review complaints in civil actions in which a litigant is proceeding in forma pauperis and must 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. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Pro se complaints must be construed liberally. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court may dismiss an action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When evaluating a motion to dismiss, “courts accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)). A complaint survives a motion to dismiss if it contains sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). It is not for courts to decide at this point whether the non-moving party will succeed on the merits, but “whether they should be afforded an opportunity to offer evidence in support of their claims.” In re Rockefeller Ctr. Props., Inc. Sec. Litig., 311 F.3d 198, 215 (3d Cir. 2002). While “detailed factual allegations” are not necessary, a “plaintiffs obligation to provide the grounds of his entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotations omitted); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009).


         A. Judicial Immunity

         We first address the complaint's allegations against the Judicial Defendants. Although we are uncertain on the scope of the remedy that Plaintiff seeks against the Judicial Defendants, it is well established that a “judicial officer in the performance of his duties has absolute immunity from suit and will not be liable for judicial acts.” Azubuko v. Royal, 443 F.3d 302, 303 (3d Cir. 2006). Further, “[a] judge will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his authority; rather, he will be subject to liability only when he has acted in the clear absence of all jurisdiction.” Id. (citing Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-57 (1978) (citation omitted)). There is no conceivable basis for this suit to go forward against the Judicial Defendants and amendment would be futile. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002) (“amendment must be permitted in this context unless it would be inequitable or futile”). Furthermore, to the extent that Plaintiff seeks the Judicial Defendants to recuse or otherwise disengage from his case, that is a matter for the courts of New Jersey. We accordingly dismiss the Judicial Defendants from this action with prejudice.

         Similarly, although Plaintiff has not stated with any particularity why Judicial Clerks Teller and Karusso are involved in this matter, on the face of the complaint there is no conceivable basis for a suit to go forward against them. Court personnel, including judicial clerks, are entitled to “quasi-judicial immunity” when carrying out judicial functions. Funches v. Bucks Cty., 586 Fed.Appx. 864, 868 (3d Cir. 2014). Although the complaint is murky, Plaintiff appears to have sued them for their incidental involvement in the proceedings brought against him, similar to the Judicial Defendants. Accordingly, the Clerk Defendants are dismissed from this action with prejudice.

         B. ...

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