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Turner v. Johnson

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 11, 2018

STEVEN JOHNSON, et al., Defendants.




         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants Steven Johnson and Sgt. Doran's motion to dismiss Plaintiff Juan Ibn-Don Mumit Turner's complaint, (ECF No. 28), and Plaintiffs cross-motion to amend his complaint, (ECF No. 31). For the following reasons, Defendants' motion to dismiss is denied and Plaintiffs motion to amend is granted in part. Plaintiffs amended complaint shall be permitted to proceed only on his access to the courts claims against defendants Johnson and Doran.


         Petitioner is currently incarcerated in New Jersey State Prison ("NJSP") Trenton, New Jersey. On January 26, 2017, he filed a complaint alleging NJSP Warden Stephen Johnson, Third Circuit Clerk Marcia Waldron, and Mailroom Sgt. Doran had interfered with his access to the courts by failing to give him Judge Jerome B. Simandle's, U.S.D.J., opinion dismissing his habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in a timely manner. (ECF No. 1).

         According to the original complaint, Judge Simandle denied Plaintiffs habeas corpus petition on August 31, 2015. See Turner v. Chiesa, No. 12-5224, 2015 WL 5116764 (D.N.J. Aug. 31, 2015). Plaintiff alleges he did not receive Judge Simandle's opinion and order until November 3, 2015. See Compl. at 3A. Under the federal rules, Plaintiff had 30 days to appeal the habeas denial, or until September 30, 2015. See Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(1)(A). Plaintiff states he did not receive the opinion and order until November 3, 2015.

         Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file an appeal as within time on November 19, 2015. Judge Simandle denied the motion: "The principal issue presented is whether this Court may enlarge the time for appeal in this civil case where the prisoner petitioner did not receive the Court's Order until 63 days after it was entered through no fault of his own, and where he filed this motion to permit the appeal 17 days after receiving the Order. Unfortunately, such relief is precluded by 28 U.S.C. 2107(c) and Fed. R. App. P. 4()(a)(6), and this Court must deny the motion." Turner v. Chiesa, No. 12-5224, 2016 WL 356029 (D.N.J. Jan. 29, 2016), certificate of appealability denied, No. 16-1604 (3d Cir. May 25, 2016). Plaintiffs appeal of the § 2254 denial was dismissed by the Third Circuit as untimely. Turner v. Att'y General of N.J., No. 15-3932 (3d Cir.), cert, denied sub nom Turner v. Porrino, 137 S.Ct. 507 (2016).

         Judge Simandle did not opine as to the definitive reason for the delay: "[a] photocopy of this Court's original mailing envelope .. . bears the postage meter date of mailing as August 31, 2015, the same date as when the Opinion and Order were entered on the docket. The cause for the two month delay in delivery to Petitioner, from August 31, 2015 to November 3, 2015, cannot be determined with certainty-----it may be due to the misaddressed zip code, or to delay within the [N]SP], or both." Turner, 2016 WL 356029, at *1. Plaintiff alleges the prison intentionally held up his mail for over two months, causing him to lose his ability to appeal the denial of his habeas petition. This Court dismissed Marcia Waldron from the case in its screening opinion, but permitted the claims to proceed against Warden Johnson and Sgt. Doran. Screening Opinion and Order of March 30, 2017. (ECF No. 3).

         Plaintiff filed a motion to expand the record to include documents allegedly showing a pattern of NJSP's interference with his legal mail, including an incident in which Special Investigation Division ("SID") officers confiscated affidavits Plaintiff intended on asserting in a motion for a new trial. (ECF No. 5).[1] Magistrate Judge Bongiovanni granted this motion. (ECF No. 15).

         Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on December 31, 2017. (ECF No. 28). The Court originally tried to hold oral argument on this motion on January 24, 2018, but Plaintiff was not prepared to proceed. The Court permitted Plaintiff addition time to file opposition, which he used to file his cross-motion to amend on February 2, 2018. (ECF No. 31). The Court conducted oral argument on April 30, 2018, at which time Plaintiff appeared by telephone. Plaintiffs response to Defendants' opposition was received after argument on May 8, 2018. (ECF No. 42).


         When considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim, Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the Court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. A motion to dismiss may be granted only if the plaintiff has failed to set forth fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests that make such a claim plausible on its face. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). Although Rule 8 does not require "detailed factual allegations, " it requires "more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint, the Court must "tak[e] note of the elements [the] plaintiff must plead to state a claim. Second, it should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, [w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, [the] court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016) (alterations in original) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). "[A] complaint's allegations of historical fact continue to enjoy a highly favorable standard of review at the motion-to-dismiss stage of proceedings." Id. at 790.

         Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a party to amend a pleading once as a matter of course twenty-one (21) days after serving the pleading or twenty-one (21) days "after a responsive pleading or service of a motion under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f), whichever is earlier." Fed.R.Civ.P. l5(a)(1)(A)-(B). "In all other cases, a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave. The court should freely give leave when justice so requires." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). As Plaintiffs time ...

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