United States District Court, D. New Jersey
TIMOTHY M. LEWIS, Plaintiff,
JOHN JOHNSON, et al., Defendants.
BRIAN R. MARTINOTTI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
this Court is the Complaint of Plaintiff Timothy M. Lewis
(“Plaintiff”) raising civil rights claims against
his criminal defense attorney and two public defenders. (ECF
No. 1.) Also before the Court is Plaintiff's application
for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF No.
1-1.) Having reviewed Plaintiff's application to proceed
in forma pauperis, the accompanying affidavit, and
the certified account statement setting forth Plaintiff's
financial status, the Court finds that leave to proceed
in forma pauperis is warranted in this matter.
Accordingly, Plaintiff's application to proceed in
forma pauperis (ECF No. 1-1) is
Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court
is required to screen the Complaint under 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B). Pursuant to the statute, this Court must
dismiss Plaintiff's claims if they are frivolous,
malicious, fail to state a claim for relief, or seek damages
from a defendant who is immune. For the reasons set forth
below, Plaintiff's Complaint (ECF No. 1) is
DISMISSED in its entirety.
complaint, Plaintiff asserts his assigned criminal defense
attorney, Michael G. Weiss, refused to help him prepare his
criminal case, refused to file Plaintiff's pro
se supplemental motions, and subjected Plaintiff to
verbal abuse and insults. (ECF No. 1 at 4-6.) Plaintiff also
asserts Weiss failed to meet with him to discuss his criminal
case. (Id. at 6.) Because his attorney refuses to
assist him, Plaintiff reached out to the office of Defendant
Krakora, the Public Defender of the State of New Jersey.
(Id. at 3-6.) Specifically, Plaintiff spoke with
Defendant John Johnson, one of Krakora's deputy public
defenders, who stated he would investigate the matter and
“get back” to Plaintiff. (Id. at 4.)
Johnson thereafter failed to contact Plaintiff regarding his
case and his complaint about his assigned attorney.
to the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134,
§§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 1321-77 (April 26,
1996) (the “PLRA”), district courts must review
the complaints in all civil actions in which a prisoner is
proceeding in forma pauperis, see 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B), or seeks damages from a state employee.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. The PLRA directs
district courts to sua sponte dismiss any claim that
is frivolous, 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. 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. This action is subject
to sua sponte screening for dismissal pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) because Plaintiff has been
granted in forma pauperis status.
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 Fed.Appx. 120, 122 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing
Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir.
2000)); Mitchell v. Beard, 492 Fed.Appx. 230, 232
(3d Cir. 2012) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1));
Courteau v. United States, 287 Fed.Appx. 159, 162
(3d Cir. 2008) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)).
deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a district court is “required
to accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint
and draw all inferences in the facts alleged in the light
most favorable to the [Plaintiff].” Phillips v.
Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 228 (3d Cir. 2008).
“[A] complaint attacked by a . . . motion to dismiss
does not need detailed factual allegations.” Bell
Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). However,
the Plaintiff's “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.” Id. (citing Papasan v.
Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). A court is “not
bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a
factual allegation.” Papasan, 478 U.S. at 286.
Instead, assuming the factual allegations in the complaint
are true, those “[f]actual allegations must be enough
to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state
a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial
plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for misconduct alleged.” Id.
“Determining whether the allegations in a complaint are
plausible is a context-specific task that requires the
reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common
sense.” Id. at 679. “[W]here the
well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than
the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has
alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the
pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id.
(citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Moreover, while pro
se pleadings are liberally construed, “pro
se litigants still must allege sufficient facts in their
complaints to support a claim.” Mala v. Crown Bay
Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation
omitted) (emphasis added).
seeks to bring claims against his defense attorney and two
public defenders arising out of his attorney's apparent
deficient performance, which he asserts violates his
constitutional right to counsel. “To establish a claim
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate a
violation of a right protected by the Constitution or laws of
the United States that was committed by a person acting under
the color of state law.” Nicini v. Morra, 212
F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir. 2000); see also Woodyard v. Cnty.
of Essex, 514 Fed.Appx. 177, 180 (3d Cir. 2013) (noting
that § 1983 provides “private citizens with a
means to redress violations of federal law committed by state
[actors]”). “The first step in evaluating a
section 1983 claim is to ‘identify the exact contours
of the underlying right said to have been violated' and
to determine ‘whether the plaintiff has alleged a
deprivation of a constitutional right at all.'”
Nicini, 212 F.3d at 806 (quoting County of
Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 841 n.5 (1998)).
matter, Plaintiff appears to be raising claims against his
assigned attorney and the public defenders based on
ineffective assistance of counsel. Defense counsel, including
“public defenders and court-appointed counsel acting
within the scope of their professional duties are absolutely
immune from civil liability under § 1983.”
Walker v. Pennsylvania, 580 Fed.Appx. 75, 78 (3d
Cir. 2014) (quoting Black v. Bayer, 672 F.2d 309,
320 (3d Cir. 1982), abrogated on other grounds by D.R. v.
Middle Bucks Area Voc. Tech. Sch., 972 F.2d 1364, 1368
n.7 (3d Cir. 1992)). In other words, defense attorneys who
are employed by the government as public defenders enjoy this
immunity because defense counsel “does not act under
color of state law when performing a lawyer's traditional
functions.” Polk Cnty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S.
312, 318 (1981). All of Petitioner's constitutional
claims arise out of his allegation that he is receiving
constitutionally defective assistance from his criminal
attorney and concern the performance of his criminal
attorney. Because Plaintiff's claims arise out of the
conduct of his assigned attorney, and because his assigned
attorney and the public defenders are immune for actions
within the scope of their professional duties, all the named
Defendants are immune. Therefore, Petitioner's federal
claims fail to state a claim for which relief can be granted
and are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
not clear from the complaint whether Plaintiff also intends
to raise state law claims, such as legal malpractice claims,
against any of the named Defendants. Even if Plaintiff did
wish to do so, however, the Court declines to extend
supplemental jurisdiction over any nascent state law claim,
having dismissed all claims over which the Court has original