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Edwards v. Gahm

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 1, 2018

MR. RENÉ D. EDWARDS, Plaintiff,
JAMES R. GAHM, et al., Defendants.

          RENÉ D. EDWARDS SUMMIT PLACE APARTMENTS, Appearing pro se.



          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         This case concerns claims by Plaintiff regarding his arrest and conviction for violating the Sex Offender's Monitoring Act, a conviction which was vacated four years later after the New Jersey Supreme Court deemed the retroactive application of the Act to be unconstitutional. Presently before the Court are the motions of Defendants, a New Jersey state court prosecutor and two parole officers, to dismiss Plaintiff's claims against them. (Docket No. 25, 37.) Also pending are Plaintiff's “motion for jury trial, ” motion for default and default judgment, “motion for a hearing, ” and motion to appoint pro bono counsel. (Docket No. 38, 39, 41, 47.) For the reasons expressed below, Defendants' motions will be granted, and Plaintiff's motions will be denied.


         According his complaint, Plaintiff, Mr. René D. Edwards, was convicted in 1986 in New Jersey state court of an offense that subjected him to Megan's Law.[1] (Compl. [Doc. No. 1] “Decision, ” 9.) Based on that conviction, Plaintiff was later subjected to the GPS monitoring requirements set forth in the Sex Offender Monitoring Act (“SOMA”), see N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.89 et seq. On March 4, 2008, Plaintiff was arrested and charged for his failure to comply with the SOMA GPS monitoring requirements.[2] (Id.) Plaintiff entered a plea of guilty to that charge in May 2010 and was sentenced on July 9, 2010. (Id.)

         In 2014, approximately four years after he was sentenced (and six years after he was initially arrested for the SOMA charge), the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in Riley v. New Jersey State Parole Board, 219 N.J. 270, 291-298 (2014) that the GPS monitoring requirements under SOMA were not applicable to defendants who committed a SOMA-implicating offense prior to the effective date of the Act. (Id. at 10.) Based on the holding in Riley, in 2015 Plaintiff filed a petition for Post-Conviction Relief, essentially arguing that he fell within the category of individuals described in Riley to whom SOMA's GPS monitoring requirements should not have applied. (Id.) By Decision and Order dated July 13, 2016, the New Jersey Superior Court granted Plaintiff's PCR petition, concluded that Plaintiff “should have never been subjected to the GPS monitoring requirements” of SOMA, and vacated Plaintiff's SOMA conviction. (Id. at 8, 10-11.)

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants - Senior Parole Officer James R. Gahm, First Assistant Prosecutor Dana Petrone, and Parole Officer Andrew LaRue[3] - committed false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution in violation of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights[4] at the time they arrested and prosecuted him in 2008 for failing to comply with the GPS monitoring requirements of SOMA because he never should have been subjected to those requirements. (Id. At 2-5.)

         Gahm, Petrone, and LaRue have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's claims, arguing that they are entitled to absolute immunity or, alternatively, qualified immunity, and because Plaintiff's complaint otherwise fails to state any cognizable claims against them. Plaintiff has not directly opposed Defendants' motions, but he has submitted numerous filings and four motions of his own, all of which the Court has considered.


         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Because Plaintiff has brought claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of his constitutional rights, this Court has jurisdiction of this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343.

         B. Standard for Motion to Dismiss

         The Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claims based on various immunities is a challenge to this Court's subject matter jurisdiction, and is therefore decided under Federal Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Cope v. Kohler, 2015 WL 3952714, at *3 (D.N.J. 2015) (citing Constitution Party of Pa. v. Aichele, 757 F.3d 347, 357-58 (3d Cir. 2014)). Because Defendants mount a facial attack on jurisdiction as opposed to a factual attack, the Court accepts the allegations in the complaint as true and utilizes the standard for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), which also governs Defendants' motions to dismiss. Id. (citing Constitution Party, 757 F.3d at 357-59).

         When considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005). It is well settled that a pleading is sufficient if it contains “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

         “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a 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 . . . .” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (alteration in original) (citations omitted) (first citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957); Sanjuan v. Am. Bd. of Psychiatry & Neurology, Inc., 40 F.3d 247, 251 (7th Cir. 1994); and then citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

To determine the sufficiency of a complaint, a court must take three steps. First, the court must “tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.” Second, the court should identify allegations that, “because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Third, “whe[n] there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.”

Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011) (alterations in original) (citations omitted) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 664, 675, 679 (2009)).

         A district court, in weighing a motion to dismiss, asks “not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claim.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563 n.8 (quoting Scheuer v. Rhoades, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)); see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 684 (“Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for ‘all civil actions' . . . .”); Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (“Iqbal . . . provides the final nail in the coffin for the ‘no set of facts' standard that applied to federal complaints before Twombly.”). “A motion to dismiss should be granted if the plaintiff is unable to plead ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Malleus, 641 F.3d at 563 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. At 570).

         C. Analysis

         Plaintiff has brought his constitutional claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides in pertinent part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

         “By its terms, of course, the statute creates no substantive rights; it merely provides remedies for deprivations of rights established elsewhere.” City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 816 (1985). Thus, “[t]o establish a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, [a plaintiff] must demonstrate a violation of a right secured by the Constitution and the laws of the United States [and] that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” Moore v. Tartler, 986 F.2d 682, 685 (3d Cir. 1993). In order to properly plead a claim against an individual government defendant in a civil rights action, the complaint must indicate how that defendant had personal involvement in the alleged wrongdoing, which can be shown through allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence. Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 353 (3d Cir. 2005).

         1. Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Gahm, ...

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