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Jones v. Murphy

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 28, 2019

RICCO N. JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
MATTHEW MURPHY et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          FREDA L. WOLFSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff, Ricco N. Jones (“Jones” or “Plaintiff”), is a pretrial detainee presently held at the Somerset County Jail, in Somerville, New Jersey. He seeks to proceed pro se with a Complaint asserting violations of his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (See Compl., ECF No. 1.) The Court now screens the Complaint under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e) and 1915A. For the reasons stated herein, the Complaint is dismissed.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. The Complaint

         Jones asserts various claims concerning criminal proceedings against him in 2012 and 2013. (See ECF No. 1.) Jones's factual allegations are unclear, but he seems to allege that defendant Joseph Walsh Jr. (“Walsh”), an officer with the Raritan police department, obtained a warrant for Jones's arrest, despite a lack of probable cause, from defendant Judge Robert Reed (“Judge Reed”). (Id. at ECF p. 8-9.) Jones contends that Judge Reed subsequently let Walsh present false testimony to secure an indictment against Jones and that Judge Reed conspired with the prosecutor, defendant Matthew Murphy (“Murphy”), and with Jones's public defender, defendant Matthew Katzenbach (“Katzenbach”), to coerce Jones into accepting a guilty plea. (Id. at ECF pp. 9, 11-14.) Jones alleges that Walsh arrested him and gave false testimony as retaliation for Jones “not cooperating or giving information about crimes that Walsh Jr, thought Plaintiff had.” (Id. at ECF p. 11.) Jones contends that Katzenbach, in order to get Jones to sign a plea deal, misrepresented to him that all “false allegations” had been dismissed, when, in fact, one remained. (Id. at ECF p. 14.)

         I construe Jones's complaint as attempting to assert claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. He seeks declaratory judgment, compensatory and punitive damages in the amount of $2 million, as well as “nominal” damages in the amount of $2 million. (ECF No. 1 at ECF p. 15.)

         B. Jones's Prior Action

         As Jones acknowledges in his complaint, he previously filed another lawsuit before this court concerning the same issues. See Jones v. Walsh, Civ. No. 15-2629 (FLW) (LHG). In that action, which he filed on April 13, 2015, Jones first alleged § 1983 claims against Walsh, Murphy, and John Doe defendants, which the Court construed as claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. Civ. No. 15-2629, ECF Nos. 1 & 3. I permitted the false-arrest and false-imprisonment claims to proceed as against Walsh only but dismissed the other claims upon initial screening on the basis that the prosecutor's office is not subject to § 1983 damages suits and a finding that Murphy's actions as a prosecutor were shielded by prosecutorial immunity. Civ. No. 15-2629, ECF Nos. 3 & 4.

         Jones subsequently filed a First Amended Complaint alleging claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, selective enforcement, and official misconduct under New Jersey criminal law against Walsh. See Civ. No. 15-2629, ECF No. 16. On April 7, 2017, upon another sua sponte screening and accounting for arguments raised in a dismissal motion by Walsh, I dismissed the false-arrest, false-imprisonment, and selective-enforcement claims as untimely, dismissed the malicious-prosecution claim for failure to show favorable termination, and dismissed with prejudice Jones's claim for official misconduct. Civ. No. 15-2629, ECF Nos. 31, 32.

         Thereafter, Jones filed a Second Amended Complaint, which asserted claims against Walsh for malicious prosecution and selective enforcement. Civ. A. No. 15-2629, ECF No. 33. On March 8, 2018, I granted an unopposed motion by Walsh to dismiss the action. Civ. No. 15-2629, ECF Nos. 42, 48, 49. I dismissed the malicious-prosecution claim on the basis that Jones had failed to plead the required favorable-termination element and dismissed the selective-enforcement claim for failure to plead any personal involvement by Walsh. See ECF No. 15-2629, ECF No. 48 at 7-12. This dismissal was without prejudice to account for the possibility that Jones could, theoretically, at some point attain a favorable termination for the purposes of bringing a malicious-prosecution claim. Jones did not seek (nor receive) leave to file another amended pleading in that action.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. 104-134, §§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 1321-77 (Apr. 26, 1996) (“PLRA”), district courts must review prisoner complaints when the prisoner (1) is proceeding in forma pauperis, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), (2) seeks redress against a governmental employee or entity, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, or (3) asserts a claim concerning prison conditions, see 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). The PLRA directs district courts to sua sponte dismiss claims that are frivolous or malicious, that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A(b).

         “The 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) (per curiam); see also Courteau v. United States, 287 Fed.Appx. 159, 162 (3d Cir. 2008) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)). That standard is set forth in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). To survive the Court's screening for failure to state a claim, the complaint must allege “sufficient factual matter to show that the claim is facially plausible.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; see also Fair Wind ...


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