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RAY v. CHILDS

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania


February 10, 2004.

WILLIAM RAY
v.
TODD CHILDS and JOHN SMITH[fn1]

The opinion of the court was delivered by: JACOB HART, Magistrate Judge

*fn1 John Smith was added as an unrepresented party in June, 2003. It does not appear from the docket that Mr. Smith was ever served with the complaint or filed any response. For purposes of this Memorandum, when the court refers to Defendant, we are referring to Mr. Childs.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

It is undisputed in this civil rights action that Mr. Ray was imprisoned after the expiration of his maximum sentence.*fn2 (Defendant's Motion, at 9). In his summary judgment motion, the Defendant argues that Ray's constitutional claims are barred by the statute of limitations, that Ray cannot establish a constitutional claim against the Defendant, and the Defendant is entitled to qualified immunity. Because we agree that the statute of limitations had run prior to Plaintiff's filing suit, we will grant the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

 Facts

  In June of 1978, Ray was sentenced on four counts of theft and related charges in the Court of Common Pleas for Montgomery County. His aggregate sentence was 3-15 years' imprisonment. His maximum date was July 26, 1997. He was paroled on the Montgomery County sentence in December of 1982, but violated and was arrested in York County on separate Page 2 charges involving bad checks. He was sentenced on these charges and the parole violation. These sentences were to run concurrent with his original sentence. His maximum date remained July 26, 1997. He was paroled again in 1994.

  When Ray was paroled, Todd Childs was assigned as his parole agent. During Childs' supervision of Ray, there was some discussion concerning Ray's maximum date, but Childs' concluded from reviewing the paperwork that he had not reached his maximum date. (Ray Dep., at 17-19). In December of 1998, Childs was replaced as Ray's parole officer and John Smith began supervising Ray. In January, 1999, Smith picked up Ray for parole violations and he was reincarcerated. (Ray Dep., at 12; Childs Dep., at 29-31).

  On July 29, 1999, while in prison, Ray wrote to the Parole Board, advising them that he believed he had already reached his maximum date and asking to be released. (Exhibit 1 to Ray Dep.). In August, 1999, while in prison, Ray was arrested by the Glenolden Police Department for conspiracy and credit card fraud. (Ray Dep., at 13).

  On September 17, 1999, Ray again wrote to the Parole Board asking them to look into his sentence because he had served his maximum. (Exhibit 2 to Ray Dep.). On September 30, 1999, an attorney contacted by Ray's wife sent a letter to the Records Office at Graterford, informing them that Ray had served his maximum sentence. Ray received a copy of that letter. (Ray Dep., at 24; Exhibit 3 to Ray Dep.).

  On October 25, 1999, Ray was informed that his sentence had been incorrectly calculated and he was released from the state sentence. (Ray Dep., at 13). He could not be released from custody, however, because of the pending charges in Glenolden. Bail was subsequently posted on the Glenolden charges and Ray was released on October 30, 1999. (Ray Dep., at 13-14).

  On October 29, 2001, Ray filed this action by writ of summons in the Court of Common Page 3 Pleas. After Plaintiff amended the complaint filed in the state court, adding Defendant Childs, one of his parole officers, Childs removed the action to the federal court.

  In his Motion for Summary Judgment, the Defendant argues that Ray's constitutional claims are barred by the statute of limitations, that Ray cannot establish a constitutional claim against the Defendant, and the Defendant is entitled to qualified immunity.

 Summary Judgment Standard

  Summary judgment is warranted where the pleadings and discovery, as well as any affidavits, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.Pr. 56. The moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). When ruling on a summary judgment motion, the court must construe the evidence and any reasonable inferences drawn from it in favor of the non-moving party. Tiggs Corp. v. Dow Corning Corp., 822 F.2d 358, 361 (3d Cir. 1987).

 Statute of Limitations

  The Defendant claims that Ray's constitutional claims are barred by the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations in a § 1983 action is determined by state law. Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 276 (1885). Here, the applicable statute of limitations is two years. Bougher v. University of Pittsburgh, 882 F.2d 74, 78 (3d Cir. 1989); Rogers v. Mount Union Borough, 816 F. Supp. 308, 317 (M.D. Pa. 1993). A § 1983 action accrues when the Plaintiff knew or should have known of the injury on which his claim is predicated. Sameric Corp. of Delaware v. City of Philadelphia, 142 F.3d 582, 599 (3d Cir. 1998). This means that once the Plaintiff possesses "the critical facts that he has been hurt," the statute begins to run. United States v. Kubrick, 444 U.S. 111, 122(1979). Page 4

  The Defendant argues that Ray's action accrued on July 29, 1999, when he first wrote to the Parole Board to question his sentence calculation. In the alternative, the Defendant argues that Ray was aware that he was imprisoned past his maximum date in early October, 1999, when an attorney from the Montgomery County Public Defenders' Office advised him that his sentence had been improperly calculated. The Plaintiff argues that his cause of action did not accrue until his release from prison on October 30, 1999. Thus, argues the Plaintiff, his filing on October 29, 2001, was timely.

  First, we reject Ray's theory. In his response, the Plaintiff claims that "[t]here is no evidence that Mr. Ray was informed by anyone prior to his release on October 30, 1999 that his maximum date had in fact passed eleven months earlier." (Response, at 5). Contrary to this assertion, Ray admitted at his deposition that he received a letter from an attorney in the Public Defenders' Office, earlier in October, explaining that his sentence had already expired. (Ray Dep., at 24; Exhibit 3 to Ray Dep.). Similarly, Ray stated that he was informed that his sentence had been miscalculated and he was released from the Montgomery County sentence on October 25, 1999. (Ray Dep., at 13). Thus, Ray clearly had "the critical facts" concerning his injury prior to October 30, 1999.*fn3

  Determining the accrual date of Ray's claim is further complicated by the Supreme Court's decision in Heck v. Humphrey. 512 U.S. 477 (1994). In Heck, the Court held

  in order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, Page 5 or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254. A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983.

 512 U.S. at 486-87. Thus, such a § 1983 claim did not accrue until the sentence or imprisonment had been invalidated. See Montgomery v. DeSimone, 159 F.3d 120, 126 n.5 (3d Cir. 1998)("section 1983 claim for damages attributable to an unconstitutional conviction or sentence does not accrue until that conviction or sentence has been invalidated")

  It is unclear whether Heck extends to an attack on the computation of a sentence. However, since Ray seeks damages for allegedly unconstitutional imprisonment, we believe that Heck requires Ray's success in attacking the calculation of the sentence before he could properly bring suit pursuant to § 1983. Here, that success came on October 25, 1999, when he was informed that the sentence had been miscalculated and he was released from the Montgomery County sentence. Thus, the limitations period began to run on October 25, 1999, and Ray had two years to timely file his § 1983 action. He filed two years and four days later. Thus, his claim is barred by the statute of limitations.*fn4

  Because resolution of the statute of limitations issue disposes of the case, we will not address Childs' additional defenses.

  An appropriate Order follows. Page 1

  ORDER

  AND NOW, this day of, 2004, upon consideration of the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant, Todd Childs, the response, thereto, and for the reasons stated in the accompanying Memorandum, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED. Judgment is entered in favor of Defendant, Todd Childs, and against Plaintiff, William Ray. The Clerk shall close this case for statistical purposes.

 *fn2 Although the Defendants never explain exactly when Mr. Ray's sentence expired, it appears to have expired in July, 1997. At that time, Ray was on parole. He was found in violation of his parole in January, 1999, and was reimprisoned on the original sentence until October 25, 1999. Hence, he spent an additional ten months in prison before his eventual release.

 *fn3 Since we have determined that Ray's cause of action accrued prior to October 30, 1999, it is unnecessary to determine whether the letters that he wrote to the Parole Board in July, 1999, and September, 1999, evidenced his knowledge of his injury.

 *fn4 As explained earlier, even if we found that Heck did not apply, we would conclude that Ray's cause of action accrued prior to October 29, 1999.

20040210

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