United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
February 10, 2004.
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.
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
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
On October 29, 2001, Ray filed this action by writ of summons in the
Court of Common
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,
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
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,
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.
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
*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,
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