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MURPHY v. PAINTIN

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania


July 27, 2004.

DOUGLAS MURPHY, Plaintiff,
v.
STEWART PAINTIN, et al., Defendants.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: CLARENCE NEWCOMER, Senior District Judge

ORDER AND REASONING

AND NOW, this day of July, 2004, upon consideration of Defendant Paintin's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 27), it is hereby ORDERED that Defendant's Motion is DENIED. The Court finds, however, that Plaintiff's Amended Complaint must be DISMISSED with PREJUDICE as to Defendants Paintin, Cody, Hogan, Mahon, Riley, Chester County Clerk of Courts, and all other Defendants previously dismissed in the Court's February 2, 2004 Order. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint may go forward only as against Defendants Brose, Hanna, Martynick, Dinniman, and Chester County. The Marshal shall serve Plaintiff's Amended Complaint on these Defendants.

Plaintiff brings this case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claims violations of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and of state tort law. On February 2, 2004, the Court dismissed all Defendants, except for Defendant Paintin, and ordered the Complaint served upon him. Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, which includes the Defendants previously dismissed in the February Order, Defendant Paintin, and ten new Defendants.

  I. Defendant Paintin

  Plaintiff alleges § 1983 and tort claims against Defendant Paintin. In Defendant Paintin's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, Paintin argues that he did not act under of color of state law, and therefore, § 1983 jurisdiction is lacking. Defendant Paintin's argument, however, does not address other applicable law.

  Generally, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, pubic defenders are not held liable because they do not act under color of state law. Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 321 (1981). However, if a plaintiff alleges that a public defender conspired with a state actor, that public defender can be held liable under § 1983. Tower v. Glover, 467 U.S. 914, 923 (1984). In order for this type of § 1983 allegation to survive, it must be factually specific enough to demonstrate a meeting of the minds or a mutual understanding between the conspirators. White v. Bloom, 621 F.2d 276, 281 (8th Cir. 1980); Smith v. Bacon, 699 F.2d 434, 436-37 (8th Cir. 1983); Deck v. Leftridge, 771 F.2d 1168, 1170 (8th Cir. 1985).

  Plaintiff alleges that, during his trial, Paintin conspired with several state actors to deprive Plaintiff of his constitutional rights. The allegations in his Amended Complaint are specific enough to demonstrate a meeting of the minds and therefore, can survive a motion to dismiss. "A motion to dismiss may be granted only when, `accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true, and viewing them in the light most favorable to plaintiff, plaintiff is not entitled to relief.'" Estate of Gleiberman v. Hartford Life Ins. Co., 94 Fed. Appx. 944, 946 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Maio v. Aetna, Inc., 221 F.3d 472, 481-82 (3d Cir. 2000)). The question is not whether Plaintiff will prevail, but whether he can present evidence to support his allegations. Maio, 221 F.3d at 482. Ordinarily, Plaintiff would be able to present evidence to support his § 1983 allegations; here, however, Plaintiff has run into a timing issue.

  In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for a § 1983 claim is two years. Petaccio v. Davis, 76 Fed. Appx. 442, 444-45 (3d Cir. 2003) (indicating that statute of limitations for a § 1983 claim is governed by state personal injury statute of limitations). See also 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5524 (2004). A § 1983 claim accrues when a prudent person knows or has reason to know of the injury which forms the basis of his § 1983 claim. MacNamara v. Hess, 67 Fed. Appx. 139, 143 (3d Cir. 2003).

  In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff states that Defendant Paintin represented Plaintiff in a criminal trial from October 2, 2000 to March 28, 2001. Plaintiff claims that Paintin conspired with Defendant Hogan, the prosecutor, during the trial. Plaintiff asserts that, during Paintin's representation, he attempted to get Paintin to withdraw from his case. From these allegations, it is clear that Plaintiff knew of the injury forming the basis of his claim on or before March 28, 2001. It is also clear that Defendant Paintin withdrew from Plaintiff's representation immediately after the trial, which indicates that Paintin was not a participant in any continuing acts. Plaintiff filed this suit on January 5, 2004, nine months after the applicable statute of limitations had run on his allegations against Defendant Paintin. Therefore, Plaintiff's § 1983 claim against Defendant Paintin is time-barred and must be dismissed with prejudice.

  Plaintiff also filed the following tort claims against Defendant Paintin: failure of a duty to act,*fn1 fraudulent representation, fraudulent intent, fraudulent concealment, conspiracy, malpractice, malicious prosecution, and malicious use of process. The statute of limitations for all of the above named torts is two years. See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5524 (2004). Because Plaintiff filed this suit two years and nine months after these alleged torts occurred, Plaintiff's claims are time-barred, and must be dismissed with prejudice as against Defendant Paintin. II. Defendants Dismissed in the Court's February 2, 2004 Order

  The Court's February Order dismissed Defendants Andes, Merrick, Stoffer, Meanix, Wagner, Norcini, Carroll, Ost Prisco, Chester County Public Defender's Office, and Chester County Court of Common Pleas. The Court's Order instructed Plaintiff that his claims against these Defendants were dismissed as legally frivolous. These Defendants will remain excluded. Plaintiff's claims against the above named Defendants are dismissed with prejudice.

  III. New Defendants in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint

  Plaintiff sued the following ten additional Defendants in his Amended Complaint: Brose, Hogan, Cody, Mahon, Riley, Hanna, Martynick, Dinniman, Chester County, and the Chester County Clerk of Courts. Defendant Brose represented Plaintiff in his criminal proceedings from February 3, 2004 to some time in April of 2004. Defendant Hogan is a Chester County prosecutor, and represented the Commonwealth in Plaintiff's trial. Defendants Cody, Mahon and Riley are judges in the Chester County Court of Common Pleas. Defendants Hanna, Martynick, and Dinniman are Chester County Commissioners.

  Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Hogan are dismissed, as Defendant Hogan is shielded from liability through the doctrine of prosecutorial immunity. Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 427 (1976) (holding prosecutors receive absolute immunity from § 1983 liability when acting within the scope of their duties). Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Cody, Mahon, and Riley are dismissed, as they are shielded from liability through the doctrine of judicial immunity. Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554 (1967) (holding judges acting within their judicial jurisdiction receive absolute immunity from liability). Defendant Chester County Clerk of Courts is also shielded from liability through the doctrine of judicial immunity. Hughes v. Long, 242 F.3d 121, 125 (3d Cir. 2001) (holding functionaries of judicial system receive absolute immunity from § 1983 suits while performing their job tasks and exercising their discretion). Claims against Defendants Brose, Hanna, Martynick, Dinniman, and Chester County may proceed. The Marshal shall serve Plaintiff's Amended Complaint upon these Defendants.

  AND IT IS SO ORDERED.


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