United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
June 17, 2005.
PAUL ELINE, Plaintiff
TROOPER BRIAN M. MILORE, et al, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: THOMAS VANASKIE, Chief Judge, District
THE BACKGROUND OF THIS ORDER IS AS FOLLOWS:
Plaintiff Paul Eline ("Eline"), a prisoner currently confined
in the Schuylkill County Prison, filed this civil rights action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He proceeds pro se and in
forma pauperis ("IFP"). The complaint is before the court for
preliminary screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e) and 1915A.
Eline has named twenty-eight (28) defendants, twenty-five (25)
of whom are individuals Eline claims ordered either an
above-ground or in-ground pool from his corporation but failed to
make the required payments on their purchases. Eline also names
three (3) non-purchasers as defendants: Pennsylvania State
Trooper Brian M. Milore, the President of M&T Bank, and Governor
Edward Rendell. The basis of Eline's action is that pool
purchasers conspired with Trooper Milore to file fraudulent
statements in an affidavit of probable cause in order to "injure,
oppress, threaten, intimidate, and willfully" deprive Eline of
his rights. Eline asserts that all of the defendants, excluding Trooper
Milore, the President of M&T Bank, and Governor Rendell,
purchased pools from his corporation, "Old World Farm and
Gardens, Inc.," but failed to make the required payment in
accordance with their sales contracts. Eline claims that in order
to avoid paying their debts, which were owed to the Eline's
corporation, the defendants conspired with Trooper Milore to file
false statements in an affidavit of probable cause to obtain his
arrest. Eline also asserts that M&T Bank had a contract with him
to process all credit card transactions with Old World Farm and
Garden, Inc. Eline asserts that M&T Bank failed to notify him of
any fraudulent transactions that occurred under the corporation's
account and that the bank filed a "fraudulent statement" with
Trooper Milore in order to create a "false impression" of the
corporation. (Complaint at ¶ 57.) Eline's final claim is that
Governor Rendell failed to protect his constitutional rights
because he did not ensure that a thorough investigation of his
claims against Trooper Milore was conducted.
Eline's complaint is unclear as to the status of his
incarceration. However, after further investigation, this Court
has ascertained that there are two (2) separate state criminal
proceeding pending against Eline. Eline is charged with fifteen
(15) counts of theft by deception and forty-four (44) counts of
deception or fraudulent business practices in the first criminal
proceeding. In the remaining criminal proceeding, Eline is
charged with theft of services.
Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A(b), the district
court must dismiss a complaint, or any portion of a complaint,
which (a) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or (b) seeks monetary relief
from a defendant who is immune from such relief. In determining
whether a complaint states a claim for purposes of
28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e) and 1915A, the Court must apply the standards used to
address a motion to dismiss under FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). Under
Rule 12(b)(6), a "complaint should not be dismissed for failure
to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the
plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which
would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41,
45-46 (1957). "The test for reviewing a 12(b)(6) motion is
whether under any reasonable reading of the pleadings, plaintiff
may be entitled to relief." Simon v. Cebrick, 53 F.3d 17, 19
(3d. Cir. 1995). Additionally, a prisoner whose complaint fails
to state a cause of action is entitled to amend his complaint
unless doing so would be inequitable or futile. See Grayson v.
Mayview State Hospital, 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002).
The foundation of Eline's complaint is that he has been
wrongfully incarcerated based upon the allegedly fraudulent
statements made by the defendants in the affidavit of probable
cause for his arrest. He seeks declaratory and injunctive relief
as well as compensatory and punitive damages.
The doctrine of abstention which has developed since Younger
v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), "espouse[s] a strong federal
policy against federal-court interference with pending state
judicial proceedings absent extraordinary circumstances."
Middlesex County Ethics Committee v. Garden State Bar Ass'n,
457 U.S. 423, 431 (1982). "Younger abstention," as the Court's teaching is known, "is premised on the notion of
comity, a principle of deference and `proper respect' for state
governmental functions in our federal system." Evans v. Court of
Common Pleas, Delaware County, Pa., 959 F.2d 1227, 1234 (3d Cir.
1992), cert. dismissed, 506 U.S. 1089 (1993). Comity concerns
are especially heightened when the ongoing state governmental
function is a criminal proceeding. Id.
The specific elements for Younger abstention are that "(1)
there are ongoing state proceedings that are judicial in nature;
(2) the state proceedings implicate important state interests;
and (3) the state proceedings afford an adequate opportunity to
raise federal claims." Schall v. Joyce, 885 F.2d 101, 106 (3d
Cir. 1989). All three Younger criteria are met here. First,
Eline's claim concerns the separate pending criminal case brought
against him in the Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas.
Second, based upon the fact that Eline is attempting to raise
issues concerning the validity of his pre-trial incarceration,
the proceeding clearly implicates important state interests.
Third, the Schuylkill County forum affords Eline an adequate
opportunity to raise his federal law issues, such as arrest
without probable cause. Eline has not asserted that he is unable
to present his federal claims in his related state court
proceedings. Thus, this Court may assume that the state
procedures will afford an adequate remedy. See Kelm v. Hyatt,
44 F.3d 415, 420 (6th Cir. 1995) (citing Pennzoil Co. v.
Texaco, Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 17 (1987)) ("Initially, we must
presume that the state courts are able to protect the interests
of the federal plaintiff."). Exceptions to the Younger doctrine exist where irreparable
injury is "both great and immediate," Younger, 401 U.S. at 46,
where the state law is "flagrantly and patently violative of
express constitutional prohibitions," id., at 53, or where
there is a showing of "bad faith, harassment, or . . . other
unusual circumstances that would call for equitable relief."
Id. at 54. The exceptions are to be narrowly construed. Loftus
v. Township of Lawrence Park, 764 F. Supp. 354, 357 (W.D. Pa.
1991). Thus, "[o]nly in cases of proven harassment or
prosecutions undertaken by state officials in bad faith without
hope of obtaining a valid conviction . . . is federal injunctive
relief against state prosecutions appropriate." Perez v.
Ledesma, 401 U.S. 82, 85 (1971). Eline has failed to show that
he falls within any of the narrow exceptions to the Younger
Eline has requested that this Court award both declarative and
injunctive relief. Such relief would clearly interfere with the
pending state court criminal proceedings. For example, he asks
that this Court declare that the acts of the defendants violated
his rights and that the Court grant a "preliminary and permanent
injunction" directing the defendants "to correct their fraudulent
statements and stand trial." (Complaint at ¶ 63-64.) Dismissal of
such claims is plainly warranted.
Eline also seeks to recover monetary relief in the form of
compensatory and punitive damages. Our Court of Appeals has
recognized that claims for damages that would imply the
invalidity of a conviction on pending criminal charges are not
cognizable. Smith v. Holtz, 87 F.3d 108, 113 (3d Cir. 1996). As the Holtz Court made clear:
[Section] 1983 actions are subject to the "hoary
principle" that civil tort actions are not the
appropriate vehicle for challenging the validity of
convictions and sentences. The express objectives of
this holding were to preserve consistency and
finality, and to prevent "a collateral attack on [a]
conviction through the vehicle of a civil suit.". . .
We find that these concerns apply equally to claims
that, if successful, would necessarily imply the
invalidity of a future conviction on a pending
criminal charge. A claim by a defendant in an
ongoing criminal prosecution which necessarily
challenges the legality of a future conviction on a
pending criminal charge lies at the intersection of
the federal habeas corpus statute and the Civil
Rights Act of 1871. If such a claim could proceed
while criminal proceedings are ongoing, there would
be a potential for inconsistent determinations in the
civil and criminal cases and the criminal defendant
would be able to collaterally attack the prosecution
in a civil suit. In terms of the conflicts which
Heck sought to avoid, there is no difference
between a conviction which is outstanding at the
time the civil rights action is instituted and a
potential conviction on a pending charge that may
be entered at some point thereafter.
Holtz, 87 F.3d 113 (emphasis in original and added).
The Court in Guerro v. Mulhearn, 498 F.2d 1249 (1st Cir.
1974), also squarely addressed the issue of abstention where
there exists an ongoing state criminal proceeding. The Guerro
In any event, whatever cost to the litigant may be
involved, there is an overriding cost that is
avoided. Damage to the smooth operation of the
administration of criminal justice, injury to the
proper workings of a federal system, and undermining
of congressional concern with the functioning of the
writ of habeas corpus all are harms which are prevented by the requirement that a
civil rights damage action be deferred.
Guerro, 498 F.2d at 1254.
It would be an improper interference with the pending state
criminal court proceeding if this Court were to award Eline
damages based upon his claim of constitutional rights violations.
The adjudication of Eline's constitutional claims in this instant
civil right action would require this Court to rule upon issues
relevant to the disposition of the state criminal charges,
thereby impermissible interfering in the pending state criminal
proceeding. As explained in Clark v. Zimmerman,
394 F. Supp. 1166, 1174 (M.D. Pa. 1975):
To allow state criminal defendants to litigate their
constitutional claims in civil rights suits for money
damages before completion of the state criminal
process would invite a flanking movement against the
system of state courts by resort to the federal
courts to litigate constitutional defenses in civil
rights damage actions, thereby subverting the orderly
functioning of the state criminal process. Such suits
would introduce an element of uncertainty in state
criminal proceedings and would expose every state
criminal justice system to insupportable disruption.
Accordingly, based upon the foregoing analysis Eline's
complaint will be dismissed without prejudice. The application of
the Younger doctrine of federal non-intrusion in the state
criminal process, along with the principle that constitutional
issues relevant to the disposition of pending state criminal
charges cannot be adjudicated in a federal civil rights damage
action, render Eline's complaint frivolous as a matter of law.
ACCORDINGLY, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT: 1. The above-captioned matter is DISMISSED, WITHOUT
2. The Clerk of Court is directed to mark this matter
3. Any appeal from this Order will be deemed
frivolous, without probable cause and not taken in
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