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Albert v. Commonwealth

February 1, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Yvette Kane, Chief Judge United States District Court


Plaintiff, Derrick Albert, an inmate at the State Correctional Institution in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, commenced this action with a pro se civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983. Named as defendants in the action are the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,*fn1 the Lebanon County Public Defender's Office ("Public Defender"), the Lebanon County District Attorney's Office ("District Attorney"), and the Lebanon County Court of Common Pleas ("trial court"). Presently pending before the court are two motions to dismiss filed on behalf of the defendants. (Docs. 14 & 18.) For the reasons that follow, the motions will be granted and the complaint will be dismissed.

I. Background

Plaintiff's civil rights action against the various defendants arises out of his March 1, 2006 conviction*fn2 in the Court of Common Pleas of Lebanon County under 18 Pa. C.S. § 4116, for possession, with intent to sell, of 1,553 counterfeit and pirated music compact discs without the true name of the manufacturer's name on the package or label. Plaintiff had been arrested by the Pennsylvania State Police for possession of these items on September 13, 2004. (Doc. 20 at 17.) In the present complaint, Plaintiff has essentially alleged that his trial in Lebanon County was in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the United States Constitution because he had been subject to similar charges in a prior criminal proceeding in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Plaintiff had been arrested in Massachusetts on February 21, 2003, and charged with possession with intent to sell or distribute 606 counterfeit compact discs. (Doc. 4 at 2.)

Specifically, as to Defendants, Plaintiff first alleges that Brian L. Deiderick of the Public Defender's Office allowed an illegal trial to proceed even though Plaintiff had been charged with similar crimes in Massachusetts. Second, Plaintiff avers that Assistant District Attorney David Dresher prosecuted the case despite it allegedly being barred by double jeopardy. And, third, Plaintiff asserts that the trial judge, the Honorable Robert J. Eby, would not allow him to terminate Attorney Deiderick in order to hire a private attorney. Plaintiff requests this court dismiss the charges against him or allow a trial in federal court; award him monetary damages; and, order an investigation into his case. (Doc. 1 at 3.)

On August 29, 2006, the Public Defender's Office and the District Attorney's Office jointly filed a motion to dismiss (Doc. 14), accompanied by a brief in support. (Doc. 15.) On September 18, 2006, the trial court filed a motion to dismiss (Doc. 18), with a brief in support. (Doc. 19.) These motions have been fully briefed by the parties and are ripe for disposition.

II. Discussion

A court, in rendering a decision on a motion to dismiss, must accept the veracity of the plaintiff's allegations. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); White v. Napolean, 897 F.2d 103, 106 (3d Cir. 1990). In Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63 (3d Cir. 1996), the Third Circuit Court of Appeals added that when considering a motion to dismiss based on a failure to state a claim argument, a court should "not inquire whether the plaintiffs will ultimately prevail, only whether they are entitled to offer evidence to support their claims." Id. at 65. "[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 in reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is whether, under any reasonable reading of the pleadings, plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Holder v. City of Allentown, 987 F.2d 188, 194 (3d Cir. 1993). Additionally, a court must "accept as true the facts alleged in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them." Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990). Finally, it is equally well-settled that pro se complaints should be liberally construed. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).

In light of the standards set forth above and Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court will now discuss Defendants' motions to dismiss in response to Plaintiff's complaint.

Each of Plaintiff's claims stems from his assertion that his conviction is invalid because he was denied a fair trial in Lebanon County on the basis of double jeopardy because of a prior criminal proceeding in Massachusetts which involved similar charges. In response, Defendants first argue that under the law enunciated by the United States Supreme Court in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), Plaintiff has failed to state a cognizable claim. In particular, Defendants argue that because Plaintiff was found guilty on one count of possession with intent to sell counterfeit and pirated music compact discs on March 1, 2006, and because that conviction has not been overturned, expunged or otherwise resolved in Plaintiff's favor, Plaintiff fails to set forth a cognizable § 1983 claim under Heck.

In Heck, the United States Supreme Court held that: 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.

Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-87 (footnotes omitted). In other words, an action for damages that implicates the validity of an inmate's continued confinement is barred until that confinement has been declared invalid by a state tribunal or federal habeas corpus court.

In his opposition to the motions to dismiss, Plaintiff provides a lengthy explanation of facts relating to his arrest and prosecution in both ...

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