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Beck v. Monroe County Public Defenders Office

March 5, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner


Presently before the court is a complaint filed by Harold J. Beck ("Beck"), an inmate at the Monroe County Correctional Facility. (Doc. 1). Beck seeks to proceed in forma pauperis. (Doc. 2). For the reasons that follow, plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted but the complaint will be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915(e).

I. Allegations of the Complaint

Beck alleges that Monroe County public defenders Peters and Spochok are not assisting him with his witnesses or evidence and that he is being prevented from proving his innocence. (Doc. 1, p. 2). He claims that Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas Judges Marks and Vican ignore his complaints about the public defenders and that they refuse to provide him with a fair hearing or trial. (Id.).

He also alleges that his ex-wife, Karen Beck, is physically abusing their children. (Id.).

He names two other individuals, Worthington and Sibum, in the complaint, but fails to set forth allegations of wrongdoing. (Id.). Subsequent to the filing of the complaint, Beck wrote a letter to the Clerk of Court wherein he states that these defendants, along with his ex-wife, made his children unavailable to testify at various court proceedings. (Doc. 4).

II. Discussion

Section 1915(e)(2) states, in pertinent part, "the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that (B) the action . . . (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), (iii).

A. Failure to State a Claim

The applicable standard of review for the failure to state a claim provision is the same as the standard for a 12(b)(6) motion. Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103 (3d Cir. 2002). A complaint that does not establish entitlement to relief under any reasonable interpretation is properly dismissed without leave to amend. Id. at 106.

In order to prevail on a § 1983 claim, Beck must establish that: (1) the alleged wrongful conduct was committed by a person acting under color of state law, and (2) the conduct deprived him of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir. 2000); Schiazza v. Zoning Hearing Bd., 168 F.Supp.2d 361, 372 (M.D.Pa. 2001).

Plaintiff attempts to hold public defenders Peters and Spochek liable under § 1983. It is well established that defense attorneys, no matter whether they are privately retained, court-appointed, or employed as public defenders, do "not act under color of state law when performing a lawyer's traditional functions as counsel to a defendant in a criminal proceeding." Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 325 (1981). Accordingly, since the allegations against public defenders Peters and Spochek are all premised on actions they took while serving as Beck's defense counsel, the § 1983 claim against these defendants will be dismissed.

Likewise, the claims against Beck's ex-wife, Karen Beck will be dismissed. The allegations against her are insufficient to state a Section 1983 claim because she was acting as a private citizen, not under color of state law.

With respect to defendants Worthington and Sibum, their names only appear in the "Additional Defendants" portion of the form complaint. (Doc. 1, p. 2). Because plaintiff fails to allege that these defendants were acting under color of state law, the complaint will be dismissed. However, even if the defendants were state actors, the complaint would still be subject to dismissal. "A defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs. . . . Personal involvement may be shown through allegations of personal direction or actual knowledge and acquiescence." Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207-08 (3d Cir. 1988); see also, Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976); See Atkinson v. Taylor, 316 F.3d 257 (3d Cir. 2003); Hampton v. Holmesburg Prison Officials, 546 F.2d 1077 (3d Cir. 1976). Allegations of participation or actual knowledge and acquiescence, however, must be made with appropriate particularity. Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207-08. Beck fails to set forth allegations of wrongdoing on the part of either of these defendants. (Doc. 1). Out of an abundance of caution, the court has moved beyond the confines of the complaint and ...

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