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Wilson v. McVey

September 8, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christopher C. Conner United States District Judge

(Judge Conner)


Presently before the court is the motion to dismiss (Doc. 16) the complaint of pro se plaintiff John D. Wilson ("Wilson"), who alleges that defendants, who are members of or counsel to the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, discriminated against him on the basis of his race and religion. Wilson, an African American and member of the Jewish faith, claims that defendants revoked his parole when he failed to complete a required substance abuse rehabilitation program, which required participants to recite a Christian prayer. Wilson refused to participate in this element of the program. Defendants contend that Wilson's claims are barred by the statute of limitations and by the favorable termination rule announced in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). For the reasons that follow, the motion to dismiss (Doc. 16) will be granted.

I. Factual Background*fn1

In autumn 2003, Wilson, who is incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution--Frackville, Pennsylvania, had been paroled following imprisonment for an unspecified offense. (Doc. 1, Ex. A ¶ II, IV.1.) His parole required him to participate in a substance abuse rehabilitation program.*fn2 (Id. ¶ IV.1.) As a component of the program, participants were required to memorize and recite the Serenity Prayer, a Christian prayer in which the penitent states: "God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other."*fn3

On September 8, 2003, Wilson refused to recite the prayer during a rehabilitation program meeting. (Id.) A parole officer immediately arrested him. (Id.) On September 18, 2003 he attended a preliminary hearing before the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (hereinafter "the Parole Board" or "the board"). The board concluded that probable cause existed to charge Wilson with a parole violation for his failure to complete the rehabilitation program.*fn4 (Id. ¶¶ IV.1, .3.) The board scheduled a formal violation hearing for December 11, 2003 to adjudicate the Wilson's alleged parole infractions. (Id. ¶ IV.4.) At the violation hearing, the board heard charges that Wilson failed to complete the rehabilitation program, had sexually stalked a female parolee, and had threatened a male parolee. (Id. ¶ IV.2.) Wilson never received notice of the latter two charges, as required by Parole Board regulations. (Id. ¶ IV.4); see also 37 PA. CODE § 71.2(2). Nevertheless, the parole board found Wilson liable for failure to complete the rehabilitation program and for stalking a female parolee. (Id. ¶ IV.5.) He was found not liable for the threatening charge. (Id.) The board reinstated twenty-four months of his sentence, allotting eighteen months to the rehabilitative infraction and six months to the stalking charge. (Id.)

Wilson filed an appeal with the Parole Board's administrative appeals office, which affirmed the revocation on April 4, 2004. (Doc. 22 at 1.) He then filed a petition for review with the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. The court quashed the petition as untimely and entered judgment against him on April 20, 2004. See Docket, Wilson v. Pa. Board of Prob. & Parole, No. 790 CD 2004 (Pa. Commw. Ct.).*fn5 Wilson filed a motion for reconsideration, which the Commonwealth Court denied on June 1, 2004. Id. The matter then lay dormant for nearly three years. In approximately March, 2007, Wilson sent a letter to the Parole Board requesting information about an internal investigation that he believed the board was performing on his case. On March 26, 2007, he received a letter from the board stating that the status and results of internal investigations are confidential. (Doc. 23 at 2.); see also 37 PA. CODE § 61.2. The letter neither confirmed nor denied the existence of an investigation.

Wilson then commenced the instant civil rights action in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas on April 30, 2007. (See Doc. 2 at 9.) He alleges that mandatory recitation of the Serenity Prayer violates his right to freedom of religion, and he contends that defendants discriminatorily revoked his parole as a result of religious and racial animus. Defendants removed the matter to federal court on July 17, 2007 and have filed a motion to dismiss (Doc. 16). They contend that Wilson's claims are barred by the statute of limitations and precluded by virtue of the outcome of his probation hearing. The parties have fully briefed these issues, which are now ripe for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must "accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)). Although the court is generally limited in its review to the facts in the complaint, it "may also consider matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case." Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994); see also In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997).

Federal notice pleading rules require the complaint to "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Sershen v. Cholish, No. 3:07-CV-1011, 2007 WL 3146357, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 26, 2007) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, --- U.S. ---, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007)). The plaintiff must present facts that, if true, demonstrate a plausible right to relief. See FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a) (stating that the complaint should include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief"); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, --- U.S. ---, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007) (requiring plaintiffs to allege facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level"); Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007). Thus, courts should not dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim if it "contain[s] either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory." Montville Twp. v. Woodmont Builders LLC, No. 05-4888, 2007 WL 2261567, at *2 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, --- U.S. at ---, 127 S.Ct. at 1969). Under this liberal pleading standard, courts should generally grant plaintiffs leave to amend their claims before dismissing a complaint that is merely deficient. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000).

III. Discussion

Defendants move to dismiss Wilson's complaint, asserting that it was filed after expiration of the applicable limitations period. Rule 12(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that all defenses be asserted in an answer except those expressly enumerated in the rule. See FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b). The Federal Rules do not require a plaintiff to proffer specific allegations regarding the time of the alleged offense, and Rule 12(b) does not provide for pre-answer assertion of a limitations defense. See id. Kiewit Constr., Inc. v. Franbilt, Inc., No. 07-CV-121A, 2007 WL 2461919, at *2 (W.D.N.Y. Aug. 24, 2007) (quoting Jones v. United Gas Improvement Corp., 383 F. Supp. 420, 436 n.2 (1974)) (noting that the Federal Rules "'do[] not require specific allegations of place and time, but merely state[] that when such specific allegations are made, they are material'"). Nevertheless, a district court may dismiss a complaint as time-barred if "the time alleged in the statement of a claim shows that the cause of action has not been brought within the statute of limitations." Robinson v. Johnson, 313 F.3d 128, 135 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Hanna v. U.S. Veterans' Admin. Hosp., 514 F.2d 1092, 1094 (3d Cir. 1974). To qualify for dismissal, the complaint must demonstrate the applicability of the limitations defense. Id. Civil rights claims are governed by the state statute of limitations applicable to personal injury actions.*fn6 See Garvin v. City of Phila., 354 F.3d 215, 220 (3d Cir. 2003). In Pennsylvania, the applicable limitations period is two years. See id. (citing 42 PA. CONS. STAT. § 5524(7)). The limitations period commences "when the plaintiff knew or should have known of the injury upon which [the plaintiff's] action is based." Sameric Corp. of Del. v. City of Phila., 142 F.3d 582, 599 (3d Cir. 1998).

In the case sub judice, Wilson filed his complaint in state court on April 30, 2007. Any claims that accrued more than two years prior to the filing thereof are barred by the statute of limitations. Hence, Wilson's claims fail to the ...

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