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Greer v. Diguglielmo

March 25, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ludwig, J.


This is a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action. Jurisdiction is federal question. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The gravamen of the complaint is that defendants removed funds from plaintiff's inmate account in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Complaint, ¶ 7.*fn1

According to the complaint, on August 8, 1980, Judge Joseph Erb of the York County Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas sentenced plaintiff to 15 to 30 years incarceration following plaintiff's conviction on rape and robbery charges. Complaint, ¶ 2; Exhibit 2 to complaint. The Court Commitment stated that plaintiff was to pay $446.85 in court costs. Exhibit 2. On the same day, Judge Emanuel Cassimatis, also of the York County Court of Common Pleas, sentenced plaintiff to a consecutive 15 to 30 year term of incarceration on an unrelated rape, burglary and aggravated assault conviction. Complaint, ¶ 2; Exhibit 2 to complaint. The Court Commitment in that case stated that plaintiff owed $470.84 in court costs. Both sentences were vacated to permit plaintiff to preserve his appellate rights. Complaint, ¶ 2; Exhibit 3 to complaint. On October 16, 1980, Judge Cassimatis reimposed his original sentence. Complaint, ¶ 2. On March 31, 1988, Judge Erb reimposed his original sentence. Complaint, ¶ 3; Exhibit 4 to complaint. The complaint alleges that Judge Erb's 1988 reimposition of sentence did not include court costs.*fn2

On September 2, 2002, plaintiff learned that the Department of Corrections had begun to deduct funds from his inmate account to satisfy the court costs incurred in the cases before Judges Cassimatis and Erb. Complaint, ¶ 2. Plaintiff immediately demanded that the deductions cease because Act 84 - 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9728(b)(3)(5) - did not apply to him. The grounds were that Act 84 had been enacted after the sentencing, and Judge Erb's reimposition of sentence did not include court costs. The DOC continued to make deductions, apparently in accordance with the original Court Commitment. Complaint, ¶¶ 2-3.

On March 13, 2003, plaintiff filed a "Petition for Review" in Commonwealth Court challenging the continued deductions. Docket entries in Greer v. Beard, 170 MD 2003, Exhibit 5 to defendant's motion.*fn3 The Commonwealth Court rejected plaintiff's claim that deduction of sums from inmate accounts pursuant to Act 84 involved an impermissible retroactive application of the law by the DOC, and his claim that it violated the ex post facto clause of the United States Constitution. It also rejected plaintiff's claim that he was entitled to a hearing to determine his ability to pay the court costs before deductions began. Memorandum Opinion in Greer v. Beard, 170 M.D. 2003 (filed Mar. 3, 2004), at 5-8. Plaintiff's appeal of this ruling was quashed as interlocutory and the deductions continued.

On November 8, 2006, plaintiff filed Grievance No. 169014, complaining of the deductions. Complaint, ¶ 5; Exhibit 7 to defendants' motion. On December 12, 2006, defendant Spencer responded, noting that plaintiff had satisfied the court costs imposed by Judge Cassimatis, and that $6.01 remained of the costs originally imposed by Judge Erb. Spencer also noted that it appeared that Judge Erb had resentenced plaintiff without imposing court costs, and, therefore, no further deductions would be made. Exhibit 8 to defendants' motion.*fn4 When plaintiff appealed this administrative ruling, he was advised that all deductions were made in good faith, the funds had been forwarded to York County, and he could pursue a refund from the county. Complaint, ¶ 6; Exhibit 7 to complaint. Plaintiff's final appeal of this decision was dismissed. Complaint, ¶ 7; Exhibit 7 to complaint.*fn5 On March 8, 2008, plaintiff filed this action.

The action must be dismissed.*fn6 Plaintiff's claim is time-barred.

Section 1983 claims are subject to the state's statute of limitations for personal injury actions. Sameric Corp. of Del., Inc. v. City, 142 F.3d 582, 599 (3d Cir. 1998). Under Pennsylvania law, personal injury claims are subject to a two-year statute of limitations. 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 5524. Further, "[a] section 1983 cause of action accrues when the plaintiff knew or should have known of the injury upon which its action is based." Sameric, 142 F.3d at 599 (citations omitted).

According to the complaint, plaintiff became aware of the DOC's decision to deduct funds from his inmate account to satisfy York County court costs no later than September 2, 2002, the day he received his "Monthly Statement of Account Sheet" reflecting the initial deductions. Complaint, ¶ 2. The limitations period expired two years later, in September 2004, three and one-half years before plaintiff filed this action.

Plaintiff contends that the continuing violations doctrine applies: "[t]hese matters has [sic] been an ongoing process from September 2, 2002 until December 12, 2006." Complaint, ¶ 7. However, the doctrine does not apply here. "It is well settled that the continuing claims doctrine does not apply to a claim based on a single distinct event which has ill effects that continue to accumulate over time." Miele v. Pension Plan of New York State Teamsters, 72 Fed.Supp.2d 88, 102 (E.D.N.Y. 1999), citing Brown Park Estates-Fairfield Dev. Co. v. United States, 127 F.3d 1449, 1456 (Fed. Cir. 1997). In Miele, plaintiff's ERISA claim stemmed from "the defendants' single alleged miscalculation [of her benefits]; as a result, the court does not find plaintiff's monthly checks to be independent and distinct wrongs, but rather mere ill-effects of the one-time calculation." Miele, 72 F.Supp.2d at 102.

Similarly, each monthly deduction here was an "ill-effect" of the original decision to make the deductions, and not an independent and distinct wrong. Accordingly, plaintiff's claim is time-barred and must be dismissed.*fn7 An order accompanies this memorandum.


AND NOW, this 25th day of March., 2009, the "Commonwealth Defendants' Motion to Dismiss" (docket no. 14) is granted, and plaintiff's complaint is dismissed ...

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