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Paluch v. Beard

November 24, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rambo


James A. Paluch, Jr. ("Paluch"), an inmate currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Smithfield in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, initiated this pro se civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on August 7, 2009. (Doc. 1.) He has also submitted a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Docs. 2 & 7.) Paluch asserts five claims under the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution; the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101-12134; and various state claims of negligence. Named as Defendants are several individuals employed by Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections' ("DOC") administrative offices and the State Correctional Institution in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania ("SCIHuntingdon"), where he was confined several years ago.

The complaint is presently before the court for preliminary screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. For the reasons that follow, the complaint will be dismissed, sua sponte, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

I. Background

The claims in Paluch's complaint arise from an alleged assault by his cell mate, Roger Smith, in their cell at SCI-Huntingdon on September 9, 2004. (Doc. 1.) He claims that Defendants failed to protect him from inmate Smith by not having in place at the time of the alleged assault proper policies and procedures for protecting inmates with disabilities. He further claims that Defendants intentionally destroyed the videotape evidence of the September 9, 2004 assault which was necessary for purposes of foreseeable litigation. He contends that he filed grievances and appeals related to these issues arising from the September 9, 2004 assault, but no level of administration conducted a proper investigation into his allegations of abuse. He seeks declaratory and compensatory relief.

II. Discussion

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), a court shall review a complaint in a civil action filed by a prisoner and dismiss the complaint if it is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(iii). A district court may determine that process should not be issued if the complaint presents an indisputably meritless legal theory, or is predicated on clearly baseless factual contentions. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989); Wilson v. Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir. 1989). Indisputably meritless legal theories are those "in which it is either readily apparent that the plaintiff's complaint lacks an arguable basis in law or that the defendants are clearly entitled to immunity from suit." Roman v. Jeffes, 904 F.2d 192, 194 (3d Cir. 1990) (quoting Sultenfuss v. Snow, 894 F.2d 1277, 1278 (11th Cir. 1990)). Here, the court will review each count of Paluch's complaint in turn in order to determine if any count states a viable claim for relief.

A. Counts 1 - 3

The first three counts in Paluch's complaint all arise directly from the alleged assault committed on September 9, 2004. In his first count,*fn1 Paluch claims that Defendants violated his constitutional rights by failing to establish policies and procedures to protect him, a prisoner suffering from epilepsy, from the September 9, 2004 assault. (Doc. 1 at 17-18.) In his second count,*fn2 Paluch claims that Defendants failed to protect him from further abuse by corrections officers at SCI-Huntingdon by failing to report the September 9, 2004 assault to prison administrators. (Id. at 19.) In his third count,*fn3 Paluch claims that Defendants violated his constitutional rights by failing to take hand-held videotape footage of his cell following the assault. (Id. at 20.) Upon review, the court finds that these claims are barred by Pennsylvania's applicable statute of limitations.

In reviewing the applicability of the statute of limitations to an action filed pursuant to § 1983, and the ADA, a federal court must apply the appropriate state statute of limitations which governs personal injury actions. Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 266 (1985); Urrutia v. Harrisburg County Police Dept., 91 F.3d 451, 457 n.9 (3d Cir. 1996); Saylor v. Ridge, 989 F. Supp. 680, 686 (E.D. Pa. 1998). The United States Supreme Court clarified its decision in Wilson when it held that "courts considering § 1983 [and ADA] claims should borrow the general or residual [state] statute for personal injury actions." Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 250 (1989); Little v. Lycoming County, 912 F. Supp. 809, 814 (M.D. Pa.), aff'd, 101 F.3d 691 (3d Cir. 1996) (Table). Pennsylvania's applicable personal injury statute of limitations is two years. See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5524(7) (2004); Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 190 (3d Cir. 1993).

Further, "the accrual date of a § 1983 cause of action is a question of federal law that is not resolved by reference to state law." Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 388 (2007) (emphasis in original). A claim accrues as soon as the injured party "knew or had reason to know of the injury that constitutes the basis of his action." Sandutch v. Muroski, 684 F.2d 252, 254 (3d Cir. 1982). See also Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedren & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1385 (3d Cir. 1994) ("the accrual date is not the date on which the wrong that injures the plaintiff occurs, but the date on which the plaintiff discovers that he or she has been injured") (emphasis in original). "Plaintiff's actual knowledge is irrelevant. Rather, the question is whether the knowledge was known, or through reasonable diligence, knowable. Moreover, the claim accrues upon knowledge of the actual injury, not that the injury constitutes a legal wrong." Fassnacht v. United States, 1996 WL 41621, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 2, 1996) (citing Oshiver, 38 F.3d at 1386).

Here, the claims set forth above all arose while Paluch was at SCIHuntingdon in 2004, and stem from an alleged assault on September 9, 2004. The instant complaint was filed on August 7, 2009. There is no question Paluch was aware of his alleged injuries when they occurred, as evidenced by his allegations in the instant complaint.

Although the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense which may be waived by the defendant, it is appropriate to dismiss sua sponte under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) a pro se civil rights claim whose untimeliness is apparent from the face of the complaint and no development of the factual record is required to determine whether dismissal is appropriate.*fn4 See, e.g., Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215 (2007) (stating if the allegations of a complaint, "for example, show that relief is barred by the applicable statute of limitations, the complaint is subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim"). These conditions are met here as the defense obviously arises from the allegations in the complaint without the necessity of further factual development. Specifically, it is clear that these three counts raise alleged constitutional misconduct which occurred in September of 2004. There are no facts or allegations asserted in these claims regarding any impediment which may have prevented the timely filing of this ...

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