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Wallace v. Green

March 31, 2010


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


The Defendants in this civil rights action hereby move for the entry of summary judgment on all of the plaintiff's claims against them on the grounds that they are barred by the statute of limitations and/or by the doctrines of absolute and qualified immunity. For the reasons which follow, the motion shall be granted.

Factual Background

The plaintiff here, David Wallace, was arrested on March 1, 2004 on charges of manufacture, delivery, or possession with intent to deliver controlled substance, reckless endangerment, corruption of and furnishing liquor to a minor and criminal solicitation and conspiracy. Those charges arose out of a series of events which occurred between February 19 and 21, 2004 at the plaintiff's home in Broomall, PA, in a motel in Springfield, PA and at a residence in Northeast Philadelphia with Mr. Wallace's common law wife and a 16 year-old girl. On January 24, 2005, as part of a negotiated plea, Mr. Wallace pled guilty to the offenses of delivery of controlled substance and to corruption of minors for transferring the controlled substance and alcohol to the underage girl and he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 12 to 24 months to run concurrently and to two years' state probation to run consecutively.*fn1 All of the other charges against Plaintiff were nolle prossed.

In the Fall of 2005, Mr. Wallace's case came up for review and parole consideration by the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. Although it appears that the Delaware County District Attorney's Office did not take any action to oppose Plaintiff being granted parole at the expiration of his minimum sentence, on December 23, 2005, the Board denied Mr. Wallace early release on the grounds that he had refused to accept responsibility for his offenses and had refused to undergo sex offender therapy. Apparently, the Board believed that such therapy was required because, according to its records, the plaintiff's conviction for corruption of a minor was of a sexual nature. The genesis of this mistaken belief was ultimately traced to a guideline sentencing form which the prosecuting Assistant District Attorney had apparently handed to the Court at Mr. Wallace's plea and sentencing hearing. The plaintiff was subsequently required to serve his full sentence of two years.

Mr. Wallace filed a petition for relief under Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act, 42 Pa. C. S. §9541, et. seq. ("PCRA") alleging, inter alia, that he was "being held on a charge [he] did not plea[d] to," and "the error on [his] status sheet has caused [his] parole to be denied." (Plaintiff's Answer to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, Exhibit "A," at p. 4, quoting Defendant David Wallace's PCRA petition, p. 3). Although this petition was denied by the trial court in April 2006, the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed that decision on February 22, 2007 and held that the failure of the trial court and defense counsel to notice the error on the Sentencing Guideline Form constituted reversible error and "blatant ineffectiveness." The Superior Court thus remanded the matter to the trial court for the appointment of new counsel and re-sentencing. According to a subsequent Memorandum Opinion entered by the Pennsylvania Superior Court on January 14, 2010, it took the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas twenty-two months to enter an order, "without notice to Appellant or holding a hearing... striking the 'sexual nature' reference from the sentence guideline form." Because by that time Mr. Wallace had served his entire sentence and completed his probation, the Superior Court found that there was no further relief available to him and it treated the trial court's order striking the reference as one correcting a typographical error and affirmed.

The plaintiff brought this suit on July 10, 2008 against the District Attorney of Delaware County, the Assistant District Attorney who initially prosecuted his case and completed the guideline sentencing forms at the time of his guilty plea and sentencing, and the Assistant District Attorney for Appeals, who opposed his application for relief under the PCRA. Plaintiff seeks relief under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for denial of due process and his right to a fair trial under the Fourteenth Amendment, denial of substantive due process and his purported right to be free from arbitrary and capricious decision-making under the Fourteenth Amendment, and for a denial of his rights to due process by virtue of the defendants' alleged violation of Brady v. Maryland.

By way of the motion for summary judgment that is now before us, Defendants assert that the plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations and by the doctrines of absolute prosecutorial and/or qualified immunity. Plaintiff rejoins first that the statute of limitations argument was previously rejected by this court or alternatively that the statute was equitably tolled because plaintiff could not file suit until such time as the decision directing that he be re-sentenced had been issued. Plaintiff further submits that immunity should not attach because the defendants were acting in their administrative -- not their prosecutorial capacities.

Standards Governing Summary Judgment Motions

Summary judgment is appropriate only if there are no genuine issues of material fact such that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Erdman v. Nationwide Insurance Co., 582 F.3d 500, 502 (3d Cir. 2009); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party, and a factual dispute is material only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006), citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986). If the non-moving party bears the burden of persuasion at trial, "the moving party may meet its burden on summary judgment by showing that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to carry that burden." Id., quoting Wetzel v. Tucker, 139 F.3d 380, 383 n.2 (3d Cir. 1998). In conducting our review, we view the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. See, Conoshenti v. Public Service Electric & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 140 (3d Cir. 2004); Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir. 2000). The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party's claim is insufficient. Bruesewitz v. Wyeth, Inc., 561 F.3d 233, 253 (3d Cir. 2009).


1. Statute of Limitations

As noted, the defendants' first assertion in support of their application for summary judgment is the bar of the statute of limitations. Specifically, they argue that Mr. Wallace knew or had reason to know of his alleged "injury" when he was denied early release on or about December 23, 2005 and when he filed his petition for post conviction relief on December 28, 2005, some 2 years and 8 months prior to the filing date of the complaint in this case.

It is axiomatic that to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. §1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48, 108 S.Ct. 2250, 2254-2255, 101 L.Ed. 2d 40 (1988); Cassell v. City of Philadelphia, No. 09-2537, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 22472 at *5 (3d Cir. Oct. 13, 2009). State employment is generally sufficient to render the defendant a state actor and thus a public employee may be considered to be acting under color ...

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