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Peter Vega v. Vivian T. Miller

December 27, 2012


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


In this pro se civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the plaintiff, Peter Vega ("Vega"), a state prisoner serving a life sentence for first degree murder, asserts that the defendants deprived him of his constitutional rights under the First, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments by refusing to furnish him with copies of his trial court records and transcripts.*fn1 He has named as defendants Vivian Miller ("Miller"), the Clerk of Quarter Sessions for the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas; Carolyn Friend ("Friend"), Miller's employee in the Prison Liaison Unit; and Seth Williams ("Williams"), the District Attorney. Vega seeks injunctive and declaratory relief. He does not demand compensatory damages.

Defendants have moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state an actionable § 1983 claim. They also assert prosecutorial and qualified immunity.


In 1987, after he was convicted of first degree murder and other charges, Vega was sentenced to life in prison on the murder and a consecutive twenty-seven to fifty-four years on the lesser charges. In 1989, he appealed to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, which affirmed the convictions. Commonwealth v. Vega, 387 Pa. Super. 652 (1989) (table opinion). The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied allocatur. Commonwealth v. Vega, 522 Pa. 619 (1989).*fn3

On August 15, 2008, twenty-one years after his conviction, Vega wrote a letter to Miller, requesting copies of the bills of indictment or information in his case. He was prepared to pay for the copy. The Clerk and her employee, Friend, did not ignore or refuse Vega's request. Correspondence over the course of the next two years shows that Vega's file had been stored in a warehouse and Miller's office attempted to locate and retrieve it.

On September 5, 2008, Miller*fn4 notified Vega that his file was transferred to a warehouse for storage and that the Prison Liaison Unit was "in the process of tracking" the file. On September 16, 2008, Vega wrote to the Office of the Clerk of Quarter Sessions, inquiring when he could expect the documents. On October 20, 2008, the Clerk's office sent Vega some documents, including the trial judge's notes and sentencing information. A day later, Vega wrote to Friend, complaining that those documents were not responsive to his request and repeating his request for a copy of the bill of indictment or information.

On November 9, 2008, Vega requested his court records from the Clerk of Courts. On November 26, 2008, Miller notified Vega that his file had been transferred to a warehouse for storage and the Prison Liaison Unit was still trying to locate it. On July 26, 2009, Vega wrote to Friend, advising her that he was still awaiting a response. On August 3, 2009, Miller advised him that his file had been re-ordered. On August 25, 2009, Vega wrote again to Friend, complaining that he still had not received the bills of information. On December 3, 2009, he wrote directly to Miller, again complaining that he received no response to his letter or his document request.

By letter dated February 18, 2010, Friend notified Vega that her office did not receive his file. She explained that his records were under Peter, Pedro and Edgardo Vega, and her office had re-ordered one file under Peter Vega. On the same day, Miller also advised Vega that there was a delay in processing his request due to the increasing number of requests. She assured him that the documents would be made available as soon as possible.

On June 23, 2010, Vega wrote a letter to District Attorney Williams requesting copies of all evidentiary records pertaining to his case under the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law. By letter dated July 12, 2010, Daren B. Waite, an Assistant District Attorney, denied Vega's request for the records pertaining to his case. On July 23, 2010, Vega filed an appeal from the denial of his request with the First Assistant District Attorney. He received no response.

On November 14, 2011, Vega filed this action. Although his letters to Miller and Friend only requested a copy of his indictment, he now seeks an order "directing delivery of all evidentiary trial court records and transcripts upon receipt of monies due." Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 14. Miller, Friend and Williams have moved to dismiss the complaint.

Motion to Dismiss Standard

In examining motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), we accept the well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true. Nesbit v. Gears Unlimited, Inc., 347 F.3d 72, 77 (3d Cir. 2003), cert. denied,541 U.S. 959 (2004). Additionally, we consider the pro se plaintiff's pleadings deferentially, affording him the benefit of the doubt where one exists. Dluhos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir. 2003) (citing Higgins v. Beyer, 293 F.3d 683, 688 (3d Cir. 2002)).

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim "tests the legal sufficiency of plaintiff's claim." Petruska v. Gannon Univ., 462 F.3d 294, 302 (3d Cir. 2006), cert. denied, 550 U.S. 903 (2007). Where a bar to relief is apparent from the face of the complaint, dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) will be granted. Leveto v. Lapina, 258 F.3d 156, 161 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing ALA, Inc. v. CCAIR, Inc., 29 F.3d 855, 859 (3d Cir. 1994)). With these standards in mind, we ...

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