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Jennings v. MacHen

United States District Court, Third Circuit

September 16, 2013

RUSSELL JENNINGS, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL MACHEN, Public Defender; FRANK DERMODY, Assistant District Attorney; and RAYMOND NOVAK, Retired Common Pleas Judge, Defendants.

MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

CYNTHIA REED EDDY, Magistrate Judge.

I. RECOMMENDATION

Plaintiff Russell Jennings, a pro se non-prisoner, seeks permission to proceed in forma pauperis to file a civil action against his former public defender, the former prosecutor in his criminal case, and the trial judge who presided over his criminal trial, all of whom are alleged to have participated in a conspiracy against him. It is recommended that Plaintiff be granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis; however, because the claims in the Complaint are factually frivolous, it is recommended that the Complaint be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

II. REPORT

A. Background

Initially, the Court notes that the Complaint is far from a model of clarity as it lacks specificity in its details and the relief sought. Plaintiff names as defendants Michael Machen, his former public defender; Frank Dermody, former Assistant District Attorney, now a Representative in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives; and Raymond Novak, retired Judge of Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. It appears that Plaintiff is contending that a criminal complaint filed against him in 1988 was brought outside the statute of limitations period and that the Defendants are "all parties involved who knew about the civil violations or they conspired together for their own political gains...." Complaint at ¶ 6. The Complaint further states that "the civil rights violations by Commonwealth Court has cause a lifetime Megans law on the plaintiff..." and that the "15 years that Plaintiff suffered was cruel and unusual punishment...." Id. at ¶¶ 7, 9. As relief, Plaintiff is asking for a jury trial and that this Court "remove [him] from the Megans law website and restore [his] good name back into society." Id. [1]

As Plaintiff's claims are based on his state criminal conviction, a brief overview of that proceeding is warranted. Plaintiff was accused of rape, statutory rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, terroristic threats, and corruption of minors by a criminal complaint on October 2, 1987. "The charges stemmed from [Plaintiff's] attacks, which occurred during the period from fall of 1982 to spring of 1983, on his girlfriend's daughter, then eleven years old." Commonwealth v. Jennings, 592 A.2d 1370, 1371 (Pa. Super. Ct.), appeal denied, 600 A.2d 952 (Pa. 1991)(table). In February, 1988, the Commonwealth was permitted to file the information after an non est investus (he is not found) hearing was conducted by the trial court. In April 1988, Plaintiff was arrested on other charges and served with the warrant for the offenses while in custody. In 1989, a jury convicted Defendant on all charges. On May 22, 1989, Plaintiff was sentenced to seven and one-half (7-1/2) to fifteen (15) years imprisonment.

Throughout the years, Plaintiff has repeatedly attacked his conviction, sentence, and the execution of his sentence, by filing post-trial motions in state court (See Court of Common Pleas docket) and filing petitions for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, none of which has been successful to date. See., e.g., Jennings v. Morgan, No. 2: 93-cv-00158 (W.D. Pa) (Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254) (petition denied because none of the claims raised in federal habeas petition were exhausted through Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act); Jennings v. Price, No. 2: 98-cv-00222 (W.D. Pa.) (Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254).

Plaintiff initiated this action on June 11, 2013. Although the Complaint is void of factual details, the Complaint's jurisdictional statement probably best describes the gist of this action:

THIS COURT HAS JURISDICTION OVER THIS MATTER PURSUANT TO STATUE (SIC) OF LIMITATIONS PENNSYLVANIA RAPE SHIELDS LAW TO THE MANDATORY FIVE YEAR STATUE OF LIMITATIONS TO BRING CHARGES AGAINST THE PLAINTIFF THE COMMONWEALTH DID NOT MEET ITS BURDEN OF PROOF FROM THE FALL OF 1982 TO 1989 IS A TOTAL OF SEVEN YEARS, THE 1982 COMPLAINT FILED BY THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE OF ALLEGHENY COUNTY WAS AN ABUSE OF AUTHORITY TO VIOLATE PLAINTIFF CIVIL RIGHTS.

The Complaint and Exhibits appear to be alleging that, in addition to engaging in a conspiracy, Defendant Machen was ineffective as trial counsel; that Defendant Dermody, while Assistant District Attorney, committed prosecutorial misconduct because he filed the criminal complaint knowing the statute of limitations had expired; and that Defendant Novak ignored Plaintiff's filings in the Common Pleas Court of Allegheny County.

B. Standards for Sua Sponte Dismissal

While 28 U.S.C. § 1915 authorizes litigants like Plaintiff to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP"), such status is a privilege which may be denied when abused. After granting IFP status, the Court must dismiss the case sua sponte if (i) the allegation of poverty is untrue, (ii) the action is frivolous or malicious, (iii) the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or (iv) the complaint seeks money damages from a defendant who is immune from suit. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

In determining the sufficiency of a pro se complaint, the Court must be mindful to construe it liberally in favor of the plaintiff. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); United States v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir. 1992). The Court must "accept as true all of the allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). To that end, the Court can sua sponte dismiss IFP cases "to discourage the filing of, and waste of judicial and private resources upon, baseless lawsuits that paying litigants generally do not initiate because of the ...


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