United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania
Judge Terrence F. McVerry
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
MAUREEN P. KELLY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Plaintiff, Sanford Edwards ("Plaintiff), is a prisoner in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and is currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution ("SCI") at Laurel Highlands. Plaintiff has presented a civil rights complaint in which he alleges that Defendant Patrick M. Dougherty ("Defendant"), District Attorney of Indiana County, Pennsylvania, has violated his constitutional rights by denying him access to biological evidence for DNA testing.
Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim ("the Motion"). ECF No. 34. For the reasons that follow, it is respectfully recommended that the Motion be granted.
A. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
According to the Complaint, in August of 1979, Plaintiff was convicted in the Court of Common Pleas of Indiana County, Pennsylvania, of first degree murder in the death of Edith Morford and sentenced to life in prison. ECF No. 6, ¶ 6.
Plaintiff has represented, and Defendant does not dispute, that thereafter, on May 24, 2005, Plaintiff filed a motion for post-conviction DNA testing of hair samples found at the scene of the crime pursuant to the Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 9541-9546. See ECF No. 52, p. 3. The trial court denied Plaintiffs motion on August 24, 2005, finding that the results would not serve to establish Plaintiffs actual innocence. Id. Plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, which subsequently affirmed the trial court's decision. Id
It also appears that on July 8, 2010, Plaintiff filed a motion requesting post-conviction DNA testing on blood collected at the crime scene, bed linens, the rape kit, fingernail scrapings and any fluids that had been collected. Id. at pp. 3-4. The motion was dismissed by the trial court on March 16, 2011. Id at p.4. On appeal, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania found that the law of the case prevented it from re-analyzing matters that had been previously ruled upon by the PCRA court in 2005 and 2010, and denied Plaintiffs appeal. Id Plaintiffs subsequent Petition for Allowance of Appeal filed in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania was denied on May 15, 2012. Id at p. 5.
Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, initiated the instant case on July 27, 2012, by filing a Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. ECF No. 1. Plaintiff was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis on October 16, 2012, and the Complaint was filed on that same date. ECF Nos.5, 6. In the Complaint, Plaintiff brings claims against Defendant for violating his rights provided by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution as well as Article I, Section I of the Pennsylvania Constitution relative to Defendant's refusal to grant relief under Section 9543.1 of the PCRA and allow DNA testing of the evidence recovered at the crime scene.
In November of 2012, shortly after the Complaint was filed, Plaintiff suffered a traumatic brain injury. Plaintiff had a craniotomy performed on December 2, 2013, and was subsequently transferred to SCI Laurel Highlands, where skilled nursing services are available. See ECF No. 52, p. 2. On February 14, 2013, Judge David C. Klementik, of the Court of Common Pleas of Somerset County, Pennsylvania, found Plaintiff "totally unable to communicate effectively" or "deal with day to day affairs" and appointed a plenary guardian to oversee Plaintiffs medical care. See ECF No. 41.
In the interim, on December 3, 2012, Defendant filed the instant Motion. ECF No. 34. Having subsequently been notified of Plaintiff s mental condition and his consequent inability to respond to the Motion, this Court appointed counsel as guardian ad litem to assess the allegations in Plaintiffs Complaint and file a response to the pending Motion on behalf of Plaintiff. ECF No. 42. Counsel for Plaintiff filed a Response to Motion to Dismiss on July 31, 2014. ECF No. 52. The Motion is now ripe for review.
B. STANDARD OF REVIEW
In assessing the sufficiency of the complaint pursuant to a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all material allegations in the complaint and all reasonable factual inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Odd v. Malone, 538 F.3d 202, 205 (3d Cir. 2008). The Court, however, need not accept bald assertions or inferences drawn by the plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employees' Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004), citins Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist, 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Nor must the Court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Rather, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id, citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). Indeed, the United States Supreme Court has held that a complaint is properly dismissed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) where it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, " id at 570, or where the factual content does not allow the court "to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). See Phillips v. Cntv. of Allegheny. 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (finding that, under Twombly, "labels, conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" do not suffice but, rather, the complaint "must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct" and that are sufficient "to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s] of his claim").
Plaintiff has brought his claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"), which provides that:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress ....
42 U.S.C. § 1983. "Section 1983 provides remedies for deprivations of rights established in the Constitution or federal laws. It does not, by its own terms, create substantive rights." Kaucher v. Cnty. of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006), citins Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 145 n. 3 (1979) (footnote omitted). Thus, in order to state a claim for relief under Section 1983, the plaintiff must allege facts from which it could be inferred that "the defendant, acting under color of state law, deprived him or her of a right secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States." Id. at 423. In this case, Plaintiff alleges that, by denying him access to DNA testing, Defendant has violated his right to procedural due process provided by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
The Fourteenth Amendment provides that no State shall "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." U.S. Const. Amend. XIV, § 1. To establish a claim under the Due Process Clause, a plaintiff must therefore show that he has a protected liberty or property interest of which he has been deprived, and that the process afforded him did not comport with constitutional requirements. Shoats v. Horn, 213 F.3d 140, 143 (3d Cir. 2000). With respect to the first inquiry, the United States Supreme Court has held that a criminal defendant who has been convicted of a crime has "a liberty interest in demonstrating his innocence with new evidence under state law." Dist. Attorney's Office for the Third JudicialDist. v. Osborne. 557 U.S. 52, 68 (2009) ("Osborne"). In so finding, the Supreme Court also observed, however, that "[a] criminal defendant proved guilty after a fair trial does not have the same liberty interests as a free man, " since "[g]iven a valid ...