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Holloway v. Feder

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 22, 2017




         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Tyrone Holloway filed this pro se action against Defendants Eric Feder, Deputy Court Administrator and Director of the Office of Judicial Records for the First Judicial District (“FJD”); Rufus Seth Williams, then-District Attorney of Philadelphia County; and Charles H. Ramsey, Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department. The Defendants have each moved to dismiss Holloway's Complaint.[1] Because Holloway's federal claims are barred by the Supreme Court's decision in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), the motions are granted and the Complaint is dismissed with prejudice.

         II. Background

         According to the Complaint, in April 1992 Holloway was convicted in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas of first degree murder and possessing instruments of crime. Compl. ¶¶ 8-9, ECF No. 1. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. Compl. ¶ 9. In 1998, Holloway challenged his conviction by way of the Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act, but his challenge was dismissed. See Compl. ¶¶ 10-17. In 2002, Holloway filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal court. Compl. ¶ 19. The petition was denied, [2] and in 2004 the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit denied his request for a certificate of appealability. See id.

         Here, Holloway alleges that the Defendants “have continued to conspire in a continuing wrong to deny [him] access to relevant, material, and exculpatory evidence by not employing procedures whereby [he] may examine, copy, or otherwise retrieve the information requested and by failing to provide [him] with the evidence [requested].” Compl. ¶ 36. Further, the Defendants allegedly “have and continue to interfere with [Holloway] in obtaining witnesses in his favor by not employing procedures whereby [he] may examine, copy, or otherwise retrieve relevant, material, and exculpatory evidence against him” and by “presenting false testimony that the District[] Attorney's case file regarding the plaintiff could not be reproduced or reconstructed.” Compl. ¶¶ 44-45.[3] In particular, Holloway states that he seeks records and materials concerning a prosecution witness named Althea Timmons, see Compl. Wherefore Clause ¶ B, [4] and alleges that without these materials, he “is unable to present his claims of innocence to a court of law, ” Compl. ¶ 32.[5]

         Holloway contends that the Defendants' conduct, “in depriving [him] the information necessary for him to prove his innocence, and/or in failing to prevent said deprivation, constituted a denial of [his] rights to Due Process, Access to the Courts, and Equal Protection under the Law in violation of the First, and Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.” Compl. ¶ 47. In addition, he contends that the Defendants' conduct has also violated his right to obtain witnesses under the Sixth Amendment, Compl. ¶ 50, and “constitutes the tort of negligence under the law of Pennsylvania, ” Compl. ¶ 53.

         Holloway seeks a declaratory judgment stating that the Defendants have violated his rights; an injunction ordering the Defendants to arrange for Holloway to examine or copy all records related to Althea Timmons; and compensatory and punitive damages.

         III. Standard of Review: Motion to Dismiss and Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

         “To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Pursuant to Rule 12(c), “[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). “Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss and Rule 12(c) motions for judgment on the pleadings for failure to state a claim are judged according to the same standard.” Gebhart v. Steffen, 574 F. App'x 156, 158 (3d Cir. 2014).

         IV. Holloway's claims are not cognizable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because they are barred by Heck v. Humphrey.

         Section 1983 provides a cause of action against any person who, under color of state law, “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.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In Heck v. Humphrey, the Supreme Court held that a § 1983 action is not cognizable if “a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence.” 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994). Further, absent a conviction being previously invalidated, a prisoner in state custody cannot use a § 1983 action to challenge “the fact or duration of his confinement.” Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 78 (2005) (quoting Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 489 (1973)). “He must seek federal habeas corpus relief (or appropriate state relief) instead.” Id.

         Although Holloway never expressly asserts that the Defendants' alleged conduct constitutes a Brady violation, the gravamen of his Complaint is that exculpatory evidence was withheld from him during trial and continues to be withheld from him. See Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 87 (1963) (holding that the withholding of exculpatory evidence upon request violates due process). Because the relief Holloway seeks would necessarily call into question the validity of his conviction, he must assert his claim by way of a habeas corpus petition. See Skinner v. Switzer, 562 U.S. 521, 536 (2011) (“Brady claims have ranked within the traditional core of habeas corpus and outside the province of § 1983.”); Dist. Attorney's Office for Third Judicial Dist. v. Osborne, 557 U.S. 52, 77 (2009) (Alito, J., concurring) (“[A] state prisoner's claim under [Brady] must be brought in habeas because that claim, if proved, would invalidate the judgment of conviction or sentence (and thus the lawfulness of the inmate's confinement).”); Wells v. Varner, No. 2:15-MC-00035, 2016 WL 1449247, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 13, 2016), certificate of appealability denied (Sept. 8, 2016) (dismissing prisoner's § 1983 claims alleging that the government was withholding access to exculpatory materials because the claims necessarily called his state court conviction into question and therefore had to be asserted in a habeas corpus petition); Narducci v. Timoney, No. CIV A 99-CV-3933, 1999 WL 961221, at *6 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 15, 1999) (finding that although the plaintiff “seems to have framed his suit as one for discovery of certain Philadelphia Police ‘activity sheets”' that he alleges would enable him to prove his innocence, he was “essentially alleging the invalidity of his conviction” and thus was barred by Heck from bringing his claim under § 1983).[6]

         Consequently, the Court does not have jurisdiction to address Holloway's claims under § 1983, and this action is dismissed without leave to amend. See Tindell v. Pennsylvania, 398 F. App'x. 696, 698 (3d Cir. 2010) (finding that the district court was correct to dismiss the § 1983 complaint without leave to amend because plaintiff “advances no cognizable § ...

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