United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
H. RAMBO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court for disposition is Defendants' motion to
dismiss Plaintiffs complaint. (Doc. No. 26.) Both parties
have filed supporting and oppositional briefs. (Doc. Nos. 30,
33, 35, 36). This matter is now ripe for disposition. For the
reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion will be
On December 21, 2015, Plaintiff Ronald Pettis, an inmate at
the Dauphin County Prison, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, filed a
complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the
Dauphin County Probation Department. (Doc. 1.) Pettis claimed
that he was detained on August 13, 2014, by the Probation
Department and placed in the "county prison for
violation of probation" on a conviction where his
maximum sentence had already expired. (Id.) Pettis
did not name the individual Probation Officers.
court screened the complaint pursuant to the Prison
Litigation Reform Act, granted Pettis leave to proceed
without full prepayment of the filing fee and dismissed the
complaint as it related to the Dauphin County Probation
Department with leave to file an amended complaint naming the
Probation Officers. On May 5, 2016, Pettis filed an amended
complaint naming two probation officers, Jason Snyder and Sue
Mason. (Doc. 9.) However, Pettis also named two judges of the
Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County, Judge Richard A.
Lewis and President Judge Todd A. Hoover. IcL Pettis claims
that Judge Lewis imposed an illegal sentence and that
President Judge Hoover presided over the revocation
proceeding which resulted in his incarceration on the
conviction where his maximum sentence had expired.
(Id.) Plaintiff seeks damages for false imprisonment
and repayment of the costs paid by him after his sentence
"max[ed]-out." (Id.) Upon screening of the
amended complaint, the Court permitted the claims against the
two probation officers to go forward and dismissed the claims
against President Judge Lewis and Judge Hoover as legally
frivolous. (Doc. No. 12.)
Standard of Review
ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court
must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint
and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them,
viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See
In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314
(3d Cir. 2010). The Court's inquiry is guided by the
standards of Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal 556 U.S. 662
(2009). Under Twombly and Iqbal, pleading
requirements have shifted to a "more heightened form of
pleading." See Fowler v. UPMC Shadvside, 578
F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). To prevent dismissal, all civil
complaints must set out "sufficient factual matter"
to show that the claim is facially plausible. IcL The
plausibility standard requires more than a mere possibility
that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. As
the Supreme Court instructed in Iqbal, "where
the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more
than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has
alleged - but it has not 'show[n]' - 'that the
pleader is entitled to relief.'" Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 679 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).
to determine the sufficiency of a complaint under
Twombly and Iqbal, the United States Court of
Appeals for the Third Circuit has identified the following
steps a district court must take when determining the
sufficiency of a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6): (1) identify
the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim; (2)
identify any conclusory allegations contained in the
complaint "not entitled" to the assumption of
truth; and (3) determine whether any "well-pleaded
factual allegations" contained in the complaint
"plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief."
See Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3dl21, 130(3d
Cir. 2010) (citation and quotation marks omitted).
ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to
state a claim, "a court must consider only the
complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of
public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if
the complainant's claims are based upon these
documents." Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223,
230 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v.
White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir.
1993)). A court may also consider "any 'matters
incorporated by reference or integral to the claim, items
subject to judicial notice, matters of public record, orders,
[and] items appearing in the record of the case.'"
Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist, 452 F.3d 256, 260
(3d Cir. 2006) (quoting 5B Charles A. Wright & Arthur R.
Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1357 (3d Ed.
conducting its screening review of a complaint, the court
must be mindful that a document filed pro se is "to be
liberally construed." Estelle v. Gamble, 429
U.S. 97, 106 (1976). A pro se complaint, "however
inartfully pleaded, " must be held to "less
stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by
lawyers" and can only be dismissed for failure to state
a claim if it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can
prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would
entitle him to relief. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S.
519, 520-21 (1972).
their motion to dismiss, Defendants argue that Heck v.
Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994) bars Plaintiffs current
§ 1983 suit. (Doc. No. 30.) Defendants contend that
success on Plaintiffs § 1983 claim would necessarily
call into question the validity of the county court
judge's sentencing order, and that order has never been
reversed on direct appeal, expunged, or declared invalid.
(Doc. No. 30, at 5.) Alternatively, Defendants argue that
they enjoy immunity from Plaintiffs § 1983 claim.
Supreme Court has stated that:
hoary principle that civil tort actions are not appropriate
vehicles for challenging the validity of outstanding criminal
judgments applies to § 1983 damages actions that
necessarily require the plaintiff to prove the unlawfulness
of his conviction or confinement, ...