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Johnson v. Koehler

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 6, 2017


          Mariani Judge


          Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. Statement of Facts and of The Case

         The factual background of this dispute can be simply stated: This longstanding pro se prisoner civil rights lawsuit was filed by Armoni Johnson, a state inmate, in July of 2014. (Doc. 1.) In his complaint Johnson initially named a wide array of defendants and lodged a host of legal claims against these individual defendants. (Id.) As a result of prior litigation the claims and parties in this lawsuit have been narrowed considerably. In its current form, Johnson's lawsuit names three Pennsylvania State Troopers as defendants, Walter Koehler, Christopher O'Brien and Christopher Lamb. In his pro se complaint Johnson alleges that these defendants violated his due process and equal protection rights by entrapping him in the course of a state criminal investigation and prosecution. (Id.)

         Johnson's complaint makes extensive reference to no less than four state criminal cases which were brought against him between 2010 and 2012, and the plaintiff seems to insist that an informed understanding of his claims requires us to consider these legal claims in the context of these four state criminal prosecutions. These four cases, which form the basis of this civil lawsuit, are as follows:

         First, in Commonwealth v. Johnson, CP-40-CR-2193-2010, Johnson was charged with criminal drug possession in July of 2010. Johnson was convicted of this drug possession in September of 2011, and was sentenced in January of 2012. Johnson was later the subject of parole revocation proceedings in this case, and unsuccessfully challenged this conviction on appeal.

         Second, in Commonwealth v. Johnson, CP-40-CR-2713-2011, Johnson was charged in August of 2011 with conspiracy, aggravated assault, and burglary. Johnson initially entered a guilty plea to one aggravated assault charge, but later withdrew that plea. Johnson was later found guilty of one count of aggravated assault in July of 2013, and was sentenced to 15-to-60 months imprisonment on this charge in October of 2013. Johnson is currently pursuing state post-conviction litigation in this case.

         Third, in Commonwealth v. Johnson, CP-40-CR-117-2012, Johnson was charged with multiple counts of drug distribution and the use of communications facilities in drug trafficking in April of 2011. Johnson initially entered a guilty plea in this case as well, but later withdrew his plea of guilty and proceeded to trial. At his March 14, 2016 trial, Johnson was convicted on four counts, and the government dismissed the remaining charges by nolle prosequi. Johnson was sentenced to 16-to-90 months imprisonment, a sentence that was ordered to run consecutively to the sentence imposed upon Johnson in Commonwealth v. Johnson, CP-40-CR-2713-2011. Johnson is pursuing post-conviction litigation in this case.

         Finally, in Commonwealth v. Johnson, CP-40-CR-2553-2012, Johnson was charged with multiple additional state drug trafficking offenses arising out of conduct that allegedly took place in May of 2012. These charges were later dismissed by the Commonwealth by nolle prosequi on March 14, 2016, the same day that Johnson was convicted on numerous drug charges in the case of Commonwealth v. Johnson, CP-40-CR-117-2012, and the court records provided by Johnson indicate that the state withdrew these charges immediately after Johnson was convicted on multiple drug charges in Commonwealth v. Johnson, CP-40-CR-117-2012. Nothing in the court records suggests in any way that this nolle prosequi rested upon a finding that Johnson was actually innocent of drug trafficking. Quite the contrary, the court records tendered by Johnson show that this discretionary decision was made by state prosecutors immediately after Johnson was convicted of numerous drug trafficking charges. It is this final state criminal prosecution, Commonwealth v. Johnson, CP-40-CR-2553-2012, which forms the factual basis for Johnson's federal civil rights lawsuit against Troopers Koehler, O'Brien, and Lamb.

         These defendants have now moved to dismiss Johnson's complaint, (Doc. 37), arguing inter alia that Johnson has not demonstrated a favorable termination of his state criminal cases in light of his multiple state convictions, and further contending that, while Johnson's entrapment claims in his state case might have provided a defense to criminal charges, they do not provide a basis for a federal civil rights claim. This motion to dismiss is fully briefed by the parties, (Docs. 40 and 43.) and is, therefore, ripe for resolution.

         For the reasons set forth below, we recommend that this motion to dismiss be granted.

         II. Discussion

         A. Motion to Dismiss-Standard of Review

         A motion to dismiss is designed to test the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Thus, Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated, Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005), and dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting all of the facts alleged in the complaint as true, the plaintiff has failed to plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) (abrogating “no set of facts” language found in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). The facts alleged must be sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. This requirement “calls for enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” of the necessary elements of the plaintiff's cause of action. Id. at 556. Furthermore, in order to satisfy federal pleading requirements, the plaintiff must “provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief, ” which “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (brackets and quotation marks omitted) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Thus, “[a]t the ...

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