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Mitchell v. Quinn

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 11, 2017

PATRICK QUINN #1652, et al., Defendants


          SLOMSKY, J.

         Plaintiff Paul F. Mitchell, a prisoner at SCI Huntingdon, filed this action against various defendants including police officers, prison employees and officials, and other individuals who had varying degrees of involvement in his state criminal case. The Court dismissed plaintiffs complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) with leave to file an amended complaint.[1]Subsequently, plaintiff filed numerous documents-some of which are entitled "Amended Complaint"-including copies of prison grievances and his correspondence with various municipal and state agencies. The Court will treat these documents as a single amended complaint, dismiss the amended complaint, and provide plaintiff another opportunity to amend.

         I. FACTS

         Plaintiff was arrested on June 16, 2015. A review of the docket from his criminal proceeding reflects that plaintiff was convicted of unlawful sexual contact with a minor, assault, and criminal trespass in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and sentenced to seventeen to forty months in prison, as well as terms of probation of up to seven years. See Commonwealth v. Mitchell, Docket No. CP-51-CR-0008193-2015 (Phila. Ct. Common Pleas). Plaintiff has an appeal pending before the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. See Commonwealth v. Mitchell, Docket No. 2787 EDA 2016 (Pa. Super. Ct.). He is serving his sentence at SCI Huntingdon, where he is enrolled in the sex offender program. The Court understands plaintiff to be raising claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 challenging the constitutionality of his arrest, conviction, and imprisonment. He seeks release from imprisonment and damages.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires a complaint to contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." A district court may sua sponte dismiss a complaint that does not comply with Rule 8 if "the complaint is so confused, ambiguous, vague, or otherwise unintelligible that its true substance, if any, is well disguised." Simmons v. Abruzzo, 49 F.3d 83, 86 (2d Cir. 1995) (quotations omitted).

         Furthermore, as plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court must dismiss his complaint if it fails to state a claim. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). To survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, the 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) (quotations omitted). Conclusory statements and naked assertions will not suffice. Id. Additionally, the Court may dismiss claims based on an affirmative defense if the affirmative defense is obvious from the face of the complaint. See Fogle v. Pierson, 435 F.3d 1252, 1258 (10th Cir. 2006); cf. Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 459 (3d Cir. 2013), abrogated on other grounds by, Coleman v. Tollefson, 135 S.Ct. 1759, 1763 (2015). As plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court must construe his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).


         Plaintiff submitted eleven filings over the course of three weeks, which he relies on in setting forth his claims. Although the Court has treated those documents collectively as an amended complaint in light of plaintiff s pro se status, those filings do not comply with Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8 and 10. The purpose of these rules is to make clear to the Court and the defendants the factual basis for a plaintiffs claims so that the defendants can meaningfully respond to those claims. See, e.g., Fabian v. St. Mary's Med. Ctr., No. Civ.A. 16-4741, 2017 WL 3494219, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 11, 2017) ("Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 requires that pleadings provide enough information to put a defendant on sufficient notice to prepare their defense and also ensure that the Court is sufficiently informed to determine the issue.") (quotations omitted); Young v. Centerville Clinic, Inc., No. Civ.A. 09-325, 2009 WL 4722820, at *3 (W.D. Pa. Dec. 2, 2009) ("The purpose of Rule 10 is to create clarity in pleadings, which allows a defendant and the Court to determine whether there are sufficient facts to support a claim entitling a plaintiff to relief."). To conform to Rule 8, a pleading must contain a short and plain statement showing that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. See Travaline v. U.S. Supreme Court, 424 Fed.Appx. 78, 79 (3d Cir. 2011) ("Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a complaint contain 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' and 'a demand for the relief sought.'") (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), (3)); see also Id. ("Each averment must be 'simple, concise, and direct.'") (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d)(1)). "This standard operates in tandem with that of Rule 10, " which requires that a pleading contain a caption with the Court's name and the names of the parties, and that claims be listed in numbered paragraphs. Fabian, 2017 WL 3494219, at *3 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 10).

         Rather than raising his allegations in a pleading with a caption and numbered paragraphs that conform to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, plaintiff has submitted numerous documents and exhibits in piecemeal fashion. By presenting his claims in this manner, plaintiff has made it difficult to understand the basis for his lawsuit and the nature of his claims against each defendant. No defendant could be expected to meaningfully respond to plaintiffs filings without having to guess at his claims. Although the complaint could be dismissed on that basis alone, the Court has done its best to understand the gist of plaintiff s allegations and will address his claims below.

         A. Statute of Limitations

         To the extent that plaintiff is asserting claims of a wrongful or false arrest, those claims are time-barred. Plaintiff was arrested on June 16, 2015. He filed his complaint on August 15, 2017.[2] "In determining the length of the statute of limitations for a claim arising under § 1983, courts must apply the limitations period applicable to personal-injury torts in the State in which the cause of action arose." Estate of Lagano v. Bergen Cty. Prosecutor's Office, 769 F.3d 850, 859 (3d Cir. 2014) (citing Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 387 (2007)). A two-year statute of limitations applies to personal injury claims in Pennsylvania. See 42 Pa. C.S. § 5524; Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 190 (3d Cir. 1993). Thus, any claims based on the arrest are time-barred because the arrest occurred more than two years before plaintiff filed his complaint, and plaintiff knew or should have known of the basis for his claims at that time.

         B. Judicial and Prosecutorial Immunity

         Plaintiff listed both the judge and the prosecutor in his state criminal case as defendants, neither of whom can be sued by plaintiff. "It is a well-settled principle of law that judges are generally 'immune from a [§ 1983] suit for money damages.'" Figueroa v. Blackburn,208 F.3d 435, 440 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Mireles v. Waco,502 U.S. 9, 9 (1991) (per curiam)). "[A] judge's immunity from civil liability 'is overcome in only two sets of circumstances. First, a judge is not immune from liability for nonjudicial acts, i.e., actions not taken in the judge's judicial capacity. Second, a judge is not immune for actions, though judicial in nature, taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction.'" Id. (quoting Mireles, 502 U.S. at ...

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