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Harper v. Harrell

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 21, 2017

IRVIN HARPER, Plaintiff,
A.D.A. KELLY HARRELL, et al. Defendants.


          STENGEL, J.

         Plaintiff Irvin Harper brings this civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, based on allegations that he has been falsely arrested and maliciously prosecuted. He seeks to proceed in forma pauperis. For the following reasons, the Court will grant plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis and dismiss the complaint without prejudice to plaintiff filing an amended complaint.


         Plaintiff filed this lawsuit for damages against the following twenty individuals: (1) A.D.A. Kelly Harrell; (2) Larry Krasner, the newly-elected Philadelphia District Attorney who has not yet taken office; (3) Detective Daniel O'Malley; (4) Jim Carpenter (identified as “D.A.”); (5) the City of Philadelphia; (6) Julie Shaw; (7) Terrance Oz Egger; (8) the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office; (9) the Philadelphia Daily News; (10) the Philadelphia Police; (11) Fox 29 News; (12) Kelly Hodge, the Acting Philadelphia District Attorney (misspelled Kelly Hadge); (13) Kathleen Martin; (14) the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; (15) Seth Williams, the former Philadelphia District Attorney; (16) Fred Harrison, Jr., identified as “lawyer”; (17) the Woman's Law Project of Philadelphia; (18) the City Council of Philadelphia; (19) Josh Shapiro, the Attorney General of Pennsylvania; and (20) John W. Person, identified as “lawyer.” Plaintiff alleges that he was “arrested by Philadelphia S.V.U. Detectives without investigations just false allegations that don't add up and [he] was deframed [sic] in the news paper and on the Fox 29 news.” (Compl. at 3.) Plaintiff does not further elaborate on those assertions, but contends that his “whole life [has been] taken from [him] for a crime [he] didn't do.” (Id.) The Court construes his complaint as raising clams for false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and defamation.

         According to the complaint, the events giving rise to plaintiff's claims occurred on November 3, 2016. A search of criminal dockets reflects that plaintiff is awaiting trial in three criminal proceedings pending against him in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Two of the proceedings concern rape and related charges arising out of offenses that occurred on different dates. See Commonwealth v. Harper, Docket Nos. CP-51-CR-0011482-2016 & CP-51-CR-0011483-2016. The third proceeding involves drug charges that are pending against plaintiff. See Commonwealth v. Harper, Docket No. CP-51-CR-0011481-2016.

         Prior to filing the instant civil action, plaintiff initiated a lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against several of the same defendants named in this lawsuit-the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, Kathleen Martin, the Philadelphia Daily Newspaper, Julie Shaw, the City of Philadelphia, Mark Burgmann, and Detective O'Malley (spelled Detective O'Meally)-claiming that his rights had been violated in connection with his arrest, prosecution, and publicity about his criminal matters. Harper v. The District Attorney's Office, E.D. Pa. Civ. A. No. 17-2812. In a July 17, 2017 order, the Court granted plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis, denied his requests for injunctive relief, and stayed the remainder of the case pending the outcome of the underlying criminal proceedings including any available appellate proceedings. Id. (ECF No. 7).


         Plaintiff is granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis because it appears that he is unable to pay the costs of filing suit.[2] As plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) & (ii) apply, which require the Court to dismiss the complaint if it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim. A complaint is frivolous if it “lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact, ” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989), and is legally baseless if it is “based on an indisputably meritless legal theory.” Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1085 (3d Cir. 1995). “[A] district court may dismiss a complaint as malicious if it is plainly abusive of the judicial process or merely repeats pending or previously litigated claims.” Brodzki v. CBS Sports, Civ. A. No. 11-841, 2012 WL 125281, at *1 (D. Del. Jan. 13, 2012).

         To survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, 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) (quotations omitted). “[M]ere conclusory statements[] do not suffice.” Id. As plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court construes his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).


         A. Plaintiff Cannot State a § 1983 Claim Against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from claims under § 1983 and is not considered a “person” subject to liability under that statute. Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 65-66 (1989). Accordingly, plaintiff's claims against the Commonwealth are legally frivolous.

         B. Absolute Prosecutorial Immunity

         Plaintiff raises several claims against assistant district attorneys and district attorneys that appear to be based on plaintiff's belief that those defendants have filed criminal charges against him and/or prosecuted him without sufficient evidence. However, prosecutors are entitled to absolute immunity from liability under § 1983 for acts that are “intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process” such as “initiating a prosecution and . . . presenting the State's case.” Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430-31 (1976). District Attorneys and other supervisory prosecutors are likewise entitled to absolute immunity from claims based on their role in pursuing a prosecution on behalf of the Commonwealth. See Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, 555 U.S. 335, 348-49 (2009). Accordingly, plaintiff's malicious prosecution claims against the prosecutors and District Attorneys ...

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