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Johnson v. Person

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 30, 2018

JOHN N. PERSON, Defendant.


          Joseph F. Leeson, Jr. United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Jamiel Johnson, a prisoner incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill who is proceeding in forma pauperis, brings this civil action against John N. Person, the Deputy Prothonotary of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Johnson essentially alleges that Person denied him access to the courts by failing to docket motions he filed in an effort to challenge his murder conviction. Person has moved to dismiss Johnson's Amended Complaint. For the following reasons, the Court grants Person's motion and dismisses the Amended Complaint.[1]

         II. Background

         In April 2014, Plaintiff Jamiel Johnson, who is currently serving a life sentence for first degree murder, filed a petition with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's murder statutes. See Am. Compl. 7, ECF No. 8.[2] On July 25, 2014, the Supreme Court denied Johnson's petition. See Def.'s Mot. Ex. A, ECF No. 13. On August 14, 2014, Johnson's case was closed, after the time for reargument had expired. Def.'s Mot. Ex. A. See Pa. R.A.P. 2542(a)(1) (“[A]n application for reargument shall be filed with the prothonotary within 14 days after entry of the judgment or other order involved.”).

         Here, Johnson alleges that on August 8, 2014-the last day on which to seek reargument-he timely mailed a motion for enlargement of time to request reargument to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Am. Compl. 11. He alleges that Defendant John N. Person, Deputy Prothonotary for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, received this motion on August 27, 2014, but failed to file it with the court. Am. Comp. 7. Rather, Person sent the motion back to Johnson, along with a letter stating that Johnson's motion for enlargement of time was untimely. Am. Comp. 8. Johnson alleges that Person should have sent to him a Notice of Correction of Defect letter, providing Johnson an opportunity to show that he timely submitted his motion under the prison mailbox rule. Am. Compl. 8-11. He alleges that Person acted maliciously in failing to file his motion and that Person has previously stated to others that he dislikes Johnson. Am. Compl. 9-10. In addition, Johnson alleges that in October 2014 he submitted a second motion for enlargement of time to request reargument, which Person again declined to file and returned to Johnson. Am. Compl. 13.

         Based on these allegations, Johnson asserts that Person interfered with his constitutional right to access the courts. In addition to this claim, which appears to be the focus of his Amended Complaint, Johnson's Amended Complaint, as well as his supplemental filings, vaguely asserts various claims under federal and state law. His Amended Complaint seeks money damages as well as injunctive and declaratory relief.

         III. Analysis

         A. Any claims against Person in his official capacity are dismissed.

         Person moves to dismiss any claims asserted against him in his official capacity as barred by the Eleventh Amendment. In Johnson's subsequent filings he has made clear that he seeks to sue Person only in his individual capacity. See Pl.'s Statement of Contentions 7, ECF No. 26. Accordingly, any claims asserted against Person in his official capacity are dismissed with prejudice.

         B. Person is not protected by absolute quasi-judicial immunity.

         Person contends that he is protected by absolute quasi-judicial immunity from Johnson's claims because he was “performing a discretionary duty in determining that [Person's] two motions were untimely.” Def.'s Resp. 8. Johnson responds that Person was not acting upon order of the court when he returned Johnson's motion. He further argues that the filing and docketing of legal papers is merely an administrative or ministerial task and is not a “judicial act” entitled to quasi-judicial immunity. Johnson is correct.

         “The proponent of a claim to absolute immunity bears the burden of establishing the justification for such immunity.” Antoine v. Byers & Anderson, Inc., 508 U.S. 429, 432 (1993). In Antoine, the Supreme Court rejected the notion that an official should be afforded absolute immunity merely because that official is “part of the judicial function.” Id. at 435. Rather, the Court explained that the “touchstone” for the doctrine of judicial immunity has been “‘performance of the function of resolving disputes between parties, or of authoritatively adjudicating private rights.'” Id. at 435-36 (quoting Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478, 500 (1991) (Scalia, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part)). Accordingly, “[w]hen judicial immunity is extended to officials other than judges, it is because their judgments are functionally comparable to those of judges-that is, because they, too, exercise a discretionary judgment as a part of their function.” Id. at 436 (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted).

         Based on these principles, the Court in Antoine held that the function performed by court reporters was not in the category of judgments functionally comparable to those of judges. Rather, the duties of a court reporter, although ...

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