United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
OPINION DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS, ECF NO. 13
- GRANTED PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SANCTIONS, ECF NO. 34 -
F. Leeson, Jr. United States District Judge
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.
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. 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.”).
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.
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.
Any claims against Person in his official capacity are
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.
Person is not protected by absolute quasi-judicial
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.
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).
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