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Carroll v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 26, 2018




         I. Background

         Wesley Carroll, an inmate confined in the State Correctional Institution, Waymart, Pennsylvania, filed the above-captioned civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983. (Doc. 1). The named Defendants are the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole and twenty-two current and former members of the Board. Id. Although Plaintiff's complaint is comprised of a twelve page rambling stream of consciousness, the potentially identifiable claims set forth in the complaint indicate that Plaintiff is attacking the duration of his current confinement, as well as challenging the Board's denial of parole. Id. For relief, in addition to release, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as declaratory relief and injunctive relief. Id.

         Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss, filed on April 23, 2018. (Doc. 23). Although the Plaintiff has had more than ample time to file a brief in opposition to Defendants' motion, he has failed to oppose the motion. As such, the Court will grant Defendants' motion as unopposed.

         II. Motion to Dismiss

         Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) authorizes dismissal of a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Under Rule 12(b)(6), we must “accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008)). While a complaint need only contain “a short and plain statement of the claim, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and detailed factual allegations are not required, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), a complaint must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a mere possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[L]abels and conclusions” are not enough, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, and a court “is not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Id. (quoted case omitted). Thus, “a judicial conspiracy claim must include at least a discernible factual basis to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal.” Capogrosso v. The Supreme Court of New Jersey, 588 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2009) (per curiam).

         In resolving the motion to dismiss, we thus “conduct a two-part analysis.” Fowler, supra, 578 F.3d at 210. First, we separate the factual elements from the legal elements and disregard the legal conclusions. Id. at 210-11. Second, we “determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a “plausible claim for relief”. Id. at 211 (quoted case omitted).

         In addition, because Plaintiff complains about “prison conditions, ” the screening provisions of 42 U.S.C. §1997e apply, as do the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. §1915(e), given that he was granted in forma pauperis status to pursue this suit. The court's obligation to dismiss a complaint under the PLRA screening provisions for complaints that fail to state a claim is not excused even after defendants have filed a motion to dismiss. See, e.g., Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126 n. 6 (9th Cir. 2000). Hence, if there is a ground for dismissal which was not relied upon by a defendant in a motion to dismiss, the court may nonetheless sua sponte rest its dismissal upon such ground pursuant to the screening provisions of the PLRA. See Lopez; Dare v. U.S., Civil No. 06-115E, 2007 WL 1811198, at *4 (W.D. Pa. June 21, 2007), aff'd, 264 Fed App'x. 183 (3d Cir. 2008).

         III. Discussion

         A. Merits

         In order to state a viable section 1983 claim, a plaintiff must plead two essential elements: (1) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law, and (2) that said conduct deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 638 (3d Cir. 1995); Shaw by Strain v. Strackhouse, 920 F.2d 1135, 1141-42 (3d Cir. 1990). “To establish liability for deprivation of a constitutional right under §1983, a party must show personal involvement by each defendant.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676-77 (2009) (“Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to Bivens and §1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.”)); see Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010).

         With respect to Plaintiff's request for a parole hearing or to be released from confinement[1], it is well-settled that prisoners cannot use §1983 to challenge the fact or duration of their confinement or to seek immediate or speedier release. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475 (1973). Although a writ of habeas corpus is not explicitly raised in Plaintiff's filings, to the extent that Carroll seeks release, a person in state custody may file an application for a writ of habeas corpus challenging the fact or length of his confinement under section 2254. 28 U.S.C. §2254. “Congress has determined that habeas corpus is the appropriate remedy for state prisoners attacking the validity of the fact or length of their confinement, and that specific determination must override the general terms of §1983.” Preiser, 411 U.S. at 499 (determining that challenges to the fact or duration of physical confinement, or seeking an immediate or speedier release from that confinement is the heart of habeas corpus); Leamer v. Fauver, 288 F.3d 532, 542 (3d Cir. 2002) (holding, “when the challenge is to a condition of confinement such that a finding in plaintiff's favor would not alter his sentence or undo his conviction, an action under §1983 is appropriate”). Consequently, to the extent Plaintiff is seeking habeas relief pursuant to section 2254, his complaint will be dismissed without prejudice.

         Moreover, with respect to Plaintiff's request for compensation for illegal confinement, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a constitutional cause of action for damages does not accrue “for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, ” until the plaintiff proves that the “conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus.” Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). “The complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated.” Id.

         Because there is no indication of record that there has been a successful prior adjudication pertaining to Plaintiff's alleged unlawful conviction or sentence, it is appropriate to dismiss the claim for damages. Plaintiff cannot, under Heck, maintain a cause of unlawful imprisonment until the basis for that imprisonment is rendered invalid. See also Gilles v. Davis,427 F.3d 197, 210 (3d Cir. 2005) (holding that the favorable termination rule of Heck, under which a state inmate must secure a determination of invalidity of his conviction or sentence before seeking ยง1983 damages for unconstitutional conviction or confinement, applies to suits by prisoners who no longer are ...

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