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Caretti v. Doerr

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 9, 2019

THOMAS J. DOERR, et al., Defendants.

          BRANN, J.



         The plaintiff, Francis Joseph Caretti Jr., [1] filed his original pro se complaint on or about February 14, 2017.[2] He filed an amended complaint as a matter of right on or about April 21, 2017. In essence, he claims that he is entitled to an award of damages from the defendants in excess of $78 million for their roles in his incarceration, which began in 2006 after his conviction on 297 counts of possession of child pornography.

         For the reasons stated herein, we recommend that the action be dismissed as frivolous and for failure to state a claim, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1).

         I. Background

         At the time of filing, Caretti was a convicted state inmate incarcerated at SCI Benner Township, a state prison located in Centre County, Pennsylvania, where he was incarcerated pursuant to a state criminal judgment. On February 28, 2006, following a jury trial, Caretti was convicted of 297 counts of felony possession of child pornography and 3 counts of misdemeanor possession of obscene materials in the Court of Common Pleas of Butler County, Pennsylvania. Commonwealth v. Caretti, Docket No. CP-10-CR-0000565-2005 (Butler Cty. (Pa.) C.C.P.). On May 18, 2006, he was sentenced to serve an aggregate term of nine to twenty-seven years in prison. Commonwealth v. Caretti, Docket No. CP-10-CR-0000565-2005 (Butler Cty. (Pa.) C.C.P.). (See also Doc. 8-1, at 63- 65.) On October 19, 2017, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed Caretti's conviction and sentence in part and reversed it in part. Commonwealth v. Caretti, 943 A.2d 309 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2007) (table decision). Caretti sought discretionary review by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which denied allocatur on May 30, 2008. Commonwealth v. Caretti, 952 A.2d 674 (Pa. 2007) (table decision). On September 12, 2008, the trial court reaffirmed and re-imposed its prior sentence in its entirety on remand. Commonwealth v. Caretti, Docket No. CP-10-CR-0000565-2005 (Butler Cty. (Pa.) C.C.P.).

         Caretti filed his original complaint in this matter on or about February 14, 2017. (Doc. 1.) He filed an amended complaint as a matter of right on or about April 21, 2017. (Doc. 8.) The amended complaint names four defendants: (1) The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; (2) the Butler County Court of Common Pleas; (3) Thomas J. Doerr, the President Judge of the Butler County Court of Common Pleas, in his personal capacity only;[3] and (4) Richard A. Goldinger, the District Attorney for Butler County, in his personal capacity only.[4] Generally, Caretti appears to claim that the state court lacked jurisdiction to prosecute him, and that the individual defendants are liable for damages pursuant to a contractual agreement of a sort. For relief, the plaintiff appears to seek injunctive relief-his release from incarceration-and an award of $78 million in damages.

         II. Legal Standard

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court is obligated to screen a civil complaint in which a prisoner is seeking redress from a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a); James v. Pa. Dep't of Corr., 230 Fed. App'x 195, 197 (3d Cir. 2007). The Court must dismiss the complaint if it is “frivolous” or “fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1). See generally Banks v. Cty. of Allegheny, 568 F.Supp.2d 579, 587-89 (W.D. Pa. 2008) (summarizing prisoner litigation screening procedures and standards).

         An action is “frivolous where it lacks an arguable basis in either law or fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); see also Thomas v. Barker, 371 F.Supp.2d 636, 639 (M.D. Pa. 2005). To determine whether it is frivolous, a court must assess a complaint “from an objective standpoint in order to determine whether the claim is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or clearly baseless factual contention.” Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1086 (3d Cir. 1995) (citing Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 34 (1992)); Thomas, 371 F.Supp.2d at 639. Factual allegations are “clearly baseless” if they are “fanciful, ” “fantastic, ” or “delusional.” See Denton, 504 U.S. at 32-33. “[A] finding of factual frivolousness is appropriate when the facts alleged rise to the level of the irrational or the wholly incredible, whether or not there are judicially noticeable facts available to contradict them.” Id. at 33. A district court is further permitted, in its sound discretion, to dismiss a claim “if it determines that the claim is of little or no weight, value, or importance, not worthy of serious consideration, or trivial.” Deutsch, 67 F.3d at 1089.

         The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim under § 1915A(b)(1) is the same as that for dismissing a complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Brodzki v. Tribune Co., 481 Fed. App'x 705, 706 (3d Cir. 2012) (per curiam); Mitchell v. Dodrill, 696 F.Supp.2d 454, 471 (M.D. Pa. 2010); Banks, 568 F.Supp.2d at 588. “Under Rule 12(b)(6), a motion to dismiss may be granted only if, accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, a court finds the plaintiff's claims lack facial plausibility.” Warren Gen. Hosp. v. Amgen Inc., 643 F.3d 77, 84 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)). In deciding the motion, the Court may consider the facts alleged on the face of the complaint, as well as “documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice.” Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007). Although the Court must accept the fact allegations in the complaint as true, it is not compelled to accept “unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences, or a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Morrow v. Balaski, 719 F.3d 160, 165 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007)). Nor is it required to credit factual allegations contradicted by indisputably authentic documents on which the complaint relies or matters of public record of which we may take judicial notice. In re Washington Mut. Inc., 741 Fed. App'x 88, 91 n.3 (3d Cir. Sept. 25, 2018); Sourovelis v. City of Philadelphia, 246 F.Supp.3d 1058, 1075 (E.D. Pa. 2017); Banks, 568 F.Supp.2d at 588-89.

         III. Discussion

         It is clear from the plaintiff's pleadings that he is an adherent

to the belief that even though he was born and resides in the United States, he is his own sovereign and is therefore not a United States citizen. This belief is the hallmark of the sovereign citizen movement. So-called sovereign citizens believe that they are not subject to government authority and employ various tactics in an attempt to, among other things, avoid paying taxes, extinguish debts, and derail criminal proceedings.

Gravatt v. United States, 100 Fed.Cl. 279, 282 (2011) (footnote omitted). See generally Charles E. Loeser, From Paper Terrorists to Cop Killers: The Sovereign Citizen Threat, 93 N.C. L. Rev. 1106, 1120-29 (2015) (describing the common beliefs and tactics of sovereign citizens).

         The tactic adopted by Caretti here was the preparation of a document styled as a Criminal Complaint & Affidavit of Obligation for Claim Upon Public Hazard Bonds Demand for Release (“Affidavit of Obligation”), dated September 6, 2016, by which Caretti purported to advise Judge Doerr and Attorney Goldinger that he was a sovereign “living man” (“Francis Joseph Caretti Jr.”) distinct from the “nom de guerre” defendant (“FRANCIS JOSEPH CARETTI JR.”) subject to criminal proceedings, and that he was therefore not subject to the jurisdiction of the state court. The Affidavit of Obligation further provided that, unless they provided a “point-for-point response sworn under full commercial liability, with supporting evidence attached, ” the individual defendants' failure to respond would constitute silent assent to a contract under which they would be liable to Caretti for contractual damages in excess of $78 million.[5]

         A. Injunctive Relief

         One form of relief requested by the plaintiff in his complaint is his immediate release from prison. But this form of injunctive relief is simply not cognizable in a federal civil rights action. See Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 481 (1994) (“[H]abeas corpus is the exclusive remedy for a state prisoner who challenges the fact or duration of his confinement and seeks immediate or speedier release . . . .”) (citing Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 488-90 (1973)); Thomas v. Morganelli, Civil Action No. 16-2161, 2016 WL 7116011, at *5 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 7, 2016) (finding federal district court lacked jurisdiction to invalidate plaintiff's state conviction because “a federal court may not ‘compel a state court to exercise a jurisdiction entrusted to it' or ‘review a decision of a state tribunal'”) (quoting In re Grand Jury Proceedings, 654 F.2d 268, 278 (3d Cir. 1981)). Requesting such relief in a non-habeas civil action is clearly frivolous. See Mundy v. City of Philadelphia, Civil Action No. 13-5045, 2013 WL 4766542, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 4, 2013).

         Accordingly, it is recommended that the plaintiff's claim for injunctive relief be dismissed as legally frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1).

         B. Damages Claims Against the ...

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