United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
MALACHY E. MANNION UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the court is the report and recommendation, (Doc. 4),
of Judge Martin C. Carlson recommending that this civil
rights action filed pro se by plaintiff Weston
Smith, (Doc. 1), an inmate awaiting his criminal trial at the
Cumberland County Prison, (“CCP”), be dismissed.
After conditionally granting plaintiff leave to proceed
in forma pauperis, Judge Carlson screened the
complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§1915(e). The screening performed by Judge Carlson
was also under 28 U.S.C. §1915A.
11, 2018, plaintiff filed objections to the report and
recommendation. (Doc. 10). Plaintiff also filed two motions
to proceed in forma pauperis. (Docs. 7 & 11).
After having reviewed the record, the court will
ADOPT the report and recommendation.
Plaintiff's objections will be
OVERRULED. Plaintiff's motions to
proceed in forma pauperis will be
GRANTED. The complaint will be
STANDARD OF REVIEW
objections are timely filed to the report and recommendation
of a magistrate judge, the district court must review de
novo those portions of the report to which objections
are made. 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1); Brown v.
Astrue, 649 F.3d 193, 195 (3d Cir. 2011). Although the
standard is de novo, the extent of review is
committed to the sound discretion of the district judge, and
the court may rely on the recommendations of the magistrate
judge to the extent it deems proper. Rieder v.
Apfel, 115 F.Supp.2d 496, 499 (M.D.Pa. 2000) (citing
United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980)).
respect to the portions of a report and recommendation to
which no objections are made, the court should, as a matter
of good practice, “satisfy itself that there is no
clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the
recommendation.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b),
advisory committee notes; see also Univac Dental Co. v.
Dentsply Intern., Inc., 702 F.Supp.2d 465, 469 (M.D.Pa.
2010) (citing Henderson v. Carlson, 812 F.2d 874,
878 (3d Cir. 1987) (explaining judges should give some review
to every report and recommendation)). Nevertheless, whether
timely objections are made or not, the district court may
accept, not accept, or modify, in whole or in part, the
findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. 28
U.S.C. §636(b)(1); Local Rule 72.31.
names 12 defendants in his complaint, including the
Cumberland County Commissioners. Plaintiff asserts that he is
being illegally confined in the CCP for 30 months, and that
his rights under the U.S. Constitution are being violated
regarding the filing of the state criminal charges against
him as well as his arrest and his prosecution. The criminal
charges filed against plaintiff are still pending in
Cumberland County Court.Specifically, plaintiff alleges that a
vast conspiracy exists involving the County Commissioners,
the police, the County prosecutors, his defense counsel, and
a magisterial district judge to deny him his constitutional
rights regarding his pending criminal case. As the report
states, “[plaintiff] seeks far-reaching injunctive and
declaratory relief, including a court order directing a
federal criminal investigation [by the Department of Justice]
of the county criminal justice system, as well as millions of
dollars in compensatory and punitive
Carlson details six reasons in his report why plaintiff's
complaint fails to state a cognizable claim and should be
dismissed. Plaintiff challenges Judge Carlson's
determinations in his objections. The court has reviewed both
the report and the objections and finds that Judge Carlson
correctly determined that plaintiff's complaint should be
dismissed as to all claims.
Judge Carlson finds that under the Younger
abstention doctrine, this court should not intervene in
plaintiff's pending state criminal case. In his
objections, plaintiff contends that the County Court is
biased and not competent to conduct his criminal trial since
“[it] is engaged in a conspiracy to deprive criminal
defendants of their constitutional rights for political and
professional prestige and advancement and the enrichment of
the county and its high officials ... .” Plaintiff also
contends that he is not seeking to enjoin his County Court
criminal trial and that the Younger abstention
doctrine does not apply to damages claims or claims regarding
alleged conspiracies with judges.
Judge Carlson thoroughly explains in his report, the Supreme
Court has recognized “a strong policy against federal
intervention in state judicial processes in the absence of
great and immediate irreparable harm to a federal
plaintiff.” Moore v. Sims, 442 U.S. 415, 423
(1979)(discussing the abstention doctrine articulated by the
Supreme Court in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37
(1971), and determining that it applies to civil, as
well as criminal, proceedings). Application of the
Younger doctrine to §1983 civil rights actions
in which the plaintiff is challenging the pending state court
criminal charges filed against him and is alleging that the
initiation and prosecution in the ongoing underlying state
court action “violated and continues to violate his
constitutional rights” is appropriate. See Smithson
v. Rizzo, 2015 WL 1636143, *4; Jaffery v. Atlantic
County Prosecutor's Office, 695 Fed.Appx. 38 (3d
Cir. 2017); Sprint Commc'ns, Inc. v. Jacobs, 571
U.S. 69, 134 S.Ct. 584, 588 (2013) (“When there is a
parallel, pending state criminal proceeding, federal courts
must refrain from enjoining the state prosecution.”);
Miles v. Zech, 2018 WL 3207381 (M.D.Pa. June 29,
2018). Judge Carlson correctly finds that the criteria for
Younger abstention are met in this case.
plaintiff has not demonstrated that he is unable to raise his
federal claims against the Cumberland County justice system
in his state court criminal proceeding and, if convicted, in
the state appellate courts. “[O]rdinarily a pending
state prosecution provides the accused a fair and sufficient
opportunity for vindication of federal constitutional
rights.” Jaffery, 695 Fed.Appx. at 41 (quoting
Kugler v. Helfant, 421 U.S. 117, 124 (1975)). Here,
as in the Jaffery case, “[plaintiff] has not
shown the state court is ‘incapable of fairly and fully
adjudicating the federal issues,' as most of the charges
against [plaintiff] have not been tried, nor has [plaintiff]
exhausted his state rights of appeal.” Id.
(internal citation omitted). See also Kugler, 421
U.S. at 124 (The Supreme Court stated that “[t]he
policy of equitable restraint expressed in Younger v.
Harris, in short, is founded on the premise that
ordinarily a pending state prosecution provides the accused a
fair and sufficient opportunity for vindication of federal
constitutional rights.”). Nor has plaintiff shown that
“state law raises procedural barriers to the
presentation of [his] federal challenges.” Gonzalez
v. Waterfront Comm'n of N.Y. Harbor, 755 F.3d 176,
184 (3d Cir. 2014).
states that the Younger abstention doctrine does not
apply to damages claims. No. doubt that courts have found
that the application of the Younger abstention
doctrine is not appropriate in federal cases seeking only to
obtain money damages for alleged violations of rights under
§1983. See Jones v. County of Westchester, 678
Fed.Appx. 48, 50 (2d Cir. 2017). However, this is not a suit
for money damages alone. As indicated, plaintiff is seeking
injunctive and declaratory relief as well as money damages.
In fact, Judge Carlson only recommends that the court should
abstain under Younger from addressing
plaintiff's requests for injunctive relief and that it
should dismiss these requests. Also, “where a state
court can address a plaintiff's causes of action, a
federal court should abstain [under the Younger
abstention doctrine] and dismiss the case even if the
plaintiff requests monetary damages in addition to injunctive
relief from the state court proceeding.” Gerhardt
v. Mares, 179 F.Supp.3d 1006, 1047 (D.N.M. 2016).
as Judge Carlson explains in his report, plaintiff's
claim for money damages are precluded based on grounds other
than the Younger abstention doctrine, including