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Jones v. Kelly

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 27, 2019

LEWIS L. JONES, Plaintiff,
JOSEPH KELLY, et al., Defendants.


          JOSHUA D. WOLSON, J.

         Plaintiff Lewis L. Jones, a convicted prisoner currently incarcerated at SCI Frackville, has filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and an Application for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. For the following reasons, the Court will permit Mr. Jones to proceed without immediately paying the filing fees, meaning the Court will grant the application to proceed in forma pauperis. However, for the reasons stated below, the Court will dismiss this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) because Mr. Jones has not stated a claim on which relief can be granted.


         The Court accepts the facts in Mr. Jones's Complaint as true and construes them liberally in recognition of his status as a pro se plaintiff. The Complaint in this case is quite brief. Mr. Jones alleges that he was arrested on March 9, 2018. (ECF No. 2 at 2.)[1] From there, he was transported to the Norristown police station and placed in a cell. (Id.) He was later interrogated by unspecified police officers without counsel and without being given Miranda warnings. (Id.) Mr. Jones asserts that he falsely confessed under duress to unspecified crimes that he did not commit and for which he was later convicted. (Id.) He seeks $20 million as a result of the stress he and his family have suffered. (Id. at 3.)

         A review of public dockets reflects that Mr. Jones was convicted on May 7, 2019 in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas on numerous charges of aggravated indecent assault of a child, rape of a child, and related offenses. See Commonwealth v. Jones, CP-46-CR-2333-2018 (C.P. Montgomery Cty.) He was sentenced on August 16, 2019 to a prison term of ten to twenty years on the most serious charges. (Id.) Defendant Douglas Dolfman is listed on the state court docket as Mr. Jones's defense attorney, Defendants Lauren Marvel and Matthew Brittenburg of the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office are listed as prosecutors, Defendant Todd Eisenburg is listed as the trial judge, and Defendant Nicholas Dumas is identified as the arresting officer. (Id.) Mr. Jones's appeal of his conviction is currently pending. (Id.)


         A plaintiff seeking leave to proceed in forma pauperis must establish that he is unable to pay for the costs of his suit. See Walker v. People Express Airlines, Inc., 886 F.2d 598, 601 (3d Cir. 1989). Where, as here, a court grants a plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court must determine whether the complaint states a claim on which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). That inquiry requires the court to apply the standard for a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Under that standard, the court must take all well-pleaded allegations as true, interpret them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and draw all inferences in his favor. See Kokinda v. Pa. Dept. of Corrections, 779 Fed. App'x 938, 941 (3d Cir. 2019). Moreover, because Mr. Jones is proceeding pro se, the Court must construe his pleadings liberally. See Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).


         A. Leave To Proceed In Forma Pauperis

         Mr. Jones provided information demonstrating that he lacks the income or assets to pay the required filing fees. Therefore, the Court will grant him leave to proceed in forma pauperis. However, as a prisoner, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b), Mr. Jones must nonetheless pay the filing fee in installments. This requirement will be set forth in the Court's Order.

         B. Plausibility Of Claims In The Complaint

         “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Mr. Jones has not stated a plausible claim here, for several reasons.

         First, the Supreme Court's decision in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), bars Mr. Jones's claims. In that case, the Supreme Court held that to “recover damages [or other relief] for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983 plaintiff must prove 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, 512 U.S. at 486-87 (footnote and citation omitted); see also Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 (2005) (“[A] state prisoner's § 1983 action is barred (absent prior invalidation) - no matter the relief sought (damages or equitable relief), no matter the target of the prisoner's suit (state conduct leading to conviction or internal prison proceedings) - if success in that action would necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of confinement or its duration.” (emphasis omitted)).

         Here, Mr. Jones's allegations-that he was arrested improperly and forced to give a confession-would ultimately render his conviction invalid. Thus, under Heck, he must demonstrate that the conviction has been reversed or set aside. It has not. To the contrary, the state court docket reflects that Mr. Jones is still pursuing a direct appeal. ...

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