Martin v. Lamon et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION 1 . Signed by Judge Leonard P. Stark on 8/11/2014. (rpg)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE
JOHN J. MARTIN and DAREN MARTIN,
: Civ. Action No. 13-1977-LPS
DET. THOMAS LAMON, et al.,
John J. Martin and Daren Martin, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Smyrna, Delaware, Pro Se
August 11, 2014
STARK, U.S. District Judge:
Plaintiffs John]. Martin ("]. Martin") and Daren Martin ("D. Martin") (together
"Plaintiffs"), who are pretrial detainees at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center ("VCC") in
Smyrna, Delaware, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of their
constitutional rights. 1 They appear pro se and have been granted leave to proceed in Jonna pauperis.
(D.I. 5) The Court proceeds to review and screen the consolidated Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915 and§ 1915A.
On May 2, 2013, Defendants Thomas Lamon ("Lamon") and Jason Vernon ("Vernon"),
both detectives, completed an application and affidavit of probable cause to obtain a search warrant
to search a residence located in Magnolia, Delaware. Defendant Cathleen Hutchison ("Judge
Hutchison"), a judge on the Justice of the Peace Court, granted the application. Plaintiffs allege that
Defendants made false statements in order to obtain the search warrant. Plaintiffs further allege that
the application and affidavit relied upon uncorroborated information and did not contain complete
information. They further contend that the search violated their rights under the Fourth and
Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. They seek compensation for their
illegal detention and to have "all charges dropped."
Pursuant to 42 U .S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that some person has deprived him of a
federal right, and that the person who caused the deprivation acted under color of state law. See
West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
LEGAL ST AND ARDS
The Court must dismiss, at the earliest practicable time, certain in forma pauperi"s and prisoner
actions that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim, or seek monetary relief from a defendant
who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) (informa pauperis actions); 28 U.S.C. §
1915A (actions in which prisoner seeks redress from governmental defendant); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e
(prisoner actions brought with respect to prison conditions). The Court must accept all factual
allegations in a complaint as true and take them in the light most favorable to a prose plaintiff. See
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007); Phillips v. Counry ofAlleghef!J, 515 F.3d 224, 229 (3d Cir.
2008). Because Plaintiffs proceed prose, their pleading is liberally construed and their Complaint,
"however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted
by lawyers." Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94 (internal quotation marks omitted).
An action is frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v.
Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and§ 1915A(b)(l), a court
may dismiss a complaint as frivolous if it is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory" or a
"clearly baseless" or "fantastic or delusional" factual scenario. Neitzjee, 490 at 327-28; see also Wilson
v. Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir. 1989); Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1091-92 (3d Cir.
1995) (holding frivolous a suit alleging that prison officials took inmate's pen and refused to give it
The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to
1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and§ 1915A(b)(l) is identical to the legal standard used when ruling on Rule
12(b)(6) motions. See Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999). However, before
dismissing a complaint or claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted
pursuant to the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A, the Court must grant a
plaintiff leave to amend his complaint, unless amendment would be inequitable or futile. See Grqyson
v. Mqyview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 114 (3d Cir. 2002).
A well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere labels and conclusions. 5 ee Ashcreft
v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009); Bell At/. Cotp. v. T womb/y, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). The assumption of truth
is inapplicable to legal conclusions or to "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action
supported by mere conclusory statements." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. When determining whether
dismissal is appropriate, the court must take three steps:
"(1) identifyO the elements of the claim, (2) reviewO the complaint to strike conclusory allegations,
and then (3) lookO at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluat[e) whether all of
the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged." Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d
560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). Elements are sufficiently alleged when the facts in the complaint "show"
that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)).
Deciding whether a claim is plausible will be a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing
court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.
Plaintiffs allege that Judge Hutchison violated their constitutional rights when she granted
the application for the search warrant at issue. "A judicial officer in the performance of his duties
has absolute immunity from suit and will not be liable for his judicial acts." Capogrosso v. The Supreme
Court ofNew Jersry, 588 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). "A judge
will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in error, was done maliciously, or
was in excess of his authority; rather, he will be subject to liability only when he has acted 'in the
clear absence of all jurisdiction."' Id. (citations omitted).
Here the Complaint contains no allegations that Judge Hutchison acted outside the scope
of her judicial capacity, or in the absence of her jurisdiction. Therefore, the Court will dismiss the
claim against Judge Hutchison as frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and
Because Plaintiffs' remaining claims of an invalid search warrant may imply that their
potential conviction on their pending criminal charges is invalid, the claims must be stayed pending
resolution of those charges. See Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 394 (2007). The Court will stay this
case with respect to the search warrant claims, and will defer reaching the merits of these claims and the threshold question of whether such claims are barred - by Heck v. Humphrry, 512 U.S. 477,
487 (1994), 2 until the disposition of Plaintiffs' criminal charges in State Court.
For the above reasons, the claims against Judge Hutchison will be dismissed as frivolous
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and§ 1915A(b)(1) and the search warrant claims against
Lamon and Vernon will be stayed until resolution of the criminal charges pending against Plaintiffs
in State Court.
An appropriate Order follows.
In Heck, the Supreme Court held that where success in a § 1983 action would implicitly call
into question the validity of a conviction or the duration of a sentence, a plaintiff must first achieve
favorable termination of his available state or federal habeas remedies to challenge the underlying
conviction or sentence.
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