Carter v. Texter et al
MEMORANDUM - Signed by Judge Sue L. Robinson on 10/31/14. (rwc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE
JERMAINE L. CARTER,
ALLISON TEXTER, et aI.,
) Civ. No. 14-977-SLR
1. Introduction. Plaintiff Jermaine L. Carter ("plaintiff'), an inmate at the James
T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Smyrna, Delaware, proceeds pro se and has been
granted in forma pauperis status. He filed this complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
claiming violations of his constitutional rights. 1 (D.L 3, 6)
2. Standard of Review. A federal court may properly dismiss an action sua
sponte under the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(8) and § 1915A(b) if
"the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief."
Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448,452 (3d Cir. 2013); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) (in
forma pauperis actions); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (actions in which prisoner seeks redress
from a 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 pro se plaintiff. Phillips
1When bringing a § 1983 claim, 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. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 229 (3d Cir. 2008); Erickson
Pardus, 551 U.S.
89. 93 (2007). 8ecause plaintiff proceeds pro se. his pleading is liberally construed and
his complaint, "however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than
formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. at 94 (citations
3. 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)(8)(i) and
§ 1915A(b)(1), 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. Neitzke, 490 at 327-28; Wilson
1989); see, e.g., Deutsch
Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir.
United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1091-92 (3d Cir. 1995)
(holding frivolous a suit alleging that prison officials took an inmate's pen and refused to
give it back).
4. The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim
pursuant to § 1915(e)(2)(8)(ii) and § 1915A(b)(1) is identical to the lega\ standard used
when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions. Tourscherv. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236,240 (3d
Cir. 1999) (applying Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) standard to dismissal for failure to state a
claim under § 1915(e)(2)(8)). 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 plaintiff leave to
amend his complaint unless amendment would be inequitable or futile. See Grayson v.
Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 114 (3d Cir. 2002).
5. A complaint may be dismissed only if, accepting the well-pleaded allegations
in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, a
court concludes that those allegations "could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief."
Bell At!. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 558 (2007). Though "detailed factual
allegations" are not required, a complaint must do more than simply provide "labels and
conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Davis v.
Abington Mem'l Hosp., 765 F.3d 236, 241 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at
555). In addition, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true,
to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. See Williams v. BASF Catalysts
LLC, 765 F.3d 306, 315 (3d Cir. 2014) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) and Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
6. To determine whether a complaint meets the pleading standard as set forth in
Twombly and Iqbal, the court must: (1) outline the elements a plaintiff must plead to a
state a claim for relief; (2) peel away those allegations that are no more than
conclusions and thus not entitled to the assumption of truth; and (3) look for well-pled
factual allegations, assume their veracity, and then "determine whether they plausibly
give rise to an entitlement to relief." Bistnan v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352, 365 (3d Cir. 2012)
(internal citations omitted) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; Argueta
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 643 F.3d 60, 73 (3d Cir. 2011». The last step
is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial
experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.
7. Allegations in the Complaint. Plaintiff was indicted on 129 criminal
charges. He alleges that he was "overly indicted" with insufficient evidence. Plaintiff
pled guilty to rape, kidnaping and robbery and the remaining charges were nolle
prossed. (See Carter v. Pierce, Civ. No. 14-595-SLR at 0.1. 1, 14) On June 4,2010,
plaintiff was sentenced to life plus twenty-five years. Plaintiff alleges there was
insufficient evidence to support his sentence and he believes "the whole prosecution
was malicious in violation of [his] constitutional rights." (0.1. 6) He seeks damages and
injunctive relief in the form of a speedier release. (0.1. 3)
8. Malicious Prosecution. Plaintiff alleges malicious prosecution. 'To prevail
on a malicious prosecution claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must show that: (1) the
defendants initiated a criminal proceeding; (2) the criminal proceeding ended in the
plaintiff's favor; (3) the proceeding was initiated without probable cause; (4) the
defendants acted maliciously or for a purpose other than bringing the plaintiff to justice;
and (5) the plaintiff suffered deprivation of liberty consistent with the concept of seizure
as a consequence of a legal proceeding." See McKenna v. City of Philadelphia, 582
F.3d 447, 461 (3d Cir. 2009). Plaintiff pled guilty to several criminal charges and the
remaining charges were nolle prossed. See Donahue
Gavin, 280 F.3d 371,383 (3d
Cir. 2002) (a grant of nolle prosequi that does not establish actual innocence cannot be
used as a basis for establishing malicious prosecution). The final determinations in the
criminal proceedings were not in plaintiff's favor and, therefore, the complaint fails to
allege the elements of a malicious prosecution claim. Accordingly, the court will dismiss
the malicious prosecution claim as frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(8)(i)
and § 1915(A)(b)(1).
9. Prosecutoriallmmunity. The three named defendants, Allison Texter
("Texter"), Andrew Ahern ("Ahern"), and Cynthia Faraone ("Faraone") are assistant
attorneys general with the Department of Justice of the State of Delaware, all of whom
apparently had involvement in plaintiff's criminal cases. With regard to these
defendants, plaintiff alleges that: (1) he was "overly indicted;" (2) there was insufficient
evidence to support the crimes for which he was sentenced; (3) during the plea
negotiations his former counsel requested a certain number of years, but Texter
"maliciously" asked the sentencing judge to impose a natural life sentence; (4) the
prosecutors engaged in malicious prosecution; (5) during sentencing, Texter did not
describe or state what kind of weapon plaintiff had when he was arrested and whether
his DNA or fingerprints were on the weapon; (6) the names of Texter and Ahern were
changed on the court docket; and (7) Faraone was assigned to plaintiff's Rule 61
motion for post-conviction relief.
10. As discussed above, the malicious prosecution claim is frivolous. In
addition, the allegations that the names of Texter and Ahern were changed on the court
docket and that Faraone was assigned to plaintiff's Rule 61 motion are frivolous. The
remaining acts complained of by plaintiff occurred during the prosecution of his criminal
cases. Prosecutors should not be encumbered by the threat of civil liability while
performing judicial or quasi-judicial functions. See Odd v. Malone, 538 F.3d 202, 208
(3d Cir. 2008). Moreover, prosecutors acting within the scope of their duties in
initiating and pursuing a criminal prosecution are immune to suit under § 1983. Imbler
v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 410 (1976). The acts of which plaintiff complains (e.g., that
he was "overly indicted, insufficient evidence was presented, arguments made during
sentencing) fit squarely within the realm of official prosecutorial duties. See id. at 430
(activities intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process, casting
the prosecutor as an advocate rather than an administrative or investigative officer,
trigger absolute immunity). Defendants, therefore, enjoy immunity from § 1983 liability
for those acts and the claims against them will be dismissed.
11. Habeas Corpus. To the extent that plaintiff attempts to challenge his
conviction and/or sentence, his sole federal remedy for challenging the fact or duration
of his confinement is by way of habeas corpus. 2 Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475
(1973); see also Torrence v. Thompson, 435 F. App'x 56 (3d Cir. 2011) (unpublished).
A plaintiff cannot recover under § 1983 for alleged wrongful incarceration unless he
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. See Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994). In Heck, the Supreme
Court held that where success in a § 1983 action would implicitly call into question the
validity of conviction or duration of sentence, the plaintiff must first achieve favorable
termination of his available state or federal habeas remedies to challenge the
underlying conviction or sentence. Considering Heck and summarizing the interplay
between habeas and § 1983 claims, the Supreme Court explains that "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
2Plaintiff filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in this court on May 12, 2014.
See Carier v. Pierce, Civ. No. 14-595-SLR (D. Del.).
leading to conviction or internal prison proceedings) - if success in that action would
necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of the confinement or its duration." Wilkinson v.
Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 (2005).
12. Here, plaintiff has not alleged or proven that his conviction or sentence has
been reversed or invalidated as provided by Heck. To the extent he seeks damages for
his current incarceration, the claim is legally frivolous and will be dismissed pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(8)(i) and § 1915(A)(b)(1).
13. Conclusion. For the above reasons, the court will deny as moot all pending
motions (0.1. 10, 11, 12) and will dismiss the complaint as frivolous pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(8)(i) and § 1915(A)(b)(1). The court finds amendment futile.
A separate order shall issue.
Dated: October~, 2014
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