Ortiz v. Haller et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Leonard P. Stark on 11/10/2016. (cna)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE
Civ. No. 16-1S1-LPS
KARL HALLER, et aI.,
Carlos Ortiz, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Smyrna, Delaware, Pro Se Plaintiff.
November 10, 2016
STARK, U.S. DistrictJudge:
Plaintiff Carlos Ortiz ("Plaintiff"), an inmate at the James
Vaughn Correctional Center in
Smyrna Delaware, filed this action pursuant to 42 U .S.c. § 1983 alleging violations of his
constitutional rights.! (D.l. 3) He appears pro se and has been granted leave to proceed informa
patrperis. (D.I. 5) The Court proceeds to review and screen the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.c.
§ 1915(e)(2) and § 1915A(a).
In 2003, a Delaware Superior Court jury convicted Plaintiff of two counts of rape in the first
degree and other related offenses arising from his attack on his estranged wife. See Ortit v. State, 127
A.3d 398 (Del. 2015) (table). The State was represented at trial by Defendant Melanie C. Withers
("\vithers"), Plaintiff was represented at trial by Defendant Karl Haller ("Haller"), and Defendant
Delaware Superior Court Judge
Scott Bradley ("Judge Bradley") presided over the criminal trial.
Ortit 2011 \x'L 2791265 (Del. Super. Ct. July 13,2011). Plaintiff was sentenced to a total
of eighty-four years of Level V incarceration, suspended after sixty-eight years for decreasing levels
of supervision. See Ortit 127 A.3d 398. His convictions were affirmed by the Delaware Supreme
Court on direct appeal. Id. Since then, Plaintiff has filed six motions for post-conviction relief, all
unsuccessful. Id. Plaintiff also sought relief in this Court pursuant to 28 V.S.c. § 2254; his petition
was denied as time-barred. See Ortiz v. Pierce, 2014 WL 3909138 (D. Del. Aug. 11,2014).
Plaintiff alleges that, on the final day of trial, the judge, prosecutor, and defense counsel met
to decide jury instructions. Plaintiff "accuses the three defendants of conspiracy against him to
!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 .S. 42, 48 (1988).
insure his conviction." (D.I. 3) He alleges Defendants worked together "to come up with an
instruction ... in violation of ... Delaware law" and conspired to violate his constitutional rights to
due process and equal protection. (!d.) He alleges the instruction in question "is a federal violation"
and prejudiced him in the Delaware rulings. (!d. at 5) Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages.
A federal court may properly dismiss an action Jua sponte under the screening provisions of
.S.c. § 1915(e)(2)(B) 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 t'. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 452 (3d Cir. 2013); Jee alJo 28 U.S.c. § 1915(e)(2) (in forma
pauperiJ actions); 28 U .S.c. § 1915A (actions in which prisoner seeks redress from governmental
defendant); 42 USc. § 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 Je plaintiff. Jee PhilJipJ v.
515 F.3d 224, 229 (3d Cir. 2008);
ErickJ011 v. ParduJ, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). Because Plaintiff proceeds pro Je, his pleading is liberally
construed and his Complaint, "however inanfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards
than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." ErickJon, 551 U.S. at 94 (citations omitted).
An action is frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v.
WilJiamJ, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Under 28 V.S.c. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(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; Jee alJo jJ?'i!JOll
v. Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir. 1989); DeutJch
United StateJ, 67 F.3d 1080, 1091-92 (3d
Crr. 1995) (holding frivolous a suit alleging that prison officials took an inmate's pen and refused to
give it back).
The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to
§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and § 1915A(b)(1) is identical to the legal standard used when deciding Rule
12(b)(6) motions. See Totlrscherv. McCt/llollgb, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999) (applying Fed. R.
P. 12(b)(6) standard to dismissal for failure to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B». However, before
dismissing a complaint or claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted
pursuant to the screening provisions of28 U.S.c. §§ 1915 and 1915A, the Court must grant a
amend his complaint unless amendment would be inequitable or futile. See Grqysoll
Mt!'yview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 114 (3d Cit. 2002).
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." BellAtl. Corp.
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'!.Hosp., 765 F.3d 236, 241 (3d Cit. 2014) (internal quotation
marks omitted). 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 i'. BASF CatalYsts llC, 765 F.3d 306,
315 (3d Cit. 2014) (citing Ashcrofl v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) and Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
Finally, a plaintiff must plead facts sufficient to show that a claim has substantive plausibility. See
Johnson v. City ~f She/~y, _U.S._, 135 S.Ct. 346,347 (2014). A complaint may not dismissed for
imperfect statements of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted. See id. at 346.
Under the pleading regime established by TwomblY and Iqbal, a court reviewing the
sufficiency of a complaint must take three steps: (1) take note of the elements the plaintiff must
plead to state a claim; (2) identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are
not entided to the assumption of truth; and (3) when there are well-pleaded factual allegations, the
court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an
entitlement to relief. See ConnellY v. Lane Cons!. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016). 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 (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)). Deciding whether a clainl is plausible will be a
"context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and
common sense." Id.
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.
See Preiser v. Rodligtlez, 411 U.S. 475 (1973); .fee afro Torrence v. Thompson, 435 F. App'x 56 (3d Cir. June
3, 2011). In addition, 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. HlImphrCJ, 512 U.s.
Here, Plaintiff has not alleged or proven that his conviction or sentence was reversed or
invalidated as provided by Heck. To the extent Plaintiff seeks damages for his current incarceration,
his claim is frivolous and '\\1111 be dismissed.
Statute of Limitation
Plaintiff alleges that, during the course of his 2003 criminal trial, Defendants conspired to
deprive him of his constitutional rights. For purposes of the statute of limitations, § 1983 claims are
characterized as personal injury actions. See W'ilsonll• Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 275 (1983). In Delaware,
§ 1983 claims are subject to a two-year limitations period. See 10 Del. Code § 8119; lohmon v. Cullen,
925 F. Supp. 244, 248 (D. Del. 1996). Section 1983 claims accrue "when the plaintiff knew or
should have known of the injury upon which its action is based." Samenc Cop.
Ci(y ~f Philadelphia,
142 F.3d 582, 599 (3d Cir. 1998).
The statute of limitations is an affirmative defense that generally must be raised by the
defendant, and it is waived if not properly raised. See Benak ex rei. Alliance Premier Growtb },md v.
Alliance Capital Mgmt. L.P., 435 F.3d 396, 400 n.14 (3d Cir. 2006); Fassett lJ. Delta Kappa EpJilon, 807
F.2d 1150, 1167 (3d Cir. 1986). "Although the statute of limitations is an affIrmative defense, a
district court may sua sponte dismiss a complaint under § 1915(e) where the defense is obvious from
the complaint and no development of the factual record is required." Peele
lvIcLaJlghlill, _ F.
App'x _,2016 Wl. 737715, at *1 (3d Cir. Feb. 25, 2016) (citing Fogle v. Pimoll, 435 F.3d 1252,
1258 (10 th Cir. 2006».
Plaintiff complains of acts occurring during the course of his 2003 criminal trial, particularly
the use of jury instructions containing the word "victim," which he claims violated his constitutional
rights. As is evident from the face of the Complaint, Plaintiff has been aware of this cause of action
for some time. He states that he has "filed multiple petitions on his constitutional rights violations
with the use of the word 'victim,' being used 10 times, during jury instructions." (D.l. 3 Facts)
Plaintiff did not file his Complaint until March 8,2016. 2 Hence, it is evident from the face of the
2The computation of time for complaints filed by pro .re inmates is determined according to
the "mailbox rule," which deems a petition or complaint filed as of the date it was delivered to
prison offIcials for mailing to the court. See Holtston lJ. Lack, 487 C.5. 266 (1988); Bllrm Zi. Mortolt, 134
F.3d 109, 112 (3d Cir. 1998); Gibbs v. Decker, 234 F. Supp. 2d 458, 463 (D. DeL 2002). Plaintiff's
Complaint was signed on March 8, 2016, and the envelope it was mailed in is post-marked March
Complaint that all claims that accrued prior to March 8, 2014 are barred by the two-year limitations
Because Plaintiffs allegations are time-barred, the Court will dismiss the Complaint as
frivolous pursuant to 28 C.S.c. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A(b)(1).3
the above reasons, the Court will dismiss the Complaint as legally frivolous pursuant to
28 C.S.c. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and § 1915A(b)(1). Amendment is futile.
An appropriate Order follows.
21,2016. Therefore, Plaintiffs Complaint was delivered to prison authorities for mailing between
March 8, 2016 and March 21, 2016. Giving Plaintiff the benefit, the Court concludes that Plaintiffs
Complaint was filed on March 8, 2016, the date it was signed, and the earliest date possible that it
could have been delivered to prison officials in Delaware for mailing.
3There are other deficiencies, including that the conspiracy claim is pled in a conclusory
manner and fails to meet the pleading requirements of Iqbal and Twomb/J'. Additionally, it does not
allege sufficient facts to raise an inference that Haller engaged in a conspiracy with Judge Bradley
and Withers that would subject Haller, as a non-state actor, to § 1983 liability. See Abllikhair v.
Toskos, 430 App'x 98, 100 (3d Cir. June 2, 2011). Finally, the claim fails because Judge Bradley
has judicial immunity, see Capogrosso v. The Supreme COllrt o/Nel1)Iers~y, 588 F.3d 180(3d Cir. 2009), and
Withers has prosecutorial immunity, see Odd lJ. Malone, 538 F.3d 202, 208 (3d Cir. 2008).
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