HOOD v. SUPERIOR COURT OF ATLANTIC COUNTY et al
OPINION. Signed by Chief Judge Jerome B. Simandle on 11/5/2014. (drw)n.m.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
SUPERIOR COURT, et al.,
Civil No. 14-5209 (JBS)
Tatanisha Hood, Pro Se
Atlantic County Justice Facility
5060 Atlantic Avenue
Mays Landing, NJ 08330
SIMANDLE, Chief Judge
Plaintiff, Tatanisha Hood, incarcerated at the Atlantic County
Justice Facility, Mays Landing, New Jersey seeks to bring this action
in forma pauperis (“IFP”). Based on her affidavit of indigence, the
Court will grant Plaintiff's application to proceed IFP pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) and order the Clerk of the Court to file the
The Court must now review the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A(b), to determine whether it should be
dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted, or because it seeks monetary relief
from a defendant who is immune from such relief. For the reasons set
forth below, the Court concludes that Plaintiff's Complaint must be
Plaintiff seeks to sue the Superior Court of Atlantic County,
the Office of the Prosecutor of Atlantic County, Rochelle Rozier,
a public defender, and Judge Donna Taylor, a state court judge. She
asserts that her criminal case in Atlantic County has been
mishandled, her court dates were postponed because of a quarantine
at the jail, and that her right to bail has been unconstitutionally
rejected because of action and inaction of her attorney, Defendant
Rozier (Complt., ¶ 4).
Plaintiff asks for her criminal charges to be reversed, monetary
relief, and, should this Court release her, that she be permitted
to return to North Carolina, her state of residence (Complt., ¶ 5).
Plaintiff asserts jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
1. Standards for a Sua Sponte Dismissal
Per the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, §§
801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 1321-77 (April 26, 1996) (“PLRA”),
district courts must review complaints in those civil actions in
which a prisoner is proceeding in forma pauperis, see 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B), seeks redress against a governmental employee or
entity, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), or brings a claim with respect to
prison conditions, see 28 U.S.C. § 1997e.
The PLRA directs district
courts to sua sponte dismiss any claim that is frivolous, is
malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted,
or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such
This action is subject to sua sponte screening for dismissal
under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) and § 1915A because Plaintiff is a prisoner
and is proceeding as an indigent.
According to the Supreme Court’s decision in Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, “a pleading that offers ‘labels or conclusions’ or ‘a
formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).
To survive sua sponte screening
for failure to state a claim,1 the complaint must allege “sufficient
factual matter” to show that the claim is facially plausible.
v. UPMS Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (citation
“A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff
“The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to
state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is the same
as that for dismissing a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6).” Schreane v. Seana, 506 F. App’x 120, 122 (3d
Cir. 2012) (citing Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir.
2000)); Mitchell v. Beard, 492 F. App’x 230, 232 (3d Cir. 2012)
(discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1)); Courteau v. United States, 287
F. App’x 159, 162 (3d Cir. 2008) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)).
pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Belmont v. MB Inv. Partners, Inc., 708 F.3d 470, 483 n.17 (3d Cir.
2012) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).
Moreover, while pro se
pleadings are liberally construed, “pro se litigants still must
allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim.”
Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013)
(citation omitted) (emphasis added).
Section 1983 Actions
A plaintiff may have a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
for certain violations of his constitutional rights. Section 1983
provides in relevant part:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance,
regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory ...
subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United
States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the
deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured
by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party
injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper
proceeding for redress ....
Thus, to state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must
allege, first, the violation of a right secured by the Constitution
or laws of the United States and, second, that the alleged deprivation
was committed or caused by a person acting under color of state law.
SeeWest v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Malleus v. George, 641
F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).
Plaintiff seeks to sue Judge Taylor, a New Jersey Superior Court
Judge. However, “[i]t is a well-settled principle of law that judges
are generally ‘immune from a suit for money damages.’” Figueroa v.
Blackburn, 208 F.3d 435, 440 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Mireles v. Waco,
502 U.S. 9, 9 (1991)). “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.” Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349,
356 (1978). Furthermore, “[a] judge is absolutely immune from
liability for his judicial acts even if his exercise of authority
is flawed by the commission of grave procedural errors.” Id. at 359.
Judicial immunity also extends to suits brought under 42 U.S.C.
See Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 553–55 (1967). “[Judicial]
immunity is overcome in only two sets of circumstances.” Mireles,
502 U.S. at 11–12. “First, a judge is not immune from liability for
nonjudicial acts, i.e., actions not taken in the judge's judicial
In determining whether an act qualifies as a
“judicial act,” courts looks to “the nature of the act itself, i.e.,
whether it is a function normally performed by a judge, and to the
expectation of the parties, i.e., whether they dealt with the judge
in his judicial capacity.” Stump, 435 U.S. at 362. “Second, a judge
is not immune for actions, though judicial in nature, taken in the
complete absence of all jurisdiction.” Mireles, 502 U.S. at 12.
Plaintiff alleges that the judge mishandled her criminal case,
delayed her court hearings, and denied bail.
Based on these
allegations, Judge Taylor has not taken action with regard to
Plaintiff outside of her judicial capacity, nor did the Judge act
As such, the Complaint must be dismissed as
to this defendant.
Claim against Public Defender
In Polk Co. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 325 (1981), the Supreme
Court held that a public defender, although paid and ultimately
supervised by the state, “does not act under color of state law when
performing the traditional functions of counsel to a criminal
defendant.” See also Vermont v. Brillon, 556 U.S. 81, 91 (2009)
(“Unlike a prosecutor or the court, assigned counsel ordinarily is
not considered a state actor); Angelico v. Lehigh Valley Hospital,
Inc., 184 F.3d 268, 277 (3d Cir. 1999) (private attorneys were not
acting under color of state law when they issued subpoenas); Calhoun
v. Young, 2008 WL 294438 (3d Cir. Aug. 1, 2008) (public defender
representing criminal defendant is not acting under color of state
law); Thomas v. Howard, 455 F.2d 228 (3d Cir. 1972) (court-appointed
pool attorney does not act under color of state law).
Therefore, because it appears that Defendant Rozier, a public
defender assigned to represent Plaintiff, was not acting under color
of state law, the claims against her must be dismissed with prejudice.
Eleventh Amendment Immunity
Plaintiff’s claims against Defendants Superior Court of
Atlantic County and the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office must be
dismissed, as these defendants are immune to suit.
The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution
“The Judicial power of the United States shall not be
construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or
prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another
State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S. Const.
Eleventh Amendment immunity “protects both states and state
agencies ‘as long as the state is the real party in interest.’”
Woodyard v. Cnty. of Essex, 514 F. App'x 177, 182 (3d Cir. 2013) (per
curiam) (quoting Fitchik v. N.J. Transit Rail Operations, 873 F.2d
655, 659 (3d Cir. 1989) (en banc)). In determining whether immunity
applies, a court examines: “(1) the source of the money that would
pay for the judgment; (2) the status of the entity under state law;
and (3) the entity's degree of autonomy.” Haybarger v. Lawrence Cnty.
Adult Prob. & Parole, 551 F.3d 193, 1978 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing
Fitchik, 873 F.2d at 659). The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
recently revisited the relationship between Eleventh Amendment
immunity and county prosecutor offices, and reaffirmed that District
Courts should apply the Fitchik factors to determine whether or not
immunity applies. See Estate of Frank P. Lagano v. Bergen County
Prosecutor’s Office, __ F.3d __, 2014 WL 5155213, at *5-6 (3d Cir.
Oct. 15, 2014) (“We therefore conclude that Fitchik provides the
proper framework for analyzing Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity
as it applies to county prosecutors . . . .”).
Utilizing the Fitchik factors and acknowledging prior case law
holding that “‘[w]hen [New Jersey] county prosecutors engage in
classic law enforcement and investigative functions, they act as
officers of the State,” the Third Circuit has applied Eleventh
Amendment immunity to county prosecutor offices when their actions
“are clearly law enforcement functions.” Woodyard, 514 F. App'x at
182 (citing Fitchik, 873 F.2d at 659; Haybarger, 551 F.3d at 198;
and Coleman v. Kaye, 87 F.3d 1491, 1505 (3d Cir. 1996)). In this case,
Plaintiff’s complaints about the Prosecutor’s Office concern the
handling of her criminal case, the ultimate law enforcement function
of the Prosecutor’s Office.
As to Defendant Superior Court, it has been held that “the New
Jersey Superior Court is an ‘arm’ of the state entitled to share in
the state’s sovereign immunity . . . [the] judicial branch is an
integral part of the State of New Jersey. The fact that the New Jersey
Superior Court is a trial court and not a court of last resort does
not make it any less an integral part of the State.” Johnson v. State
of New Jersey, 869 F. Supp. 289, 296-97 (D.N.J. 1994)(cited in
Palmer-Carri v. Maplewood Police Dep’t, 2013 WL 5574693, at *3
(D.N.J. Oct. 9, 2013)).
Further, this Court declines to construe these defendants as
Atlantic County and the City of Atlantic City, entities which are
subject to suit under Monell v. Dept. of Social Services of City of
New York, 436 U.S. 658, 688–90 (1978), because the Complaint does
not sufficiently plead § 1983 claims against these entities.
Specifically, neither the county nor the city can be found liable
under § 1983 simply because they employ wrongdoers. See id. at 691–92;
Natale v. Camden County Correctional Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 583 (3d
Cir. 2003). “Instead, it is when execution of a government's policy
or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts
or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts
the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under §
1983.” Monell, 436 U.S. at 694.
As this Complaint does not “identify a custom or policy,”
“specify what exactly that custom or policy was,” McTernan v. City
of York, PA, 564 F.3d 636, 658 (3d Cir. 2009), or assert facts showing
a “direct causal link between a municipal policy or custom and the
alleged constitutional deprivation,” Jiminez v. All American
Rathskeller, Inc., 503 F.3d 247, 249 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting City
of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989)), it does not plead
a claim against Atlantic County or Atlantic City under the Iqbal
For the reasons stated above, Plaintiff’s Complaint must be
dismissed, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and (iii) and
§ 1915A(b)(1) and (2), for seeking relief from immune defendants and
for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
appropriate Order follows.
s/ Jerome B. Simandle
JEROME B. SIMANDLE, Chief Judge
United States District Court
November 5, 2014
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