ELLIS v. ESSEX COUNTY PROSECUTORS OFFICE et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Kevin McNulty on 12/27/2016. (ld, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civ. No. 16-3 849 (KM) (JBC)
ESSEX COUNTY PROSECUTORS OFFICE,
KEVIN MCNULTY. U.S.D.J.
The plaintiff, Clarence Ellis, is a state prisoner currently incarcerated at the East Jersey
State Prison in Rahway, New Jersey. He is proceeding pro se with a civil rights complaint filed
pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
At this time, this Court must screen the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
and 191 5A to determine whether it should be dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure to
state a claim upon which relief may granted or because it seeks monetary relief from a defendant
who is immune from suit. For the following reasons, the complaint will be dismissed with
prejudice in its entirety.
The allegations of the complaint are assumed to be true for purposes of this screening
Opinion. The complaint names five defendants: (1) Essex County Prosecutor’s Office; (2)
Rebecca Fisher; (3) Office of Public Defenders Office Essex County; (4) Austin Edwards; and
(5) Carolyn Murry.
Mr. Ellis’s allegations arise from his state court criminal proceedings. He states that he
was arrested for a weapons charge in November, 2013. Ms. Fisher was assigned to represent
him. Mr. Ellis states that the evidence clearly showed that he was never in possession of a
handgun, nor did he ever fire any handgun. He states that he “was tested for any signed of
gunshot residue which was negative [and thati the alleged gun was tested which yielded negative
for any fingerprints, DNA, et al.” (Dkt. No. 1 at p.6) Mr. Ellis states that the Prosecutor’s Office
was made aware of all of this relevant information, but that he was nevertheless maliciously
prosecuted by Austin Edwards. Mr. Ellis also states that Ms. Murry is the supervisor of Mr.
Edwards at the Prosecutor’s Office. Mr. Ellis further claims that Ms. Fisher violated his rights by
failing to properly investigate his case and by telling him to pled guilty.
Mr. Ellis requests monetary damages from the defendants.
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 or the
District of columbia, 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, except that in any action brought against a
judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s
judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a
declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was
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. See Harvey v. Plains Twp.
Police Dep’t, 635 F.3d 606, 609 (3d Cir. 2011) (citations omitted); see also West v. Atkins, 487
U.S. 42,48 (1988).
Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub.L. 104-134,
801-8 10, 110 Stat. 1321-66
to 1321-77 (Apr. 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.
seeks redress against a governmental employee or entity, see 28 U.S.C.
claim with respect to prison conditions, see 42 U.S.C.
1915A(b), or brings a
1 997e. 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
relief. See 28 U.S.C.
“The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28
191 5(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 42 U.S.C.
1997e(c)(l)); Courteau v. United States, 287 F.
App’x 159, 162 (3d Cir. 2008) (discussing 28 U.S.C.
1915A(b)). That standard is set forth in
Ashcroji v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twoinbly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007),
as explicated by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. To survive the court’s
screening for failure to state a claim, the complaint must allege ‘sufficient factual matter’ to
show that the claim is facially plausible. See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d
Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual
content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Fair Wind Sailing, Inc. v. Dempster, 764 F.3d 303, 308 n.3 (3d Cir. 2014)
(quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). “[A] pleading that offers ‘labels or conclusions’ or ‘a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.’ “Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
Pro se pleadings, as always, will be liberally construed. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S.
519 (1972). Nevertheless, ‘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
A. Rebecca Fisher & the Office of Public Defenders of Essex County
Mr. Ellis first raises claims against the Office of Public Defenders of Essex County and
Public Defender Rebecca Fisher for their role in representing him at his state criminal
proceedings. Neither a public defender nor the public defender’s office is a state actor for
purposes of § 1983. See Dorn v. Aguilar, 645 F. App’x 114, 115 (3d Cir. 2016) (quoting Polk
Cnty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 325 (1981); see also Xenos v. Slojund 424 F. App’x 80, 81 (3d
Cir. 2011) (citation omitted). Accordingly, the federal claims against these two defendants will
be dismissed with prejudice for failure to state a claim.
B. Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. Austin Edwards & Carolyn Murray
Mr. Ellis also brings claims against the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and two of its
employees, Austin Edwards and Carolyn Murry, for pursuing an invalid criminal case against
him. With respect to Mr. Edwards and Ms. Murray, Mr. Ellis’s federal claims will not be
permitted to proceed past screening. A state prosecuting attorney who acts within the scope of
his or her duties in initiating and pursuing a criminal prosecution is not amenable to suit under
1983. See Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 410 (1976); see also Arsadv. Means, 365 F. App’x
327, 329 (3d Cir. 2010). A prosecutor’s appearance in court as an advocate of the state’s position
or the presentation of evidence at a hearing is protected by absolute immunity. See Burns v.
Reed 500 U.S. 478, 492 (1991). Therefore, Mr. Ellis’s federal claims that seek monetary
damages against Mr. Edwards and Ms. Murray for prosecuting the criminal case against him will
be dismissed with prejudice.
As to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, the federal claims will also be dismissed
with prejudice. When New Jersey county prosecutor’s offices engage in classic law enforcement
and investigative ftinctions, they act as officers of the State,” and hence are not “persons” who
may be liable under
1983. See Estate ofLagano v. Bergen Cnty. Prosecutor’s Office, 769 F.3d
850, 855 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Coleman v. Kaye, 87 F.3d 1491, 1505 (3d Cir. 1996)). In this
case, Mr. Ellis’s complaint against the Prosecutor’s Office is based on classic law enforcement
activities. As to such activities, the Prosecutor’s Office enjoys absolute immunity.
C. State Law Claims
It is not altogether clear whether Mr. Ellis is also seeking to raise state law claims against
any of these five defendants. Assuming that there are any state claims, they will be dismissed.
The only potential basis for federal court jurisdiction over such state law claims would be
supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
1367. When a court has dismissed all claims
over which it had federal question jurisdiction—as is the case here—it has the discretion to
decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any remaining state law claims. See id.
1367(c)(3). This case is at the earliest possible stage, and the federal claims lack even a
preliminary showing of merit. This Court will exercise its discretion to decline supplemental
jurisdiction over Mr. Ellis’s state law claims to the extent the complaint may be read to assert
For the following reasons, Mr. Ellis’s federal claims are dismissed with prejudice and this
Court will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any state law claims. An
appropriate order will be entered.
DATED: December 27, 2016
United States District Judge
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