PATEL v. SCOCA
OPINION. Signed by Chief Judge Jose L. Linares on 7/12/17. (sr, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No. 17-4820 (JLL)
VINCENT C. SCOCA, ESQ.,
LINARES, Chief District Judge:
Presently before the Court is the complaint of Plaintiff, Maheshkumar Patel. (ECF No. 1).
Also before this Court is Plaintiffs application to proceed in
attached to ECF No. 1). Based on Plaintiffs application, it is clear that leave to proceed
pauperis is warranted in this matter, and therefore this Court will grant Plaintiffs application to
Because this Court is granting that application, however, this Court is
required to screen the complaint pursuant to 2$ U.S.C.
§ 191 5(e)(2)(B). Pursuant to this statute,
this Court must dismiss Plaintiffs claims if they are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim for
relief, or seek damages from a defendant who is immune. For the reasons set forth below, this
Court will dismiss the complaint in its entirety.
Plaintiff, Maheshkumar Patel, is a convicted state prisoner currently confined in Northern
State Prison. (ECF No. 1 at 2-3). In his current complaint, Plaintiff seeks to raise claims against
his fon-ner defense counsel, Vincent Scoca. whom Plaintiff hired to defend him on various
kidnapping and sexual assault charges in 2010. (Document 1 attached to ECF No. 1 at 1-3). In
essence, Plaintiff asserts that $ coca failed to live up to his contractual obligations to Plaintiff during
the course of his criminal proceedings, ultimately resulting in Plaintiff pleading guilty when he
otherwise would not have done so absent Scoca’s alleged failings. (Id.). Plaintiff thus asserts that
Scoca proved constitutionally ineffective in representing him, took advantage of Plaintiff and his
family, and thus derived profit without providing Plaintiff with the services they had agreed would
be perfornied on Plaintiffs behalf.
A. Legal Standard
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.
damages from a state employee, see 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(3), or seeks
§ 1915A. 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 This action
is subject to stta sponte screening for dismissal under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B) because Plaintiff
has been granted inforina pauperis status.
According to the Supreme Court’s decision in Ashcroft
Iqbal, “a pleading that offers
‘labels or conclusions’ or ‘a fonnulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.”
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To
survive stia sponte screening for failure to state a claim,’ the complaint must allege “sufficient
“The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 19l5(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. 200$) (discussing 2$ U.S.C. § 1915A).
factual matter” to show that the claim is facially plausible. Fowler v. URMS Shadvside, 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 Salting, Inc. v. Dempster, 764 f.3d 303, 30$ n.3 (3d
Cir. 2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 67$). 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
Plaintiff, in his complaint, seeks to raise claims against his fonTier criminal defense attorney
for alleged violations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
claim under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. “To establish a
§ 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate a violation of a right protected by the
Constitution or laws of the United States that was committed by a person acting under the color of
state law.” Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir. 2000); see also Woodvard v.
Essex, 514 F. App’x 177, 180 (3d Cir. 2013) (“Section 1983 provides private citizens with ameans
to redress violations of federal law committed by state [actors].”). “The first step in evaluating a
section 1983 claim is to ‘identify the exact contours of the underlying right said to have been
violated’ and to determine ‘whether the plaintiff has alleged a deprivation of a constitutional right
at all.” Nicini, 212 F.3d at $06 (quoting County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. $33, $41 n. 5
(1998)). Here, Plaintiff appears to be attempting to assert claims against his former criminal
defense attorney for violations of his right to counsel during his criminal proceedings, as well as
pendent state law claims either for breach of contract or legal malpractice against the same
The sole federal claim raised in Plaintiffs complaint is a
§ 1983 claim in which he asserts
that his former private defense counsel failed to abide by their contractual agreement and thus
denied Plaintiff the effective assistance of counsel. A private defense attorney, however, is not a
proper defendant in a
§ 1983 matter as defense counsel do “not act under color of state law when
performing a lawyer’s traditional ftinctions[.]” Polk Cnty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 325 (1981).
Indeed, even “public defenders and court-appointed counsel acting within the scope of their
professional duties are absolutely immune from civil liability under
§ 1983” for this same reason.
Walker v. Pennsylvania, 580 F. App’x 75, 78 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Black v. Bayer, 672 F.2d
309, 320 (3d Cir. 1982), abrogated on other grounds by D.R. v. Middle Bucks Area Vocational
Tech. Sch., 972 F.2d 1364, 1368 n. 7 (3d Cir. 1992)). Because the sole Defendant named by
Plaintiff is a private defense attorney, Defendant is not a proper
any event, Defendant is entitled to absolute immunity under
§ 1983 defendant. Moreover, in
§ 1983 for the actions he took in his
capacity as Plaintiffs lawyer. As such, Plaintiffs sole federal claim must be dismissed with
prejudice for failure to state a claim for which relief must be granted in so much as the sole named
Defendant is not a proper defendant and is immune from suit under
§ 1983 2
Although Plaintiffs sole federal claim is being dismissed with prejudice, Plaintiff also
raises several state law claims against Defendant
specifically breach of contract and legal
malpractice. However, because this Court has dismissed the sole claim Plaintiff has raised over
which this Court had original jurisdiction, the Court will decline to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over Plaintiffs pendent state law claims. See 2$ U.S.C.
§ 1367(c)(3). To the extent
Because Defendant’s immunity to suit under § 1983 is dispositive of Plaintiffs sole federal
claim, this Court need not and does not address neither the timeliness of Plaintiffs claims nor
whether his claims are barred by the doctrine announced in Heck v. Hitmphries, 512 U.S. 477
Plaintiffs state law claims have merit, he must pursue them in state court. Plaintiffs complaint
shall therefore be dismissed in its entirety.
For the reasons stated above, this Court will grant Plaintiffs application to proceed in
formapauperis, but will dismiss Plaintiffs complaint (ECF No. 1) in its entirety. An appropriate
IT IS SO ORDERED.
tef United States District Judge
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