PADILLA v. WELSH
OPINION. Signed by Chief Judge Jose L. Linares on 8/18/17. (sr, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No. 17-5990 (JLL)
DANIEL J. WELSH, ESQ.,
LINARES, Chief District Judge:
Currently before the Court is the complaint of Plaintiff, Richardo Padilla. (ECF No. 1).
Also before this Court is Plaintiffs application to proceed in forma paziperis.
attached to ECF No. 1). Based on Plaintiffs application, it is clear that leave to proceed informa
pauperis is warranted in this matter, and therefore this Court will grant Plaintiffs application to
proceed informa pauperis. Because this Court is granting that application, however, this Court is
required to screen the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B). Pursuant to the statute,
this Court must dismiss Plaintiffs claims if they are frivolous, are 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, Richardo Padilla, is a convicted state prisoner currently confined in South Woods
State Prison. (ECF No. 1 at 2-3). In his current complaint, Plaintiff seeks to raise claims against
his former defense counsel, Daniel J. Welsh, whom Plaintiff hired to represent him on direct appeal
from his underlying criminal conviction. (Document 1 attached to ECF No. 1 at 1-7). In essence,
Plaintiff asserts that Welsh failed to file Plaintiffs criminal appeal, forged a retainer agreement,
and otherwise stood in Plaintiffs way as Plaintiff sought to file his direct appeal and postconviction relief petition attacking his criminal conviction. (Id.). Plaintiff now seeks to bring suit
against Welsh in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 for violating Plaintiffs right to effective
counsel and appeal. (Id.). Plaintiff also seeks to raise several pendent state law claims against
Welsh including legal malpractice, thefi by deception, fraud, and forgery. (ECF No. 1 at 7).
A. Legal Standard
Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), district courts must review
complaints in those civil actions in which a prisoner is proceeding informa pauperis, see 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B), or seeks damages from a state employee, see 28 U.S.C. § 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 sun sponte screening for dismissal under 28 U.S.C.
1915(e)(2)(B) because Plaintiff has been granted in forma pauperis status.
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 do.”
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To
survive sun sponte screening for failure to state a claim, the complaint must allege “sufficient
factual matter” to show that the claim is facially plausible. 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. Dernpster, 764 f.3d 303, 308 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.”
Ma/a 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 former criminal appellate
attorney for alleged violations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
establish a claim under 42
§ 1983. “To
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, $06 (3d Cir. 2000); see also
Woodvardv. Cnty. ofEssex, 514 F. App’x 177, 180 (3d
Cir. 2013) (section 1983 provides “private
citizens with a means 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. $33, 841 n.5 (1998)). Here, Plaintiff appears to be asserting claims against his former criminal
“The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to 2$ 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)).
defense attorney for violations of his right to counsel during his criminal appeal, as well as pendent
state law claims for, inter a/ia, legal malpractice against the same attorney.
The sole federal claim raised in Plaintiffs complaint is a
§ 1983 claim in which he asserts
that his former private criminal appellate counsel failed to file an appeal pursuant to 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 functions.” Polk Cnty. v.
Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 318 (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
BucksArea Voc. Tech. Sch., 972 f.2d 1364, 1368 n. 7 (3dCir. 1992)). Because the sole Defendant
named by Plaintiff is a private criminal attorney who represented Plaintiff on appeal, Defendant is
not a proper § 1983 defendant, and is in any event entitled to immunity under
§ 1983 for the actions
he took in his capacity as Plaintiffs criminal appellate attorney. 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
Although Plaintiffs sole federal claim is being dismissed with prejudice, Plaintiff also
raises several state law claims against Defendant
including claims for legal malpractice, fraud,
forgery, and theft by deception. Because this Court has dismissed the sole claim Plaintiff has
Because Defendant’s immunity to suit under § 1983 is dispositive of Plaintiffs sole federal
claim, this Court need not and does not address whether Plaintiffs claims are barred by the
doctrine announced in Heck v. Hurnphries, 512 U.S. 477 (1994).
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.
To the extent Plaintiffs state law claims have merit, he must pursue them in state court. Plaintiffs
complaint shall therefore be dismissed in its entirety.
F or the reasons stated above, this Court will grant Plaintiffs application to proceed in
formapauperis (Document 2 attached to ECf No. 1), but will dismiss Plaintiffs complaint (ECF
No. 1) in its entirety. An appropriate order follows.
Cf[udge, United States District Court
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