HOPSON v. MCVICAR et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge John Michael Vazquez on 10/19/17. (DD, ) N/M
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No. 17-6037 (JMV)
SGT. THOMAS McVICAR and RYAN
VAZQUEZ, United States District Judge
On August 11, 2017, Plaintiff Hanif Hopson, a prisoner confined in Northern State Prison,
initiated this civil rights action seeking to proceed without prepayment of fees or security (“in
forma pauperis” or “IFP”). (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff’s IFP application establishes his eligibility to
proceed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915; and it is granted. (ECF No. 1-1.)
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A(b), the Court must now review the
complaint and dismiss the claims if it finds that the action is: (1) frivolous or malicious; (2) fails
to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (3) seeks monetary relief against a defendant
who is immune from such relief.
Sua Sponte Dismissal
Courts must liberally construe pleadings that are filed pro se. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S.
89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). Thus, “a pro se complaint,
however inartfully pleaded, must be held to ‘less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted
by lawyers.’” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). “Court personnel reviewing pro se pleadings
are charged with the responsibility of deciphering why the submission was filed, what the litigant
is seeking, and what claims she may be making.” See Higgs v. Atty. Gen. of the U.S., 655 F.3d
333, 339-40 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting Jonathan D. Rosenbloom, Exploring Methods to Improve
Management and Fairness in Pro Se Cases: A Study of the Pro Se Docket in the Southern District
of New York, 30 Fordham Urb. L.J. 305, 308 (2002)).
Under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A(b), district courts must review complaints
filed by prisoners in civil actions and dismiss any claim that 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. A pleading must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). “To survive a motion to
dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “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.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.)
“[A] court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint[.]” Id. Legal
conclusions, together with threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, do not suffice
to state a claim. Id. Thus, “a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by
identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the
assumption of truth.” Id. at 679. “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a
complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.” Id. If a complaint can be remedied by
an amendment, a district court may not dismiss the complaint with prejudice, but must permit the
amendment. Grayson v. Mayview State Hospital, 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002).
Plaintiff alleges the following facts, which are accepted as true solely for purposes of
screening the Complaint. On November 24, 2013, Plaintiff was arrested by Jersey City Police
Sergeant McVicar for defiant trespass. (Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶6.) “At no time prior to or
contemporaneous with Plaintiff’s arrest was [Plaintiff] found to be in possession of contraband nor
was there any outstanding warrant(s) for arrest.” (Id.) While Plaintiff sat in the police car,
Sergeant McVicar proceeded to 16-20 Lexington Avenue, Jersey City and conducted a warrantless
search in the apartment of Emily McNeal, where Plaintiff sometimes resided with Ms. McNeal
who was his girlfriend. (Id.) McVicar threatened Ms. McNeal that if she did not consent to the
search, he would have her padlocked out of her apartment and management would let the police
into the apartment. (Id.) Ms. McNeal was traumatized, and this contributed to her suffering a
miscarriage of her child with Plaintiff. (Id.)
On June 11, 2014, an Indictment was handed down by Prosecutor Ryan Gaffney, based on
the warrantless search, and in violation of the rules of conduct. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges Gaffney
violated Ms. McNeal’s rights, under the direction of Sergeant McVicar, by not allowing her to
leave the police station where she had willingly gone. (Id.) Ms. McNeal told officers that she was
pregnant and felt ill, but she was not allowed to leave until after 6:00 a.m. (Id.) When she arrived
at the Jersey City Medical Center at 6:45 a.m., she had already suffered a miscarriage. (Id.)
A plaintiff may have a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his
constitutional rights by a state official or employee. 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. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S.
42, 48 (1988); Piecknick v. Pennsylvania, 36 F.3d 1250, 1255–56 (3d Cir. 1994).
Statute of Limitations on Section 1983 Claims
The Court construes the complaint as alleging an unlawful search of Plaintiff’s residence
and false arrest of Plaintiff in violation of the Fourth Amendment. See e.g. Reedy v. Evanson, 615
F.3d 197 (3d Cir. 2010) (analyzing § 1983 unlawful search claims under the Fourth Amendment);
Wright v. City of Philadelphia, 409 F.3d 595 (3d Cir. 2005) (analyzing § 1983 false arrest claim
under the Fourth Amendment). Without determining whether Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts
to state a constitutional claim for unlawful search and false arrest, the Court notes these claims
appear to be barred by the statute of limitations. “[A] district court may sua sponte dismiss a claim
as time-barred under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(A)(b)(1) where it is apparent from the complaint that the
applicable limitations period has run.” Hunterson v. DiSabato, 244 F. App’x 455, 457 (3d Cir.
2007). There is a two-year statute of limitations for claims brought under Section 1983. See
O’Connor v. City of Newark, 440 F.3d 125, 126-27 (3d Cir. 2006) (“[f]or section 1983 actions in
New Jersey, ‘[the governing personal injury] statute is N.J.S.A. 2A:14–2, which provides that an
action for injury to the person caused by wrongful act, neglect, or default, must be convened within
two years of accrual of the cause of action”) (quoting Brown v. Foley, 810 F.2d 55, 56 (3d Cir.
Plaintiff filed this action in August 2017. The facts alleged in support of his claims
occurred in November 2013 and June 2014, more than two years before the complaint was filed.
(ECF No. 1, ¶6.) Therefore, his claims for unlawful search and false arrest against McVicar are
untimely and are dismissed without prejudice. Plaintiff may amend his complaint if he can
accurately allege facts that support equitable tolling of the statute of limitations.
The Court construes the complaint to contain a malicious prosecution claim against
Prosecutor Ryan Gaffney for bringing an Indictment against Plaintiff based on the fruits of a
warrantless search. In Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 428 (1976), the Supreme Court held that
prosecutors are entitled to absolute immunity where the prosecutor’s activities were intimately
associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process, such as the decision to initiate a
prosecution. See also Kulwicki v. Dawson, 969 F.2d 1454, 1464 (3d Cir. 1992) (“[a] prosecutor is
absolutely immune when making [the decision to initiate a prosecution], even where he acts
without a good faith belief that any wrongdoing has occurred.”) Gaffney is entitled to absolute
immunity for his decision to bring an Indictment against Plaintiff. This claim is dismissed with
prejudice based on absolute prosecutorial immunity. 1
Claims Asserted on Behalf of Ms. McNeal
Plaintiff asserts claims on behalf of his girlfriend for unlawful search of her apartment, and
unlawful seizure when she voluntarily went to the police station but was not allowed to leave when
The Court also notes that Plaintiff alleges Gaffney brought the Indictment in June 2014, more
than two years before Plaintiff filed this action, suggesting this claim too is barred by the statute
she reported that she was pregnant and felt ill. “[T]hird parties lack standing to bring claims under
§ 1983 for violation of the constitutional rights of another.” Norcross v. Town of Hammonton,
Civ. No. 04-2536(RBK), 2006 WL 1995021, at *1 (D.N.J. July 13, 2006) (citing Pahle v.
Colebrookdale Tp., 227 F.Supp.2d 361, 381 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 26, 2002) (“[i]t is well-established
that a spouse ... has no standing to assert § 1983 claims for violation of the constitutional rights of
another”); Hill v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Corr., 521 F. App’x 39, 40-41 (3d Cir. 2013) (per curiam)
(inmate’s wife lacked standing to bring § 1983 action on his behalf against prison officials for
failure to provide mental healthcare to her husband); see also Reihner v. County of Washington,
Pennsylvania, 672 F. App’x 142, 144 (3d Cir. 2016) (finding parents did not have standing to bring
claims based on constitutional rights of their son).
Thus, Plaintiff cannot bring claims on behalf of Ms. McNeal. If she believes that she has
been wronged, then she must file a suit herself. Those claims are dismissed.
For the reasons set forth herein, the Court grants Plaintiff IFP status but dismisses his §
1983 unlawful search and false arrest claims against McVicar without prejudice, as barred by the
statute of limitations. The Court dismisses Plaintiff’s malicious prosecution claim against Ryan
Gaffney with prejudice, based on absolute prosecutorial immunity.
Finally, Plaintiff lacks
standing to bring § 1983 claims for violation of Ms. McNeal’s right to be free from unlawful search
and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, and those claims are dismissed.
An appropriate Order accompanies this Opinion.
Dated: October 19, 2017
s/ John Michael Vazquez
JOHN MICHAEL VAZQUEZ
United States District Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?