WOLTER v. LOVETT et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Brian R. Martinotti on 10/5/2021. (sm)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
ROBERT A. WOLTER,
MICHAEL R. LOVETT, et al.,
Case No. 2:20-cv-20341 (BRM) (LDW)
Before the Court is Plaintiff pro se prisoner Robert A. Wolter’s (“Plaintiff”) civil rights
complaint (“Complaint”), filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1, “Compl.”) Based on his
affidavit of indigence (ECF 1-1), the Court previously granted him leave to proceed in forma
pauperis and ordered the Clerk of the Court to file the Complaint. (ECF No. 4.)
At this time, the Court must review the Complaint, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)
and 1915A, 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 Complaint is
DISMISSED in its entirety.
According to the Complaint, 1 on February 6, 2019, defendant agent Michael R. Lovett
falsely arrested Plaintiff without a warrant at a local hospital near the Newark, NJ airport. (Compl.
The factual allegations are taken from the Complaint and are accepted as true for purposes of this
screening only. The Court has made no findings as to the veracity of Plaintiff’s allegations.
at 3.) Charges of bulk cash smuggling were later brough against Plaintiff. (Id.) Those charges
related to an incident that occurred on February 5, 2019. (Id.)
Plaintiff alleges the prosecutor selectively prosecuted Plaintiff. (Id.) Plaintiff argues at the
time of the incident there were “many more people of a different race and national origin who were
not arrested or charged.” (Id.) Plaintiff alleges he was maliciously prosecuted; he was charged only
for the purpose of holding him for further investigation into a separate incident in North Dakota.
(Id.) Plaintiff alleges false imprisonment in the Essex County Jail from February 5, 2019 to around
July 13, 2020. (Id.)
Plaintiff is seeking monetary relief. (Id. at 4.)
II. LEGAL STANDARDS
A. Standard 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 42 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 relief. This action is
subject to sua sponte screening for dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A because
Plaintiff is a prisoner who is proceeding as 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 do.’”
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, the complaint must allege “sufficient
factual matter” to show that the claim is facially plausible. Fowler v. UPMS 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.” 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).
B. 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 . . . .
42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Therefore, 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, the alleged
deprivation was committed or caused by a person acting under color of state law. See West v.
Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).
A. False Arrest/Imprisonment
Plaintiff alleges a claim of false arrest against Defendant agent Lovett.
It is well established in the Third Circuit that an arrest without probable cause is a Fourth
Amendment violation actionable under § 1983. See Berg v. Cnty of Allegheny, 219 F.3d 261, 268–
69 (3d Cir. 2000) (collecting cases); see also Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 274 (1994) (finding
that a § 1983 claim for false arrest may be based upon an individual’s Fourth Amendment right to
be free from unreasonable seizures). To state a Fourth Amendment claim for false arrest, a plaintiff
must allege two elements: “(1) that there was an arrest; and (2) that the arrest was made without
probable cause.” James v. City of Wilkes–Barre, 700 F.3d 675, 680 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Groman
v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 634 (3d Cir. 1995) and Dowling v. City of Phila., 855 F.2d
136, 141 (3d Cir. 1988)). Probable cause exists “whenever reasonably trustworthy information or
circumstances within a police officer's knowledge are sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable
caution to conclude that an offense has been committed by the person being arrested.” United
States v. Myers, 308 F.3d 251, 255 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing Beck v. State of Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91
A claim for false imprisonment arises when a person is arrested without probable cause
and is subsequently detained pursuant to that unlawful arrest. See Adams v. Officer Eric Selhorst,
449 F. App’x 198, 201 (3d Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (citing Groman, 47 F.3d at 636). Therefore, a
claim of false imprisonment in this context is derivative of a claim for arrest without probable
cause. See Johnson v. Camden Cnty. Prosecutors’ Office, No. 11–3588, 2012 WL 273887, at 4 n.2
(D.N.J. Jan. 31, 2012) (citing Groman, 47 F.3d at 636).
Plaintiff’s only allegation regarding this claim is that Defendant Lovett falsely arrested
Plaintiff without a warrant. (Compl. at 3.) Plaintiff provides no facts about the crime for which he
was arrested or the circumstances surrounding his arrest, other than to identify the charge. The
entire basis for his false arrest claim appears to be Plaintiff was arrested without a warrant.
As the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit observed:
Whether that [warrantless] arrest was constitutionally valid depends
in turn upon whether, at the moment the arrest was made, the
officers had probable cause to make it-whether at that moment the
facts and circumstances within their knowledge and of which they
had reasonably trustworthy information were sufficient to warrant a
prudent man in believing that the [suspect] had committed or was
committing an offense.
United States v. Kithcart, 134 F.3d 529, 531 (3d Cir. 1998) (quoting Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89,
91 (1964)); see also Mosley v. Wilson, 102 F.3d 85, 94-95 (3d Cir. 1996).
Given the minimal amount of information provided by Plaintiff, it is impossible for this
Court to find that Plaintiff has properly alleged that Defendant Lovett lacked probable cause to
arrest him. Due to the lack of facts provided by Plaintiff regarding probable cause, the Court finds
that Plaintiff has failed to allege a claim for false arrest/false imprisonment at this time, and the
claim is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. See Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210; Iqbal, 556 at
B. Malicious Prosecution
Plaintiff alleges a claim of malicious prosecution generally. Plaintiff fails to state which
defendants against whom he is raising the claim.
Malicious prosecution claims raised pursuant to § 1983 arise out of the protections
enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. Halsey v. Pfeiffer, 750 F.3d 273, 296–97 (3d Cir. 2014). To
state a claim for malicious prosecution, a plaintiff must allege the following elements:
(1) the defendant initiated a criminal proceeding; (2) the criminal
proceeding ended in [the plaintiff’s] favor; (3) the defendant
initiated the proceeding without probable cause; (4) the defendant
acted maliciously or for a purpose other than bringing the plaintiff
to justice; and (5) the plaintiff suffered [a] deprivation of liberty
consistent with the concept of seizure as a consequence of a legal
Id. (internal citations omitted). That the criminal proceedings terminated in Plaintiff’s favor is a
requirement for bringing a malicious prosecution claim. Id. Indeed, a cause of action for malicious
prosecution does not accrue, and the statute of limitations does not begin to run, until the plaintiff
has received a favorable termination. See Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 489–90 (1994).
Plaintiff makes a vague and conclusory argument that the prosecutor maliciously
prosecuted Plaintiff in order to hold him for further investigation into an unrelated matter. (Compl.
at 3.) Plaintiff fails to allege any facts to show that any criminal proceeding related to his arrest
ended in Plaintiff’s favor. Plaintiff fails to meet all the required elements to state a claim for
malicious prosecution at this time. Halsey, 750 F.3d at 296–97. As a result, this claim is
DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.
C. Selective Prosecution
Petitioner generally raises a claim for selective prosecution. Plaintiff claims he was
selectively prosecuted because there were other individuals at the airport, where the incident for
which he was arrested took place, of different race and national origin who were not arrested or
charged. (Compl. at 3.)
“To establish a claim of selective prosecution, [a plaintiff] must demonstrate two factors[:]
. . . he must provide evidence that persons similarly situated have not been prosecuted,” and “he
must show that the decision to prosecute was made on the basis of an unjustifiable standard, such
as race, religion, or some other arbitrary factor, or that the prosecution was intended to prevent his
exercise of a fundamental right.” U.S. v. Schoolcraft, 879 F.2d 64, 68 (3d Cir. 1989). Here, Plaintiff
makes only a conclusory allegation that he was charged even though there were other individuals
around of different races. Plaintiff offers no facts regarding his race or how other individuals were
similarly situated to him. There are no alleged to show the decision to prosecute him was made
on the basis of his race or national origin. Plaintiff also does not name a defendant in this claim.
Plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient facts to state a claim for relief; thus, this claim is dismissed
without prejudice. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
D. Defendants Tracey Anne Agnew and James Michael Donnelly
Plaintiff names defendants Tracey Anne Agnew and James Michael Donnelly as
defendants in this case. However, Plaintiff fails to allege any facts or claims against these
defendants in the body of the Complaint. Any claims against defendants Tracey Anne Agnew and
James Michael Donnelly are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE because Plaintiff does not
allege facts to suggest these defendants had any involvement with the claims alleged in Plaintiff’s
Complaint. See Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988) (“A defendant in a civil
rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs.”).
For the reasons stated above, the Complaint is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE
in its entirety pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A for failure to state a claim upon
which relief may be granted. Because it is conceivable Plaintiff may be able to supplement his
pleading with facts sufficient to overcome the deficiencies noted herein, the Court will grant
Plaintiff leave to move to re-open this case and to file an amended complaint. An appropriate order
Dated: October 5, 2021
/s/ Brian R. Martinotti
HON. BRIAN R. MARTINOTTI
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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