DOTTS v. STACY
OPINION filed. Signed by Judge Brian R. Martinotti on 5/23/2017. (mps)
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No. 17-2057-BRM-LHG
ALLEN S. STACY,
MARTINOTTI, DISTRICT JUDGE
Before this Court is the Complaint of pro se Plaintiff James L. Dotts (“Plaintiff”) asserting
claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor S. Allen
Stacy1 (“Stacy”). (ECF No. 1.) Also before the Court is Plaintiff’s second application for leave to
proceed in forma pauperis.2 (ECF No. 4.)
Having reviewed Plaintiff’s application to proceed in forma pauperis, the accompanying
affidavit, and certified account statement setting forth Plaintiff’s financial status, the Court finds
leave to proceed in forma pauperis is warranted. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s application to proceed in
forma pauperis (ECF No. 4) is GRANTED.
Because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court is required to screen the
Complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A, and dismiss claims that are frivolous,
Stacy is improperly pleaded as “Allen S. Stacy.”
Plaintiff initially filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis with his Complaint. (ECF No.
1-1.) Plaintiff’s application was denied without prejudice for failure to provide a certified account
statement as required by § 1915(a)(2). (ECF Nos. 2 and 3.)
malicious, fail to state a claim for relief, or seek damages from a defendant who is immune. For
the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff’s Complaint (ECF No. 1) is DISMISSED.
Plaintiff alleges, on January 14, 2015,4 Stacy “charged [him] with a crime [he] did not
commit” despite the fact that Stacy “didn’t have . . . probable cause.” (ECF No. 1 at 6.) According
to the Charge/Disposition Forms included with the Complaint, Plaintiff was charged with seven
counts related to weapon possession, robbery, and burglary. (Id. at 8-14.) Plaintiff alleges he was
incarcerated at the Monmouth County Correctional Institution but does not specify how long he
was held. (Id.) This charge was apparently “no billed” by a grand jury and was therefore dismissed.
(Id. at 4, 8-14.) Plaintiff contends Stacy violated his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights by
bringing charges without probable cause. (Id. at 6.) Plaintiff seeks money damages for the
incarceration and “mental anguish, depression, deformation [sic] of character, pain and suffering”
he endured. (Id.)
Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, §§ 801-810, 110 Stat.
1321-66 to 1321-77 (April 26, 1996) (the “PLRA”), district courts must review the complaints in
all civil actions in which a prisoner is proceeding in forma 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, 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. 28
The following factual allegations are taken from Plaintiff’s Complaint (ECF No. 1), and are assumed to be true for
the purposes of this Opinion.
Plaintiff’s handwritten description incorrectly stated “January 14, 2014” as the date he was charged. However,
attached to Plaintiff’s Complaint are seven Charge/Disposition Forms listing the “Date of Offense” as January 14,
2015, which the Court presumes to be the correct date.
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. This action is subject to sua sponte screening for
dismissal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) because Plaintiff has been granted in forma
pauperis status and pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a) “seeks redress from a governmental . . .
“The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28
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)); 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. 2008) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)).
In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a
district court is “required to accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw all
inferences in the facts alleged in the light most favorable to the [Plaintiff].” Phillips v. Cnty. of
Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 228 (3d Cir. 2008). “[A] complaint attacked by a . . . motion to dismiss
does not need detailed factual allegations.” Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).
However, the Plaintiff’s “obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief’ requires
more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action
will not do.” Id. (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). A court is “not bound to
accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Papasan, 478 U.S. at 286.
Instead, assuming the factual allegations in the complaint are true, those “[f]actual allegations must
be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
“To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the
pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for misconduct alleged.” Id. “Determining whether the allegations in a complaint are
plausible is a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial
experience and common sense.” Id. at 679. “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court
to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged—but it has not
‘show[n]’—‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.’” Id. (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)) (second
alternation in original). 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) (emphasis added).
Plaintiff asserts a malicious prosecution claim against Stacy for alleged violations of his
constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. “To establish a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 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 Woodyard v. Cty. of Essex, 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 individuals.”). “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
806 (quoting County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 841 n.5 (1998)).
Plaintiff’s claim lacks merit, because he only asserts the malicious prosecution claim
against the county prosecutor, who is immune from liability under § 1983 for actions taken in
connection with initiating and pursuing criminal prosecution. See Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S.
409, 410 (1976); see also LeBlanc v. Stedman, 483 F. App’x 666, 669 (3d Cir. 2012). This form
of prosecutorial immunity “encompasses prosecutors’ activities in connection with preparing and
filing charging documents.” LeBlanc, 483 F. App’x at 669. Further, prosecutors enjoy absolute
immunity for acts such as filing charges or an arrest warrant against a criminal defendant. See Odd
v. Malone, 538 F.3d 202, 210 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Kalina v. Fletcher, 522 U.S. 118, 129 (1997)).
Further, at common law, prosecutors enjoyed absolute immunity from suits for malicious
prosecution. Id. (citing Imbler, 424 U.S. at 441 (White, J., concurring)). In this matter, Plaintiff
brings claims against Stacy based solely upon his filing of charges against Plaintiff, for which
Stacy is entitled to absolute immunity. Id. For the reasons set forth above, Plaintiff’s complaint is
For the reasons stated above, Plaintiff’s application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis
(ECF No. 4) is GRANTED, and Plaintiff’s Complaint (ECF No. 1) is DISMISSED in its entirety.
An appropriate order will follow.
Date: May 23, 2017
/s/ Brian R. Martinotti
HON. BRIAN R. MARTINOTTI
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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