FORCHION v. ONOFRI et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION filed. Signed by Judge Peter G. Sheridan on 9/6/2017. (mps)
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No. 17-2669 (PGS) (LHG)
ANGELO ONOFRI, et al.,
SHERIDAN, District Judge:
This matter comes before the Court on a civil rights Complaint filed by Plaintiff Edward
Forchion, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
1983, alleging that his constitutional rights had been violated
by Defendants. The Court previously granted Plaintiff informapauperis status. ECF No. 5. At
this time, the Court must review the Complaint 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
See 28 U.S.C.
1915(e)(2)(B) (in forma pauperis actions). It appearing:
1. The claims asserted in the Complaint appear to arise out of an ongoing criminal prosecution
against Plaintiff in state court.
Plaintiff alleges that he was falsely prosecuted for witness
tampering. ECF No. 3 at 3. He also alleges that he is being unconstitutionally imprisoned due to
excessive bail. Plaintiff names as defendants Trenton Police Department, City of Trenton, Mercer
County, and two prosecutors from Mercer County, Angelo Onofri and Stephanie Katz. Plaintiff
also names Charles Ellis as a defendant, but provides no factual information about him; a quick
search reveals that he is the warden of the Mercer County Correction Center, where Plaintiff is
being incarcerated. See http://www.mercercounty.org/departments/corrections (last visited June
2. A plaintiff can pursue a cause of action under
§ 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.
§ 1983. Thus, to state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must establish, 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. Am.
Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 50-1 (1999); Morrow v. Balaski, 719 F.3d 160, 16667 (3d Cir. 2013).
3. First, the Court dismisses all claims against Defendants Trenton Police Department, City
of Trenton, and Mercer County. Although counties and their agencies are not immune from suit,
see N Ins. Co. ofNY. v. Chatham Cty., Ga., 547 U.S. 189, 193-94 (2006), “a municipality cannot
be held liable solely because it employs a tortfeasor—or, in other words, a municipality cannot be
held liable under
§ 1983 on a respondeat superior theory.” Caidwell v. Egg Harbor Police Dep ‘t,
362 F. App’x 250, 251 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Monell v. Dep’t ofSoc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691
(1978)). Instead, to hold a municipality liable, the plaintiff must identify an official custom or
policy that caused a constitutional deprivation. Id. at 251-52. To state a 1983 claim for municipal
liability, a plaintiff must allege the existence of: (1) a policy or lack thereof (2) a policy maker
that effectuated said policy; and (3) a constitutional violation whose “moving force” was the policy
in question. Monell, 436 U.S. at 694. Here, Plaintiff does not raise any policy claims against these
defendants—indeed, Plaintiff has not identified any policy that led to the alleged constitutional
violations. As such, claims against these defendants are dismissed.
4. Next, the Court dismisses all claims against Ellis. As stated above, the Complaint lists
Ellis as a defendant, but makes no factual allegations whatsoever against him. As a prison warden,
the Court fails to see how he could have been directly involved in either the alleged malicious
prosecution or the excess bail claim, and the Complaint does not explain his connection to the
claims. Therefore, all claims against him are dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted.
5. The Court also dismisses Plaintiffs malicious prosecution claim.
To state a valid
malicious prosecution claim, Plaintiff must establish that “(1) the defendant initiated a criminal
proceeding; (2) the criminal proceeding ended in plaintiffs favor; (3) the proceeding was initiated
without probable cause; (4) the defendant acted maliciously or for a purpose other than bringing
the plaintiff to justice; and (5) the plaintiff suffered deprivation of liberty consistent with the
concept of seizure as a consequence of a legal proceeding.” Kossler v. Crisanti, 564 F.3d 181. 186
(3d Cir. 2009) (en banc) (internal quotation marks omitted). Here, beyond the obvious flaw that
the criminal proceeding is ongoing and thus could not have possibly ended in Plaintiffs favor,
Plaintiff also attaches the grand jury indictment against him to the Complaint. See ECF No. 1-2
at 10. An indictment issued by a grand jury against a defendant “constitutes prima facie evidence
of probable cause to prosecute.”
Goodwin v. Conway, 836 F.3d 321, 329 (3d Cir. 2016).
Accordingly, the Complaint utterly fails to state any plausible claim of malicious prosecution, and
the claim is dismissed.
6. Finally, the Court dismisses the excessive bail claim. The Third Circuit has instructed that
under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.s. 37 (1971), “it would [be] inappropriate for the District Court to
interfere in [plaintiffs] state court criminal proceedings, or grant him bail[.]” Cooley v. DiVecchio,
307 F. App’x 611, 614 (3d Cir. 2009). “For the Younger doctrine to apply, state court proceedings
must be pending or ongoing, the state proceedings must implicate an important state interest, and
the state proceedings must afford an adequate opportunity to raise constitutional issues.” Id. As
is with the plaintiff in Cooley, “[a]11 three elements [are] satisfied in this case and the District Court
[is] right to refrain from interfering in the state court action.” Id.; see Ward v. Plymale, No. 126186, 2013 WL 6164277, at *6 (S.D.W.V. Nov. 25, 2013) (finding that Younger abstention
precludes both injunctive and monetary relief on a claim of excessive bail against an ongoing
criminal proceeding); Mitchell v. S.C. All ETC.; No. 12-17 14, 2012 WL 5473097, at *3 (D.S.C.
Oct. 23, 2012) (same). Thus, the Court declines jurisdiction over and dismisses the excessive bail
claim. Having dismissed all claims in the Complaint, the Court dismisses the Complaint.
Peter G. Sheridan
United States District Judge
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