MCKENNA v. MIGNELLA et al
MEMORANDUM/OPINION THAT THIS COURT'S DISMISSAL WILL BE WITH PREJUDICE. SIGNED BY HONORABLE JEFFREY L. SCHMEHL ON 12/1/17. 12/5/17 ENTERED AND COPIES E-MAILED. (ky, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
MATTHEW D. MCKENNA,
ANTHONY J. MIGNELLA, et al.,
SCHMEHL, J. /s/ JLS
DECEMBER 1, 2017
On March 3, 2016, Plaintiff Matthew D. McKenna filed a pro se complaint
against more than 170 defendants, alleging a wide ranging conspiracy, various
constitutional and other violations, corruption, and one of more “secret trials,” largely
revolving around a thirty-year-old conviction on drug charges.
Two of the many
defendants sent letters to the Court indicating they could not properly respond because
they had received summonses but not copies of the complaint. On July 7, 2016, this
Court:1) granted Mr. McKenna’s application to proceed in forma pauperis; 2) dismissed
his complaint without prejudice; and 3) granted Mr. McKenna sixty days to file an
amended complaint clearly averring logical and timely claims upon which relief could be
granted against particular defendants.
On August 24, 2016, Mr. McKenna filed an
amended complaint against 28 defendants, largely averring similar claims as his March 3,
2016 complaint. This Court will address issues with service of process, and statutes of
limitations; because Mr. McKenna does not present clear, focused, and timely claims, his
suit will be dismissed against Defendants.
Service of Process
Although Defendants obviously learned of this lawsuit, Defendants have not been
properly served. Defendants received by mail only the summons without the complaint,
and Mr. McKenna attempted service by certified mail without any signature requirement.
This Court’s previous order dismissed Mr. McKenna’s complaint without prejudice
granting leave to re-file; however, the order reminded Mr. McKenna that service by mail
is only effective with the signature of the defendant or an authorized agent and must
include a copy of the complaint. 1 This Court will review the amended complaint for
sufficiency and general substantiality below before ordering the Marshals to serve it on
Statute of Limitations
Prior to Mr. McKenna’s amended complaint, his claim or claims appeared to run
afoul of state limitations periods. As we stated in our July 7, 2016 opinion, a thorough
reading of the original complaint revealed nothing in Mr. McKenna’s complaint occurred
later than May of 2008. Thus, we stated “it is hard to conceive of any claim Plaintiff
could bring that would not be time barred in 2016.” (ECF Docket No. 12, at 6.) We
cited our Circuit which allows for dismissal sua sponte under 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) if it is obvious from the face of the complaint that the pro se civil rights
claim is barred by the applicable statute of limitations.
(Id.) (citing Barren v.
Pennsylvania State Police, 607 F. App’x 132, 134 (3d Cir. 2015)); see also Jones v.
Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 214-15 (2007) (“holding if the allegations of a complaint, ‘for
Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(e)(1) allows service in accordance with state law. Pennsylvania might allow service by
mail on an out-of-state defendant, but it would have to be within 90 days of issuance of the summons. See
Pa. R.C.P. 404.
example, show that relief is barred by the applicable statute of limitations, the complaint
is subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim’”).
Mr. McKenna’s claims, although inartfully pled, seem to be brought under 42
U.S.C. § 1983. The statute of limitations under a § 1983 claim is subject to the same
statute of limitations that apply to personal injury tort claims in the state in which such
claims arise. Williams v. Mahally, 2017 WL 105952, at *2 (M.D. Pa. 2017). Mr.
McKenna’s claims arise in New Jersey; the applicable statute of limitations is New
Jersey’s two year statute of limitations for personal injury actions. NJ ST 2A:14-2.
Furthermore, under the well settled discovery rule, the statute of limitations period is
tolled “until the plaintiff learns of his cause of action or with reasonable diligence could
have done so” and “is an exception to the usual principle that the statute of limitations
begins to run immediately upon accrual regardless of whether or not the injured party has
any idea what has happened to him.” Williams, 2017 WL 105952, at *3 (citing Stephens
v. Clash, 796 F.3d 281, 284 (3d Cir. 2015)).
Mr. McKenna’s original complaint indicates the events giving rise to the claims
occurred in 1986, and his investigation into the matter occurred no later than May of
2008, more than eight years before the suit was filed. This alone would provide a strong
basis for dismissal. However, Mr. McKenna’s amended complaint provides “newly
discovered evidence” from 2016 purporting to be from the individual who Mr. McKenna
alleges was a “stand-in” for him and his codefendants in an alleged “secret trial.” (ECF
Docket No. 14, at 17.)
Specifically, Mr. McKenna avers “[t]his is my Facebook
conversation with LONNIE ELLIOT LASELVA, who admits to being used as a ‘StandIn’ for me and my codefendants in the Secret Trial.” (Id.) Thus, under the discovery
rule, this newly presented evidence could potentially toll the statute of limitations.
However, this Court need not decide the timeliness issue; we will focus on whether Mr.
McKenna stated a claim upon which relief may be granted.
Failure to State a Claim
The confusion and lack of clarity provides additional grounds for dismissal. “A
federal court may sua sponte dismiss a complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) when the allegations within the
complaint ‘are so attenuated and unsubstantial as to be absolutely devoid of merit, . . .
wholly insubstantial, . . . obviously frivolous, . . . plainly unsubstantial, . . . or no longer
open to discussion.’” DeGrazia v. F.B.I., 316 F. App'x 172, 173 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting
Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 536-37 (1974)).
The court in DeGrazia further
described the plaintiff’s claims as warranting dismissal because “they rel[ied] on fantastic
scenarios lacking any arguable factual basis.” Id. Similarly, dismissal may be warranted
when the complaint does not contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing
that the pleader is entitled to relief” and allegations that are “simple, concise, and direct.”
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8; see also Scibelli v. Lebanon Cnty., 219 F. App'x 221, 222 (3d Cir.
Moreover, as noted in this Court’s prior order granting leave to proceed in forma
pauperis, the Court also reviews the complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). (ECF
Docket No. 12, at 3.) We stated, “if the Court finds that the complaint is frivolous or
malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief
against a defendant protected by immunity, it must dismiss the complaint.” (Id); see also
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). A complaint is frivolous if it “lacks an arguable basis either
in law or in fact” and is legally baseless if it is “based on an indisputably meritless legal
theory.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); see also Deutsch v. United
States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1085 (3d Cir. 1995). Therefore, this Court has the ability to dismiss
Mr. McKenna’s claims either for frivolity or because he failed to state a plausible claim
Here, while a conceivably legitimate § 1983 or conspiracy claim can be inferred
from a generous reading of the complaints, the documents are mostly rife with irrelevant
statements and outrageous claims, including suggestions that certain individuals were
“stand-ins” for Mr. McKenna and his codefendants at a “secret trial” in Somerset County,
NJ. (e.g., “There are four separate Pre-trials listed for me, Brian, Billy, and Frano. None
of us were there. These were done with ‘stand-ins’ who got their serious charges dropped
despite being convicted.” (ECF Docket No. 14, ¶ 34); “Prosecutor Coleman used ‘stand
ins’ to be actors in the court room.” (Id. at ¶ 36); “In July of 2016 [ ] [a] new person just
came on to Facebook. It is Elliot Laselva, who has admitted that he was used as a pawn
by Somerset County.” (Id. at ¶ 65); “Mr. Laselva, who ‘stood in’ for me as an actor in a
U.S. Court room, was rewarded with the hiding of his ‘Rape Conviction’ of a 14 year old
girl in Somerset County, NJ, in 1983.” (Id. at ¶ 66))
However, the Court must also consider matters of public record and other
documents that are attached to or submitted with the complaint. Buck v. Hampton
Township School Distric, 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006). As this Court noted in its
previous order, it is apparent from some of the attachments to the complaint and other
publicly available new sources, key players in Mr. McKenna’s complaint were later
proven to be involved in rather extensive corruption. (ECF Docket No. 12, at 6.)
Review of Mr. McKenna’s complaint under either § 1915(e)(2)(B) or general
substantiality reasoning again leads to serious doubt that this case should proceed.
Similar to his original complaint, Mr. McKenna alleges corruption and conspiracy
involving numerous individuals and unlikely scenarios. Mr. McKenna has also failed to
articulate what exactly his claims are, listing several constitutional provisions. As we
noted in our previous order, Mr. McKenna appears to be seeking documents rather than
pursuing claims appropriate to litigation. Further, Mr. McKenna’s demand for monetary
compensation borders on the absurdity: Mr. McKenna moves from the “modest” request
of $3 million for his codefendant William Patrick McBride who was an alleged victim in
“the only ‘Secret Trial’ in US history,” to $7.6 million for payment for his own time
doing legal work, to $30 million for his brother’s wrongful conviction. (ECF Docket No.
14, ¶¶ 70-83.) Mr. McKenna also requests compensation of several tens of millions of
dollars from the State of New Jersey, County of Somerset, and involved offices, for Mr.
McKenna’s second wrongful conviction. (Id.) Finally, many of the defendants are likely
to be protected by prosecutorial, judicial, and other immunities; however, at this point it
is difficult to determine which defendants would be immune from what claims.
Thus, this Court’s dismissal will be with prejudice. The complaint has already
been amended once without much apparent improvement, and there is no reason to
suppose further amendment would cure the deficiencies, or particularly that Mr.
McKenna could make further allegations that would fix problems regarding clarity or the
statutes of limitations.
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