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Fullard v. Staley

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

May 15, 2018

TWANDA STALEY, et al., Defendants.


          Jog J. Webster United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff, Reginald Fullard, submitted a pro se complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and requests permission to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Plaintiff names Twanda Staley, "Child Enforcement, " "Forsyth County Courts Judiciary, " and "Forsyth County Courts Administrative" as Defendants in this case. He contends that Defendants violated his rights under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, his rights to family knowledge, his right to voice, and his right to access to the courts in connection with child support and parental rights rulings. He seeks mediation and damages.

         Because Plaintiff is "a prisoner seek[ing] redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity, " this Court has an obligation to "review" this Complaint. 28 U.S.C. § l9l5A(a). "On review, the court shall ... dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if [it] - (1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § l9l5A(b).

         As to the first basis for dismissal, the United States Supreme Court has explained that "a complaint, containing as it does both factual allegations and legal conclusions, is frivolous where it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). "The word 'frivolous' is inherently elastic and not susceptible to categorical definition. . . . The term's capaciousness directs lower courts to conduct a flexible analysis, in light of the totality of the circumstances, of all factors bearing upon the frivolity of a claim." Nagy v. Federal Med. Ctr. Butner. 376 F.3d 252, 256-57 (4th Cir. 2004) (some internal quotation marks omitted). As part of this review, the Court may anticipate affirmative defenses that clearly appear on the face of the complaint. Nasim v. Warden. Md. House of Corr.. 64 F.3d 951, 954 (4th Cir. 1995) (en banc); Todd v. Baskerville, 712 F.2d 70, 74 (4th Cir. 1983).

         The Supreme Court further has identified factually frivolous complaints as ones involving "allegations that are fanciful, fantastic, and delusional. As those words suggest, a finding of factual frivolousness is appropriate when the facts alleged rise to the level of the irrational or the wholly incredible, whether or not there are judicially noticeable facts available to contradict them." Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32-33 (1992) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). In making such findings, this Court may "apply common sense." Nasim, 64 F.3d at 954.

         Alternatively, a plaintiff "fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, " 28 U.S.C. § l9l5A(b)(1), when the complaint does not "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) (emphasis added) (internal citations omitted) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "Where a complaint pleads facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it 'stops short of the line between . possibility and plausibility of "entitlement to relief.'"" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). This standard "demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id. In other words, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id.[1]

         The final ground for dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § l9l5A(b)(2) generally applies to situations in which doctrines established by the United States Constitution or at common law immunize governments and/or government personnel from liability for monetary damages. See, e, g Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89 (1984) (discussing sovereign immunity of states and state officials under Eleventh Amendment); Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547 (1967) (describing interrelationship between 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and common-law immunity doctrines, such as judicial, legislative, and prosecutorial immunity). C£ Allen v. Burke, 690 F.2d 376, 379 (4th Cir. 1982) (noting that, even where "damages are theoretically available under [certain] statutes . . ., in some cases, immunity doctrines and special defenses, available only to public officials, preclude or severely limit the damage remedy").

         For the reasons that follow, the Complaint should be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § l9l5A(b) because it is frivolous, because it fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, and because it seeks monetary damages from a defendant with immunity from such relief.

         An initial flaw with Plaintiffs claims is that they are barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The application of the appropriate statute of limitations is an affirmative defense that the Court may consider in this context. See Eriline Co. S.A. v. Johnson, 440 F.3d 648, 655-56 (4th Cir. 2006) (citing Nasim, 64 F.3d at 955). The statute of limitations in this case is three years. See Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 276-80 (1985) (holding that, in section 1983 actions, state statute of limitations for personal injury applies); Brooks v. City of Winston Salem, 85 F.3d 178, 181 (4th Cir. 1996) (applying North Carolina's three-year statute of limitations for personal injuries to section 1983 actions); N.C. Gen. Stat § 1-52 (establishing three-year statute of limitations for personal injury). A plaintiffs cause of action accrues, and the statute of limitations runs, from the date on which he "possesses sufficient facts about the harm done to him that reasonable inquiry will reveal his cause of action." Nasim, 64 F.3d at 955. Here, Plaintiff does not list any dates on which the allegations he raises allegedly occurred. However, the Court takes judicial notice that its own records include a prior § 1983 Complaint filed by Plaintiff raising similar allegations against a similar list of Defendants. See Fullard v. Staley, No. 1:15CV16 (M.D.N.C). It is clear from reviewing both cases that they are based on the same set of alleged events. More importantly, the prior case was filed more than three years prior to the current case, which means that any claims in the current case are more than three years old and, therefore, barred by the statute of limitations. The Complaint can be dismissed on this basis alone.

         Plaintiffs prior case also points to a second problem for Plaintiff because the Court dismissed that case with prejudice for failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Not only does Plaintiffs current Complaint fail similarly, but to the extent that his present filing actually represents an improper attempt to relitigate his earlier case, his current case should also be dismissed for that reason.

         Finally, Plaintiff names "Forsyth County Courts Judiciary" and "Forsyth County Courts Administrative" as Defendants. In bringing an action under § 1983, Plaintiff must name the persons who are actually responsible for the alleged violations of his constitutional rights. Those Defendants are not persons. Further, to the extent that those Defendants could be construed to mean state court judges or personnel, any claim against them would be improper. Judges have absolute immunity for their judicial actions. Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349 (1978). Similarly, court clerks are accorded derivative absolute immunity when they act in obedience to judicial order or under the court's direction. See, e.g., McCray v. State of Md, 456 F.2d 1 (4th Cir. 1972). Plaintiff pleads no facts which would, if true, overcome this immunity and entitle him to relief by showing that court personnel did not act in accordance with the directions of the state courts. He cannot seek damages from these Defendants.

         As a result, Plaintiffs request to proceed in forma pauperis should not be countenanced, with the exception that in forma pauperis status shall be granted for the sole purpose of entering this Order and Recommendation.

         Plaintiff has submitted the Complaint for filing and, notwithstanding the preceding determination, § 1915(b)(1) requires that he make an initial payment if funds for such a payment exist. A review of Plaintiff s in forma pauperis application reveals that such funds do not exist. Therefore, the Court will not order a partial payment, but will order that payments be deducted from Plaintiffs prisoner trust account as funds become available.

         IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that in forma pauperis status be granted for the sole purpose of entering ...

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