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Allen v. Campbell

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

December 19, 2019

LAWRENCE M. CAMPBELL, et al., Defendants.


          L. Patrick Auld United States Magistrate Judge

         This case comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (the “Application”)(Docket Entry 1) filed in conjunction with his pro se Complaint (Docket Entry 2). For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Plaintiff's instant Application for the limited purpose of recommending dismissal of this action under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), for failure to state a claim, or alternatively under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), as frivolous due to untimeliness.


         “The federal in forma pauperis [‘IFP'] statute, first enacted in 1892 [and now codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1915], is intended to guarantee that no citizen shall be denied access to the courts ‘solely because his poverty makes it impossible for him to pay or secure the costs.'” Nasim v. Warden, Md. House of Corr., 64 F.3d 951, 953 (4th Cir. 1995) (en banc) (quoting Adkins v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 335 U.S. 331, 342 (1948)). “Dispensing with filing fees, however, [is] not without its problems. Parties proceeding under the statute d[o] not face the same financial constraints as ordinary litigants. In particular, litigants suing [IFP] d[o] not need to balance the prospects of successfully obtaining relief against the administrative costs of bringing suit.” Nagy v. Federal Med. Ctr. Butner, 376 F.3d 252, 255 (4th Cir. 2004).

         To address this concern, the IFP statute provides, in relevant part, that “the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action . . . is frivolous or . . . fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted[.]” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). A complaint fails to state a claim when it 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)). 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]

         Alternatively, 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 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, 376 F.3d at 256-57 (internal quotation marks omitted). As concerns this case, an action fails as frivolous when “it appear[s] on the face of the complaint . . . that the applicable statute of limitations bars [the plaintiff's claims] . . . .” Todd v. Baskerville, 712 F.2d 70, 74 (4th Cir. 1983); see also Nasim, 64 F.3d at 955 (holding that courts may anticipate defenses when conducting IFP review), 956 (“[T]he [district] court found that [the plaintiff's claim] was barred by the applicable . . . statute of limitations. In these circumstances, the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the action was frivolous . . . .”).


         Asserting claims under “42 U.S.C. § 1983, ” pursuant to “[t]he sixth clause of the First Amendment[, ] to petition the government of a[] redress of grievances, the 14th [A]mendment section [O]ne, [] the 8th [A]mendment, third clause[, ] cruel and unusual punishment, [] the last clause of the [6th A]mendment . . .” (Docket Entry 2 at 3 (internal brackets omitted)), “[t]he 5th [A]mendment, . . . [and] 13th [A]mendment . . .” (id. at 6), Plaintiff initiated this action against nine defendants: (1) “Lawrence M. Campbell” (“Attorney Campbell”); (2) “Dawn Y. Baxton” (“Attorney Baxton”); (3) “Robert Brown Jr” (“Attorney Brown”); (4) “Gretchen M. Eng[el]” (“Defendant Engel”); (5) “Jay Ferguson” (“Defendant Ferguson”); (6) “Donald H. Beskind” (“Defendant Beskind”); (7) “Stephen C. Freedman” (“Attorney Freedman”); (8) “Durham County Public Defenders [O]ffice”; and (9) “The Center for Death Penalty Litigation” (the “CDPL”) (id. at 1-3). The Complaint states the following as its basis for asserting claims under Section 1983:

[Plaintiff's ] attorneys used the death penalty as a bargaining chip to induce [Plaintiff] into accepting an alford plea for crimes [he] did not commit. [Plaintiff] did not have comp[e]tent representation guaranteed by the 6th [A]mendment; moreover, [Plaintiff] was deprived of life, liberty[, ] and property without due process guaranteed by the 5th [A]mendment. In truth, [Plaintiff] was subjected to slavery which is forbidden by the 13th[A]mendment not unless as a[] punishment for crimes one has been convicted of ([Plaintiff] was wrongfully imprisoned). [A]ll privileges gu[a]ranteed by the 14th[A]mendment[, ] section one[, ] ha[ve] been infringed.

(Id. at 6 (parentheses in original).) The Complaint's “Statement of Claim” states in its entirety:

In August of 1999, [Plaintiff] was sentenced to a term of 54 years[ f]or the charge of First [D]egree [M]urder[, which] was reduce[d] to [S]econd [D]egree [M]urder and [Plaintiff] received a sentence of 237 months ([m]inimum) and 294 months ([m]aximum)[, a]nd for First Degree Statutory Sexual [O]ffense[, Plaintiff] received a sentence of 288 months, [m]inimum, and 355 months [m]aximum. The sentence for First Degree Sexual [Offense r]an at the expiration of [Plaintiff's sentence for S]econd [Degree] Murder. [Plaintiff] was represented by [Attorney] Brown[ a]nd [Attorney] Freedman. [T]he prosecutor[s] for the State of North Carolina w[ere] [F]reda Black and Tracey Cline.

(Id. at 7.) The Complaint also alleges that, “[f]rom the outset, [Plaintiff] was wrongfully charged with [o]ffenses [he] did not commit[], and [was] imprisoned for a duration of 12 years and 7 months[.] Moreover, due to the stigma that has been attached to [Plaintiff's] name[, he] ha[s] been subject to hardship which is rife with misperception [sic], deceit[, ] and neglect, ” (id. at 7), and further requests “compensat[ion] for [] mental anguish and punitive damages in the amount of $700, 000.00” (id. at 8).


         I. Attorney Campbell, Attorney Baxton, Attorney Brown, Attorney Freedman, and the Durham County Public Defender's Office As an initial matter, to state a claim for relief under Section 1983, Plaintiff must assert “that [he was] deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and that the alleged deprivation was committed under color of state law.” American Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49-50 (1999).[2] “The Bill of Rights is a negative proscription on public action[, ] to simply apply it to private action is to obliterate a fundamental fact of our political order. Statutory and common law, rather than the ...

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