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Ball v. Forsyth County Board of Commissioners

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Gainesville Division

June 17, 2015

JOHN C. BALL, Plaintiff,
v.
FORSYTH COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

RICHARD W. STORY, District Judge.

This case comes before the Court for a frivolity review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). After reviewing the record, the Court enters the following order.

Background

Plaintiff John C. Ball asserts numerous federal constitutional violations against Defendants based on their alleged unlawful entry into his home without a warrant, the seizure of his property, his warrantless arrest, and malicious prosecution. Plaintiff also alleges state-law claims for trespass and conversion.

Plaintiff alleges that on the morning of November 1, 2007, he was at his home in Cumming, Georgia, when Defendants came onto his property without a warrant, handcuffed him, and began questioning him about a criminal investigation involving stolen vehicles and construction equipment on adjacent property. (Compl., Dkt. [3] ¶¶ 10-11.) Plaintiff denied knowing anything about the stolen vehicles and equipment, but Defendants entered Plaintiff's residence without a warrant and seized numerous items, including twelve firearms. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13.) Defendants arrested Plaintiff on charges of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon even though Plaintiff had no such convictions. (Id. ¶¶ 14-15.) Moreover, Defendants charged Plaintiff with one count of burglary, four counts of theft by taking, and four counts of theft by receiving. (Id. ¶ 15.)

Plaintiff was held without bond for over two months at the Forsyth County Jail, and he finally posted bond and was released on April 18, 2008. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18.) Plaintiff was subject to numerous conditions while on bond, including drug and alcohol screening, and he was not allowed to possess firearms. (Id. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff asserts that these conditions rendered him in custody for Fourth Amendment purposes. (Id. ¶ 20.)

On January 5, 2009, Plaintiff was indicted by a Forsyth County grand jury on the aforementioned charges. (Id. ¶ 21.) While on bond, Plaintiff was required to appear for trial calendar calls at the Forsyth County courthouse on over twenty occasions from October 2009 until May 2013. (Id. ¶ 22.) Ultimately, prosecutors entered a petition to nolle prosequi all charges without explanation. (Id. ¶ 23.) After the charges were dismissed, Plaintiff attempted to recover his property, but a property officer at the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office said they did not know the whereabouts or the disposition of the property that had been seized from his residence. (Id. ¶ 25.) Plaintiff filed this action on May 14, 2015.

Discussion

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), "the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that... the action or appeal (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." A claim is frivolous when it appears from the face of the complaint that the factual allegations are "clearly baseless" or that the legal theories are "indisputably meritless." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 104 L.Ed.2d. 338 (1989); Carrol v. Gross, 984 F.2d 393, 393 (11th Cir. 1993). A claim is also frivolous where the defendants are immune from suit or the claim seeks to enforce a right that clearly does not exist. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. If an affirmative defense such as a statute of limitations would defeat a claim, that claim may also be frivolous. Clark v. Ga. Pardons & Parole Bd., 915 F.2d 636, 640 n.2 (11th Cir. 1990).

Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, so his "pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys and will, therefore, be liberally construed." Boxer X v. Harris, 437 F.3d 1107, 1110 (11th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted).

I. Statute of Limitations Issues

Before addressing the merits of Plaintiff's claims, the Court finds that several of them are time-barred.

A. Federal Law Claims

The Georgia two-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions applies to actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 when the relevant events occurred in Georgia. O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33; Williams v. City of Atlanta, 794 F.2d 624, 625-26 (11th Cir. 1986). A limitations period begins to run when a cause of action accrues, and "[f]ederal law determines when a federal civil rights claim accrues." Rozar v. Mullis, 85 F.3d 556, 561 (11th Cir. 1996). The statute of limitations does not begin to run until the facts which would support a cause of action are apparent or should be apparent to a person with a reasonably prudent regard for his rights. Id. at 561-62. This means a plaintiff must know or have reason to know that he was injured, and must be aware or should be aware of who inflicted the injury. Id.

Plaintiff's federal constitutional claims relate to Defendants' warrantless entry into and search of his home, the initial seizure of his property, his warrantless arrest and false imprisonment, the refusal to return his property without due process after charges were dismissed, and malicious prosecution. The warrantless search and seizure of property occurred on November 1, 2007. Therefore, those claims are time-barred.

Plaintiff was then detained without any legal process for over two months, and he eventually posted bond on April 18, 2008. At the very latest, Plaintiff's false imprisonment claim accrued on April 18, 2008. See Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 391 (2007) (finding that the limitations period on a § 1983 false imprisonment claim begins "when the alleged false imprisonment ends" (quoting 2 H. WOOD, LIMITATION OF ACTIONS § 187d(4), at 878 (rev. 4th ed. 1916))). That claim is also barred.[1]

After charges were dropped and Plaintiff sought the return of his seized firearms, Defendants were unable to locate his property. Assuming Plaintiff could state a procedural due process claim on the facts alleged here, the Court finds that the claim accrued after Plaintiff's charges were dismissed. That date was June 2013, and therefore his due process claim is timely.

Similarly, Plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim is timely because he brought it within two years of the termination of his prosecution. See Whiting v. Traylor, 85 F.3d 581, 585 (11th Cir. 1996) ("At common law, a plaintiff had no malicious prosecution claim until the underlying proceeding was terminated in his favor.").

B. State-Law Claims

Plaintiff's only state-law claims appear to be trespass and conversion of his firearms. A trespass claim is subject to a four-year statute of limitations. See O.C.G.A. § 9-3-30(a) ("All actions for trespass upon or damage to realty shall be brought within four years after the right of action accrues."). Consequently, the trespass claim is untimely because the alleged trespass occurred in 2007.

"Actions for the recovery of personal property, or for damages for the conversion or destruction of the same, shall be brought within four years after the right of action accrues...." O.C.G.A. § 9-3-32. "As a general rule, a right of action for wrongful conversion accrues on the date of the conversion." Logan v. Tucker, 480 S.E.2d 860, 862 (Ga.Ct.App. 1997). This claim is timely because the Court finds that it accrued when Defendants failed to return the seized property after Plaintiff's charges were dismissed.

In sum, Plaintiff's federal claims premised on the warrantless entry into and search of his home, the initial seizure of his property, and his warrantless arrest and false imprisonment are DISMISSED as untimely. Plaintiff's malicious prosecution and procedural due process claims are timely. The state-law trespass claim is also ...


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