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Holmes v. Tattnall County Superior Court

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Statesboro Division

February 2, 2017

SCOTT HOLMES, Plaintiff,
v.
TATTNALL COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT; TATTNALL COUNTY SHERIFF DEPARTMENT; MARK SMITH; TATTNALL COUNTY STATE COURT; and TATTNALL COUNTY JUVENILE COURT, Defendants.

          ORDER AND MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          R. STAN BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, who is currently housed at Tattnall County Jail in Reidsville, Georgia, filed this Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff also filed a Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis. (Doc. 2.) For the reasons which follow, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion. For these same reasons, I RECOMMEND this Court DISMISS Plaintiff's Complaint, DIRECT the Clerk of Court to CLOSE this case, and DENY Plaintiff in forma pauperis on appeal.

         BACKGROUND

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges a deputy with the Tattnall County Sheriff's Department initiated a traffic stop against him and his co-defendant for swerving over the fog line on September 12, 2016, on Highway 178 in Reidsville, Georgia. (Doc. 1-1, p. 1.) Plaintiff maintains the deputy informed him and his co-defendant they were under arrest after his co-defendant consented to a search of her car, yet the deputy did not inform Plaintiff of the charges or indicate what was found in the car.[1] Plaintiff contends Defendant Smith, an investigator with Georgia State Prison, interviewed him the next day and informed Plaintiff he actually was arrested on the grounds of Rogers State Prison. Plaintiff contests this characterization of his arrest, as he maintains he was on a public road at the time of the traffic stop and was arrested by a county authority, not by anyone with the Georgia Department of Corrections. (Id. at pp. 1-2.) Plaintiff avers the Tattnall County courts illegally issued warrants against him, even though Defendant Smith testified at Plaintiff's preliminary hearing that he was not at the scene of Plaintiff's arrest. (Id. at p. 2.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Plaintiff seeks to bring this action in forma pauperis under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1), the Court may authorize the filing of a civil lawsuit without the prepayment of fees if the plaintiff submits an affidavit that includes a statement of all of his assets and shows an inability to pay the filing fee and also includes a statement of the nature of the action which shows that he is entitled to redress. Even if the plaintiff proves indigence, the Court must dismiss the action if it is frivolous or malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(ii). Additionally, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must review a complaint in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity. Upon such screening, the Court must dismiss a complaint, or any portion thereof, that is frivolous or malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted or which seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         When reviewing a Complaint on an application to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court is guided by the instructions for pleading contained in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 (“A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain [among other things] . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”); Fed.R.Civ.P. 10 (requiring that claims be set forth in numbered paragraphs, each limited to a single set of circumstances). Further, a claim is frivolous under Section 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) “if it is ‘without arguable merit either in law or fact.'” Napier v. Preslicka, 314 F.3d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting Bilal v. Driver, 251 F.3d 1346, 1349 (11th Cir. 2001)).

         Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under Section 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Thompson v. Rundle, 393 F. App'x 675, 678 (11th Cir. 2010). Under that standard, this Court must determine whether the complaint contains “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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A plaintiff must assert “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not” suffice. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Section 1915 also “accords judges not only the authority to dismiss a claim based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, but also the unusual power to pierce the veil of the complaint's factual allegations and dismiss those claims whose factual contentions are clearly baseless.” Bilal, 251 F.3d at 1349 (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989)).

         In its analysis, the Court will abide by the long-standing principle that the pleadings of unrepresented parties are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys and, therefore, must be liberally construed. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Boxer X v. Harris, 437 F.3d 1107, 1110 (11th Cir. 2006) (“Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys.”) (emphasis omitted) (quoting Hughes v. Lott, 350 F.3d 1157, 1160 (11th Cir. 2003)). However, Plaintiff's unrepresented status will not excuse mistakes regarding procedural rules. McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993) (“We have never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel.”). The requisite review of Plaintiff's Complaint raises several doctrines of law, which the Court discusses in turn.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Dismissal Pursuant to Heck v. Humphrey and the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

         The allegations contained in Plaintiff's Complaint center around his ongoing criminal proceedings in Tattnall County, Georgia. There is no indication that Plaintiff has been convicted, much less whether that conviction has been reversed, expunged, invalidated, called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, or otherwise overturned. (Doc. 1.) Consequently, this Court is precluded from reviewing his claims by the decision in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994).

         In Heck, a state prisoner filed a Section 1983 damages action against the prosecutors and investigator in his criminal case for their actions which resulted in his conviction. The United States Supreme Court analogized the plaintiff's claim to a common-law cause of action for malicious prosecution, which requires as an element of the claim that the prior criminal proceeding was terminated in favor of the accused. 512 U.S. at 484. The Supreme Court reasoned:

We think the hoary principle that civil tort actions are not appropriate vehicles for challenging the validity of outstanding criminal judgments applies to ยง 1983 damages actions that necessarily require the plaintiff to prove the unlawfulness of his conviction or confinement, just as it had ...

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