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Burch v. Sussman

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

November 21, 2017

LEVON BURCH, Plaintiff,
v.
WILLIAM SUSSMAN; DANNY CRAIG; CARLISLE OVERSTREET; and KENNETH BOOSE, Defendants.

          ORDER AND MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          R. STAN BAKER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, who is currently housed at Jenkins Correctional Center in Millen, Georgia, filed a Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 contesting certain events which allegedly occurred in Richmond County, Georgia.[1] (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff also filed a Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis. (Doc. 2.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion. For these same reasons, I RECOMMEND the Court DISMISS Plaintiff's Complaint based on his failure to state a claim, DIRECT the Clerk of Court to CLOSE this case and enter the appropriate judgment of dismissal, and DENY Plaintiff in forma pauperis status on appeal.

         BACKGROUND

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff contends Defendant Kenneth Boose, an investigator with Richmond County, Georgia, arrested him in 1994. Plaintiff asserts Defendant William Sussman, a public defender, visited him at the Richmond County Jail. Plaintiff contends Defendant Danny Craig, who is with the District Attorney's Office, came to the jail almost a year later to offer Plaintiff a plea bargain. (Doc. 1, p. 5.) Plaintiff alleges he agreed to the plea bargain in November 1995 in front of Defendant Carlisle Overstreet, a Superior Court judge, because Plaintiff was faced with capital punishment if he did not enter into a plea deal. Plaintiff seeks immediate release from his false imprisonment and the monetary “equivalent amount of the bonds that were sold as” to him. (Id. at p. 6.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Plaintiff seeks to bring this action in forma pauperis. 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, 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, 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).

         The Court looks to the instructions for pleading contained in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when reviewing a Complaint on an application to proceed in forma pauperis. 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. . . .”) (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.”).

         DISCUSSION

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

         The allegations contained in Plaintiff's Complaint center around criminal proceedings in Richmond County, Georgia. Plaintiff references the criminal proceedings against him in 1994 and 1995. However, there is nothing before the Court indicating that his 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 be 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 § 1983 damages actions that necessarily require the plaintiff to prove the unlawfulness of his conviction or confinement, just as it had always applied to actions for malicious prosecution (footnote omitted).
We hold that, in order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, (footnote omitted), a § 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254. A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983. Thus, when a state prisoner seeks damages in a § 1983 suit, the district court must consider whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would ...

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