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Fields v. Heap

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

December 14, 2017

KELVIN J. FIELDS, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY MEG HEAP, et al. Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

         Pro se plaintiff Kelvin Fields objects to the undersigned's Report and Recommendation (R&R) recommending that his case be dismissed without prejudice. Doc. 8. He challenges the Court's interpretation that his original Complaint failed to allege that his pending state-court criminal case had terminated in his favor, fatally undermining a § 1983 malicious prosecution claim. Doc. 8 (objecting to R&R because criminal case “was resolved in [his] favor”). Since his objection asserts an additional allegation affecting the Court's analysis, the Court VACATES its original R&R (doc. 6) to the extent that it relied on Fields' failure to allege favorable termination of his state-court prosecution.

         First, Fields' objection emphasizes his request that this Court intervene in his on-going state prosecution. See doc. 8 at 2, 3 (referring to “accusation # AR16090362” as “pending” and alleging that it “violate[]s plaintiff['s] Constitutional right to protection from being held/imprisoned without presentment or indictment by a grand jury, ” and seeking to challenge “the unlawfulness of his detainment.”). As the previous R&R explained, important principles of comity (the respect that the federal courts owe to state courts[1]) require this Court to abstain from interfering in ongoing state criminal prosecutions. Doc. 6 at 3. Although courts have recognized some exceptions to that abstention principle, they are rarely applicable. See Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, et al. 17B Fed. Prac. & Proc. § 4255 (3d ed. 2017) (“Although later Supreme Court decisions have not shed a great deal of additional light on the exceptions to Younger, what the Court has done confirms that the Court is right when it describes them as ‘these narrow exceptions.'” (cite omitted)). Nothing in any of Fields' filings even suggests a sufficient ground for this Court to interfere in his pending prosecution.

         Although his request for intercession is dead on arrival, his allegation that some proceeding has terminated in his favor[2] might revive his malicious prosecution claim. If his additional allegations affect the viability of such a claim, however, it could only be leveled against defendant Heap.[3] And as the Court explained in a footnote to its R&R, she is entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity against any such claim. See doc. 6 at 3 n. 2. A prosecutor's absolute immunity extends to all “allegations stemming from the prosecutor's function as advocate, ” Hart v. Hodges, 587 F.3d 1288, 1295 (11th Cir. 2009); even as far as “‘filing an information without investigation, filing charges without jurisdiction, filing a baseless detainer, offering perjured testimony, suppressing exculpatory evidence, refusing to investigate . . . complaints about the prison system, [and] threatening . . . further criminal prosecutions . . . .'” Id. (quoting Henzel v. Gerstein, 608 F.2d 654, 657 (5th Cir. 1979)). Since Fields' allegations make it clear that Heap acted (and is acting) exclusively as a government advocate, she has absolute immunity against his claims and they should be DISMISSED. See Smith v. Shorstein, 217 Fed.Appx. 877, 880 (11th Cir. 2007) (affirming sua sponte dismissal of complaint, at screening, based on absolute prosecutorial immunity).

         The claims against the remaining defendants are also subject to dismissal. Claims against defendants Hilliard and Cail, his defense attorneys, are not cognizable under § 1983. See Polk v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 317-19 (1981) (defense attorney does not act under “color of state law” within the meaning of § 1983, even when appointed by the state). Fields' only allegation mentioning Sheriff Wilcher is that he “brought [a] grievance to the attention of . . . Chatham County Sheriff Mr. John T. Wilcher” concerning his grand-jury waiver dispute. See doc. 1 at 5. That's not enough to state any claim against him, notwithstanding his recent favorable-termination allegations. See Baker v. Rexroad, 159 Fed.Appx. 61, 62 (11th Cir. 2005) (where the inmate had no constitutionally protected interest in grievance procedure, officials' failure to take corrective action could not support a § 1983 claim). Accordingly, the claims against defendants Hilliard, Cail, and Wilcher should be DISMISSED.

         Fields remains responsible for his filing fee. Since his PLRA paperwork reflects an average monthly balance of $0.00, he does not owe any initial partial filing fee. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1) (requiring an initial fee assessment “when funds exist”). Plaintiff's custodian (or designee) shall therefore set aside and remit 20 percent of all future deposits to his account, then forward those funds to the Clerk each time the set aside amount reaches $10.00, until the balance of the Court's $350.00 filing fee has been paid in full.

         Also, the Clerk is DIRECTED to send this Report and Recommendation (R&R) to plaintiff's account custodian immediately, as this payment directive is nondispositive within the meaning of Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a), so no Rule 72(b) adoption is required. In the event he is transferred to another institution, his present custodian shall forward a copy of this R&R and all financial information concerning payment of the filing fee and costs in this case to plaintiff's new custodian. The balance due from plaintiff shall be collected by the custodian at his next institution in accordance with the terms of the payment directive portion of the R&R.

         This R&R is submitted to the district judge assigned to this action, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and this Court's Local Rule 72.3. Within 14 days of service, any party may file written objections to this R&R with the Court and serve a copy on all parties. The document should be captioned "Objections to Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendations." Any request for additional time to file objections should be filed with the Clerk for consideration by the assigned district judge.

         After the objections period has ended, the Clerk shall submit this R&R together with any objections to the assigned district judge. The district judge will review the magistrate judge's findings and recommendations pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). The parties are advised that failure to timely file objections will result in the waiver of rights on appeal. 11th Cir. R. 3-1; see Symonett v. V.A. Leasing Corp., 648 Fed.Appx. 787, 790 (11th Cir. 2016); Mitchell v. United States, 612 Fed.Appx. 542, 545 (11th Cir. 2015).

         SO REPORTED AND RECOMMENDED.

         EXHIBIT A

         (Exhibit Omitted)

---------

Notes:

[1] As the Supreme Court has explained, “comity” refers to “a proper respect for state functions, a recognition of the fact that the entire country is made up of a Union of separate state governments, and a continuance of the belief that the National Government will fare best if the States and their institutions are left free to perform their separate ...


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