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Thigpen v. Hardin

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

July 16, 2018

EARL THIGPEN, Plaintiff,
JAMES E. HARDIN, Defendant.



         Plaintiff, an inmate at Central State Prison in Macon, Georgia, filed this cause of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, contesting the conditions of his criminal sentence. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff also moved to procced in forma pauperis. (Doc. 2.) For the reasons that follow, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis. Furthermore, I RECOMMEND the Court DISMISS Plaintiff's Complaint, DIRECT the Clerk of Court to enter the appropriate judgment of dismissal and to CLOSE this case, and DENY Plaintiff leave to appeal in forma pauperis.[1]


         In his Complaint, Plaintiff states Defendant banished him from Lowndes County, Georgia, as part of his criminal sentence and requests this Court lift his order of banishment. (Doc. 1, pp. 5-6.) Plaintiff contends banishment was not part of the plea deal he entered into in September 2008 and states Defendant has refused to lift the banishment despite Plaintiff moving for such relief. Further, Plaintiff states that his family is located in Lowndes County and that he formerly worked there. Plaintiff argues banishment deprives him of his right to see his family and has never been written into Georgia law. (Id.)


         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 Fed.Appx. 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.”).


         I. Dismissal Under the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

         In this cause of action, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant wrongly and unlawfully banished him from Lowndes County as part of his criminal sentence. (Doc. 1, pp. 5-6.) This claim implicates the conditions of his sentence and seeks this Court to essentially overturn part of a sentence imposed by the State of Georgia. As such, this Court is precluded from reviewing Plaintiff's claims by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

         Pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the Court is without jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims, which seek review of a state-court criminal conviction and sentence imposed against him. “The Rooker-Feldman doctrine derives from Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Company, 263 U.S. 413 (1923), and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983), and provides that, as a general matter, federal district courts lack jurisdiction to review a final state court decision.” McCorvey v. Weaver, No. 15-10470, 2015 WL 5751756, at *1 (11th Cir. Oct. 2, 2015). “Rooker-Feldman applies because, among the federal courts, Congress authorized only the Supreme Court to reverse or modify a state court decision.” Helton v. Ramsay, 566 Fed.Appx. 876, 877 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005) (holding that Rooker-Feldman precludes “state-court losers [from] complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgements rendered before the [federal] district court proceedings commenced and inviting [federal] district court review and rejection of those judgments.”)). Because Plaintiff, through this Section 1983 action, essentially asks this Court to invalidate the terms of the conviction and sentence he is currently serving at Central State Prison in Macon, Georgia, this Court lacks jurisdiction.

         For these reasons, the Court should DISMISS ...

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