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Green v. Goodrich

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

July 27, 2018

RICHIE GREEN, Plaintiff,
v.
KEAGAN GOODRICH n/k/a KEAGAN WAYSTACK, DEBRA GÓMEZ, GREGORY BUSHWAY, and STEPHEN BRADLEY, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT GÓMEZ'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          TILMAN E. SELF, III, JUDGE.

         Before the Court for consideration is Defendant Gómez's Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 43]. In her motion, she contends, inter alia, that Plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations. After review and careful consideration of the parties' arguments, the Court rules as follows.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff's Amended Complaint [Doc. 4] sets forth the following facts. On April 20, 2011, Plaintiff, while awaiting trial in the Superior Court of Jones County on charges of child molestation, began negotiating a potential plea agreement. [Doc. 4, at 5]. Plaintiff avers that his counsel, Defendant Gómez, made several disconcerting remarks during the negotiation process and encouraged Plaintiff to accept the proposed agreement. [Id.]. On April 25, 2011, Plaintiff ultimately accepted a plea deal and pled guilty to three counts of child molestation in exchange for 15 years' probation under the First Offender program. See O.C.G.A. § 42-8-60; [Doc. 4, at 5].

         On March 6, 2013, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that an individual convicted of a sex offense cannot be sentenced as a first offender under O.C.G.A. § 42-8-60. Tew v. State, 739 S.E.2d 423, 426-27 (Ga.Ct.App. 2013). Tew thus invalidated Plaintiff's sentence, rendering it illegal. See State v. Hamilton, 517 S.E.2d. 583, 584 (Ga.Ct.App. 1999) (holding that the sentence of an individual who was improperly granted probation under O.C.G.A. § 42-8-60 was “illegal and therefore completely void”). Plaintiff learned of this ruling in November 2015, at which time he sought legal representation to no avail. [Doc. 4, at 5]. Plaintiff eventually retained attorney Michael Katz, who submitted an Extraordinary Motion to Withdraw Plea/Motion to Vacate Conviction/Correct Sentence. [Doc. 1-5, at 11-13]; [Doc. 4, at 5]. The Jones County Superior Court granted the motion on December 19, 2017, allowing Plaintiff to withdraw his plea and effectively vacating his sentence. [Doc. 1-5, at 1-3].

         Following the plea withdrawal, Plaintiff brought this § 1983 action against Defendant Gómez in her individual capacity, asserting that he accepted the invalid plea deal under duress. Plaintiff argues that Defendant Gómez, who advised Plaintiff to accept the plea agreement, was “complaisant [sic] in the [prosecutorial] fraud and coercion.” [Doc. 4, at 4].

         DISCUSSION

         I. Standard of Review Applicable to Motions to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6)

         Defendant Gómez filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's claims against her pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing, inter alia, that the statute of limitations bars Plaintiff's claims. [Doc. 43, at 3-4]. In ruling on the Motion [Doc. 43], the Court accepts as true the facts set forth in the Complaint, draws all reasonable inferences from them, and construes them in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 572 (2007); Gates v. Khokhar, 884 F.3d 1290, 1296 (11th Cir. 2018). However, the Court does not accept legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must state a plausible claim for relief, or, in other words, contain sufficient factual content allowing the court to reasonably infer that the defendant is liable for the alleged wrongdoing. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. While not akin to a “probability requirement, ” the plausibility standard demands more than a mere possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Id; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. Moreover, it is well established that threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not constitute a sufficient claim. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         However, unique to this case is a statute of limitations defense embedded in a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Defendant's Motion [Doc. 43] is a proper procedural vehicle for raising a statute of limitations defense, because “[a] complaint is subject to dismissal when its allegations, on their face, show that an affirmative defense bars recovery on the claim.” Edwards v. Apple Comput., Inc., 645 Fed.Appx. 849, 850 (11th Cir. 2016). An argument premised upon the relevant statute of limitations constitutes one such affirmative defense. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(c)(1). The Eleventh Circuit has held that a claim merits dismissal under 12(b)(6) on statute of limitations grounds “only if it is apparent from the face of the complaint that the claim is time-barred.” Tello v. Dean Witter Reynolds, 410 F.3d 1275, 1288 (11th Cir. 2005), abrogated on other grounds by Merck & Co., Inc. v. Reynolds, 559 U.S. 633 (2010), as recognized in Walter v. Avellino, 565 Fed.Appx. 464 (11th Cir. 2014).[1]

         With the foregoing standard in mind, the Court GRANTS Defendant Gómez's Motion to Dismiss [Docs. 43] for the various reasons stated below.

         II. Defendant Gómez's Motion to Dismiss

         The Court agrees with Defendant Gómez's arguments regarding the statute of limitations.[2] Constitutional claims brought under § 1983 are subject to the forum state's statute of limitations governing personal injury actions. Wood v. Kelly, 720 Fed.Appx. 532, 535 (11th Cir. 2017). In Georgia, personal injury suits must be brought within two years after the right of action accrues. O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33. A cause of action pursuant to § 1983 accrues when “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 ...


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