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Tutt v. Heap

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

February 27, 2019

MEG HEAP, et al.., Defendants.


          Christopher L. Ray United States Magistrate Judge

         Proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, Michael Anthony Tutt, brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against various state officials involved in his arrest and prosecution.[1] Doc. 1. The Court granted his request to pursue his case in forma pauperis (IFP), doc. 3, and he returned the necessary forms. Docs. 5 & 6. The Court now screens the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which requires the immediate dismissal of any pro se complaint that fails to state at least one actionable claim.[2]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Tutt was cited during a “routine traffic stop” on February 13, 2018 after Tybee Island police officer Price suspected he was driving under the influence. Doc. 1 at 5 (alleging he tested negative). He was arrested for driving with a suspended/revoked license. Id. The next day, he was taken for his initial appearance/preliminary hearing before Judge Moss without counsel present. Id. CNT agent Woodruff testified, however, to support the imposition of a bond. Id. Apparently, after his arrest Tutt's vehicle had been searched and methamphetamine and (perhaps - he denies it was ever in his possession) a gun were recovered, leading to the tacking on of felony possession charges during the February 14, 2018 hearing. Id. at 6.

         Tutt contends CNT agents Woodruff and Baker filed a false report that he had drugs and a gun in the car, since a search by Tybee officers reflected no firearm. Doc. 1 at 7. The gun, he explains, was actually found in another's car. Id. at 8 (on February 26, 2018, the gun was apparently recovered from Rene Dougherty Allred's vehicle; their relationship, if any, is unclear from the Complaint). Stacy, his assigned public defender, has deficiently represented him by encouraging Tutt to accept a plea agreement. Id. at 8. Tutt seeks damages, the resignation of “all parties, ” an “investigation on the District Attorneys office, and Public Defenders office, ” that “all evidence” and “secondary evidence be exclude[d]”, and release from custody. Id. at 9.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Tutt waves at claims for false arrest or malicious prosecution. A claim for false arrest derives from the constitutional right to be free from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. Amend. IV. A warrantless arrest made without probable cause violates the Fourth Amendment and forms the basis of a § 1983 claim for damages. Ortega v. Christian, 85 F.3d 1521, 1525 (11th Cir. 1996); Max v. Gumbinner, 905 F.2d 1503, 1505 (11th Cir. 1990); Von Stein v. Bresher, 904 F.2d. 572, 578 (11th Cir. 1990). The existence of probable cause, however, is a bar to § 1983 claims based on false arrest and false imprisonment. Ortega, 85 F.3d at 1525-26. And Tutt affirmatively pleaded that there was probable cause for his arrest (he was driving without a valid license). Doc. 1 at 5; see also United States v. Regan, 218 Fed.Appx. 902, 904 (11th Cir. 2007) (“brief, suspicionless seizures of motorists at a sobriety checkpoint aimed at removing drunk drivers from the road” are constitutionally permissible, as are “roadblock[s] to question all oncoming traffic to verify [ ] drivers' licenses and vehicle registrations with the interest of serving highway safety”). He has no claim against arresting officer Price.

         In a case of continuing detention (as here), “false imprisonment ends once the victim becomes held pursuant to [legal] process - when, for example, he is bound over by a magistrate or arraigned on charges.” Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 389-90 (2009); see State v.Tutt, CR18-471 & CR18-637 (Chatham Super. Ct.). Once an arrestee's unlawful detention becomes a product of legal process, his continued custody may still be unlawful, but any damages suffered after that point must be recovered under the “entirely distinct” tort of malicious prosecution, “which remedies detention accompanied not by the absence of legal process, but by wrongful institution of legal process.” Id. at 390. In other words, the torts of malicious prosecution and false imprisonment are distinct, and the former supplants the latter after legal process is initiated.

         The Eleventh Circuit “has identified malicious prosecution as a violation of the Fourth Amendment and a viable constitutional tort cognizable under § 1983.” Wood v. Kesler, 323 F.3d 872, 881 (11th Cir. 2003). An essential element of a malicious prosecution claim, however, is the termination of the criminal prosecution in the plaintiff's favor. Id. at 882. In the case at bar, there is no allegation that the Chatham County criminal cases have been resolved in Tutt's favor. See doc. 1; see Tutt, CR18-471 & CR18-637 (Chatham Super. Ct.) (felony possession cases “open” as of February 26, 2019, with plea hearing set for May 16, 2019). Accordingly, he does not state a claim for malicious prosecution and any such claim against any of the named defendants should be DISMISSED. Even if he had pled (or could plead) favorable termination, several of the named defendants are immune from suit.[3]

         Tutt, in passing, argues that the drug and gun evidence must be suppressed/excluded from consideration in his state prosecutions because they were procured in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Doc. 1 at 6-8. Any ruling by this Court as to the constitutionality of the post-arrest impoundment and search of his vehicle could substantially interfere with the results reached in the state court proceeding. See 31 Foster Children v. Bush, 329 F.3d 1255, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003) (noting the importance of “whether the federal proceeding will interfere with an ongoing state court proceeding” in determining whether abstention is appropriate).

         Pursuant to Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 53 (1971), federal courts must abstain from hearing claims that would interfere with pending state criminal proceedings, provided that the party seeking federal relief has an adequate remedy at law and has not shown that he will suffer irreparable injury. Plaintiff, obviously, remains free to allege the same constitutional violations at issue here in his state criminal proceedings. He thus cannot demonstrate the lack of an adequate remedy at law nor irreparable injury. Younger. 401 U.S. at 47 (“Certain types of injury, in particular, the cost, anxiety, and inconvenience of having to defend against a single criminal prosecution, could not by themselves be considered ‘irreparable' in the special legal sense of that term.”). Thus, these are arguments for the state court. See also Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 487 n. 8 (1994) (“[I]f a state criminal defendant brings a federal civil-rights lawsuit during the pendency of his criminal trial, appeal, or state habeas action, abstention may be an appropriate response to the parallel state-court proceedings.”).[4]Any claim regarding the exclusion of evidence in his criminal proceedings must be DISMISSED.

         Finally, Tutt's premature discovery motions, docs. 5 & 11, are DENIED. In addition to being rendered moot by this Report and Recommendation (R&R), they are have been improperly lodged with the Court rather than served in compliance with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 5(b) (describing procedure for service). Discovery requests are not filed with the Court. Fed.R.Civ.P. 5(d) (initial disclosures and discovery requests/responses are not filed until they are used for a motion or the court orders them to be filed).


         In sum, Tutt's Complaint should be DISMISSED for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and his discovery motions are DENIED. Although the Court sees no apparent basis upon which the deficient claims could be amended, plaintiff's opportunity to object to this R&R within 14 days affords him an opportunity to resuscitate them. He may submit an Amended Complaint during that period if he believes it would cure the legal defects discussed above. See Willis v. Darden, 2012 WL 170163, at * 2 n.3 (S.D. Ga. Jan. 19, 2012) (citing Smith v. Stanley, 2011 WL 1114503, at * 1 (W.D. Mich. Jan. 19, 2011)). ...

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