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Davis v. Chatham County - Savannah

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

March 18, 2019

CHATHAM COUNTY -SAVANNAH, GA, et al. ., Defendants.


          Christopher L. Ray, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, Edward Eugene Davis, brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against various state officials, a municipal entity, and a private citizen involved in his arrest and prosecution.[1] Doc. 1. The Court granted his request to pursue his case in forma pauperis (IFP), doc. 4, 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

         Fire Chief Bandy “instigated a criminal presentment” against Davis by calling 911 “to report an alleged violent crime.” Doc. 1 at 6. Davis contends Bandy was racially motivated, as he relied upon a “false report” by an “intoxicated white woman” over Davis' objections. Id. at 7. Based on that “false report, ” Davis was arrested by Det. Brown for “[a]ggravated assault by strangulation” of Branch, his then-girlfriend. Id. at 7-8. He contends he was arrested without probable cause and Det. Brown perjured herself at his preliminary hearing. Id. at 8. He has been railroaded by the prosecution and deficiently represented by his public defender. Id. at 12-13. For this, Davis seeks an apology and $8.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Id. at 15. His state prosecution, meanwhile, remains pending. See State v. Davis, CR17-1058-J2 (Chatham Super. Ct.) (status “open” as of March 13, 2019, with a jury trial on charges of aggravated assault and rape set to begin April 8, 2019).

         II. ANALYSIS

         Davis 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). In a case of continuing detention (as here), however, “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 Davis, CR17-1057.

         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 case has been resolved in Davis' favor. See doc. 1; see Davis, CR17-1058. 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 or otherwise not susceptible to suit under § 1983.[3]

         Davis also complains that he has been “defamed” by Bandy's report and Det. Brown's arrest. Doc. 1 at 6. Any defamation claims against the arresting police officers under § 1983, however, fail as a matter of law. Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 711-12 (1976); Walker v. Atlanta Police Dep't Public Affairs Unit, 322 Fed.Appx. 809, 810 (11th Cir. 2009) (“defamation by a police officer is not actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983”); Lowe v. Dollison, 2012 WL 1555446 at * 3 (E.D. Tex. Mar. 2, 2012) (“defamation, libel, and slander are matters for state law and not the proper subject of a Section 1983 lawsuit.”), cited in Young v. Heap, 2016 WL 4987331 at *1 (S.D. Ga. Aug. 8, 2016). Although defamation falls outside § 1983's ambit, district courts have “supplemental jurisdiction over all claims that are so related to claims in the action within [the court's] original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy.” 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). Nevertheless, when a court dismisses all “claims over which it has original jurisdiction, ” like Davis' other § 1983 claims, it “may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction.” Id. at (c). To the extent that the Court could hear his defamation claim under its supplemental jurisdiction, it should decline to do so. This claim too should be DISMISSED.

         Moreover, to the extent that Davis asks this Court to weigh in on the sufficiency or credibility of the evidence against him, see doc. 1 at 5-11, any ruling by this Court 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 evidence in his criminal proceedings must be DISMISSED.


         In sum, Davis' Complaint should be DISMISSED for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.[5] Meanwhile, it is time for plaintiff to pay his filing fee. His PLRA paperwork reflects $0 in average monthly deposits over the six month period prior to the date of his Prison Account Statement. Doc. 5. He therefore owes no initial partial filing fee. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1) (requiring an initial fee assessment “when funds exist, ” under a specific 20 percent formula). Plaintiff's custodian (or designee) shall therefore set aside 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.[6]

         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 ...

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