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Edwards v. Perry

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

March 18, 2019

CARL L. EDWARDS, Plaintiff,
v.
WARDEN CLINTON PERRY, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER AND MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          BENJAMIN W. CHEESBRO, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, who is currently incarcerated at Macon State Prison in Oglethorpe, Georgia, filed a Complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to contest certain events which occurred in Waycross, Georgia. Doc. 1. Plaintiff also filed a Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis. Doc. 2. For the reasons which follow, I DENY Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis. For these same reasons, I RECOMMEND the Court DISMISS Plaintiff's Complaint as failing to state a § 1983 claim, DIRECT the Clerk of Court to enter the appropriate judgment of dismissal and CLOSE this case, and DENY Plaintiff in forma pauperis status on appeal.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff used this Court's standard form for prisoners seeking to file a claim under § 1983. Doc. 1 at 1. On the section of the form instructing Plaintiff to describe the factual allegations underlying his action, Plaintiff stated merely, “See record and Document(s) Attach sheets[.]” Id. at 5. For relief, Plaintiff requests “release from prison, ” a name change, and nominal, compensatory, and punitive damages. Id. at 6.

         Plaintiff attached the following documents to his Complaint: (1) a motion filed in Civil Action No. 18-cv-78 in the Superior Court of Macon County entitled “Motion Requesting to Deny the Respondant(s) [sic] Suc[c]essive or Untimely, ” id. at 8-9; (2) the certificate of service for that motion, id. at 10-11; (3) notes dated October 19, 2005, and labeled “Exhibit P-4, ” which appear to be a defense attorney's notes from a meeting with Plaintiff at the Ware County Jail, id. at 12; (4) a June 18, 2018 order from the Macon County Superior Court granting Plaintiff permission to proceed in forma pauperis in Civil Action No. 18-cv-78, id. at 13; and (5) the certificate of service accompanying the June 18, 2018 order, id. at 14. Construing Plaintiff's pleadings liberally from the documents provided, it appears Plaintiff is requesting relief for various constitutional violations related to his 2005 convictions in the Superior Court of Ware County. Id. at 8. He argues: (1) the Ware County Superior Court proceedings constituted double jeopardy; (2) there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction; and (3) the statements he made to the police were involuntary and should have been suppressed. Id.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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 his assets, shows an inability to pay the filing fee, and includes a statement of the nature of the action which shows that he is entitled to redress. Even when the plaintiff is indigent, the Court must dismiss the action if it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(ii). Additionally, the Court must review a complaint in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Upon such screening, the Court must dismiss a complaint, or any portion thereof, that is frivolous, malicious, 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. § 1915A(b). A claim is frivolous “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 § 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 . . . .”) (emphasis omitted) (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.”).

         DISCUSSION[1]

         I. Dismissal for Failure to State a Claim

         In order to bring a § 1983 action for damages which “challenge[s] the validity of [an] outstanding criminal judgment[], ” a plaintiff must first “prove the unlawfulness of his confinement or conviction.”[2] Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486 (1994). To show an unlawful conviction or confinement, the plaintiff must demonstrate that “the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus . . . . ” Id. at 486-87. If “a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence, ” and the sentence has not already been invalidated, the court must dismiss the complaint. Id. at 487 (“A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983.”). Conversely, “as long as it is possible that a § 1983 suit would not negate the underlying conviction, then the suit is not Heck-barred.” Dyer v. Lee, 488 F.3d 876, 879-80 (11th Cir. 2007).

         Some § 1983 claims, due to their very nature, are incompatible with the conviction as a matter of law. Id. at 879. Other claims, however, can resolve in the plaintiff's favor without disturbing the conviction because, even after a successful claim, there remains an independent “construction of the facts that would allow the underlying conviction to stand.” Id. For example, Fourth Amendment claims related to unreasonable searches and seizures are not necessarily barred under Heck, even when the evidence was admitted at trial, because “illegal searches may be followed by valid convictions.” Harvey v. United States, 681 Fed.Appx. 850, 853 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing Heck, 512 U.S. at 487 n.7) (“[A] suit for damages arising out of an allegedly unreasonable search . . . may proceed even if evidence from the challenged search was introduced in the criminal trial that resulted in the plaintiff's conviction.”). This is because other evidence might support the conviction or other legal doctrines (e.g., inevitable discovery, independent source) could provide alternative grounds for admissibility. Harvey, 681 Fed.Appx. at 853 (citing Heck, 512 U.S. at 487 n.7); Pritchett v. Farr, 592 Fed.Appx. 816, 819 (11th Cir. 2014); Hughes v. Lott, 350 F.3d 1157, 1161 (11th Cir. 2003). In such a circumstance, courts “must ‘look both to the claims raised under § 1983 and to the specific offenses for which the § 1983 claimant was convicted.'” Harvey, 681 Fed.Appx. at 853-54 (11th Cir. 2017) (quoting Hughes, 350 F.3d at 1160 n.2). “When the circumstances surrounding a conviction cannot be discerned from the record” and it is otherwise “impossible for a court to determine whether a successful § 1983 damages action . . . would necessarily imply that the conviction is invalid, ” the claim is not barred by Heck. Id. at 853 (quoting Hughes, 350 F.3d at 1160 n.2).

         While Plaintiff writes that he “diligently seek(s) relief of his rights being violated, ” doc. 1 at 9, Plaintiff's allegations challenge the criminal proceedings underlying his sentence. Plaintiff asserts the original indictment issued against him violated the double jeopardy clause of the Constitution by including multiple counts related to the “same or similar offenses.” Id. at 8. Additionally, Plaintiff alleges the ...


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