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Henderson v. Mastny

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

March 26, 2019




         Plaintiff, an inmate at Valdosta State Prison in Valdosta, Georgia, is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis (“IFP”) in this case filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 regarding events alleged to have occurred in Richmond County, Georgia. Because he is proceeding IFP, Plaintiff's complaint must be screened to protect potential defendants. Phillips v. Mashburn, 746 F.2d 782, 785 (11th Cir. 1984); Al-Amin v. Donald, 165 Fed.Appx. 733, 736 (11th Cir. 2006).


         A. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff names as Defendants: (1) Joanna B. Mastny; and (2) Jason R. Hasty. (Doc. no. 1, pp. 1, 2.) Taking all of Plaintiff's allegations as true, as the Court must for purposes of the present screening, the facts are as follows.

         On May 9, 2017, Plaintiff requested grand jury indictment documents from Richmond County Superior Court regarding his underlying criminal conviction. (Id. at 5.) These documents showed there was no grand jury hearing or other documentation about the presiding judge, courtroom number, date, or grand jury minutes. (Id.) Plaintiff also learned the grand jury foreperson was not the same person as the signature on the true bill of indictment. (Id. at 6.)

         Plaintiff notified his public defender, Defendant Jason R. Hasty, of his findings and requested Mr. Hasty file a motion to permit discovery on the indictment and a “production of alleged grand jury subpoena.” (Id.) Mr. Hasty told Plaintiff a grand jury hearing is not required prior to indictment and the only requirement is for the foreperson of the grand jury to sign the true bill of indictment. (Id. at 6-7.) On July 1, 2017, Plaintiff sent letters to Mr. Hasty concerning assistant district attorney Defendant Joanna B. Mastny's handling of the indictment and again requested Mr. Hasty file motions. (Id. at 7.) Mr. Hasty refused to file any motions and told Plaintiff he was stuck with him. (Id. at 8.)

         On November 1, 2017, Plaintiff filed pro se “motions for production of discovery of grand jury witness testimony and grand jury hearing transcript.” (Id.) Plaintiff never received a response from these motions. (Id.) Prior to the pre-trial hearing on December 4, 2017, Mr. Hasty would not speak to Plaintiff, and at the pre-trial hearing, Mr. Hasty and Ms. Mastny tried to get Plaintiff to accept a plea deal for twelve years, which Plaintiff rejected. (Id. at 8-9.) Plaintiff also sent grievance letters to the State Bar of Georgia's consumer assistance program regarding Mr. Hasty's competence and failure to communicate with Plaintiff. (Id. at 9.)

         On December 14, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion to quash the indictment. (Id.) On January 8, 2018, Richmond County Superior Court Judge Carl C. Brown held a hearing on Plaintiff's motion to quash. (Id. at 10.) At the hearing, Plaintiff requested to speak on his own behalf about Mr. Hasty's representation of him and have Mr. Hasty released as his counsel. (Id. at 10-11.) However, Judge Brown prohibited Plaintiff from speaking at the hearing about the defective indictment or anything else. (Id. at 11.) Judge Brown also stated Mr. Hasty would continue to represent Plaintiff. (Id. at 12.) Also, at the hearing, Plaintiff asked Ms. Mastny about the indictment and she told him Georgia law did not require the indictment be brought before a grand jury as long the indictment states it is sufficient to prosecute this case. (Id. at 13.) Ms. Mastny also stated she could re-indict the case. (Id.)

         On February 26, 2018, Plaintiff's criminal trial began, and Plaintiff was forced to defend himself against charges not properly indicted by a grand jury. (Id. at 14.) Plaintiff alleges Ms. Mastny's actions constituted a “bad faith prosecution” by acting in concert with Judge Brown to deny his motion to quash the indictment. On February 27, 2018, Plaintiff was convicted of robbery by intimidation. (Id.; doc. no. 1-1, p. 5.) Due to being incarcerated, Plaintiff states he is at risk of physical injury from prison violence and is suffering from emotional distress. (Doc. no. 1, pp. 15-16.) He alleges Defendants acted in concert to unlawfully prosecute Plaintiff based on a faulty indictment, resulting in violations of his First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Id.) As relief, Plaintiff seeks a declaration from the Court that Defendants violated his constitutional rights, $1 in nominal damages, and $9, 000, 000 total in compensatory and punitive damages from Defendants. (Id. at 18-19.) On February 20, 2019, Plaintiff filed an affidavit concerning the same facts as in his complaint, along with additional argument about the allegedly improper indictment. (Doc. no. 4.)

         B. DISCUSSION

         1. Legal Standard for Screening

         The complaint or any portion thereof may be dismissed if it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or if it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune to such relief. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A(b). A claim is frivolous if it “lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989). “Failure to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard as dismissal for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).” Wilkerson v. H & S, Inc., 366 Fed.Appx. 49, 51 (11th Cir. 2010) (citing Mitchell v. Farcass, 112 F.3d 1483, 1490 (11th Cir. 1997)).

         To avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the allegations in the complaint must “state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal,556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). That is, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. While Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure does not require detailed factual allegations, “it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A complaint is insufficient if it “offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, '” or if it “tenders ‘naked assertions' devoid of ‘further factual ...

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