United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND
K. EPPS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
incarcerated at Telfair State Prison in Helena, Georgia, is
proceeding pro se in this civil rights case concerning events
related to his criminal proceedings in Jefferson County,
Georgia. Counsel on behalf of Defendants Palmer and Altman,
and on behalf of Defendant Jackson-Bell, have each filed a
pre-answer motion to dismiss. (Doc. nos. 11, 16 (hereinafter,
motions together as “Defendants' motions”).)
Plaintiff opposes the motions, (doc. nos. 25, 26, 38), and
Defendants filed replies in support of their respective
motions, (doc. nos. 33, 34). For the reasons set forth below,
the Court REPORTS and RECOMMENDS Defendants' motions be
GRANTED, any potential state law claims be dismissed without
prejudice, this civil action be DISMISSED, and an appropriate
judgment of dismissal be ENTERED.
originally filed his complaint in the Northern District of
Georgia and paid the $400.00 filing fee. (See doc. no. 1.)
United States Magistrate Judge Alan Baverman transferred the
case to this District because the events about which
Plaintiff complains are related to criminal proceedings
brought against him in Jefferson County, Georgia, within the
Augusta Division of the Southern District. (Doc. no. 2.)
Plaintiff previously filed two unsuccessful federal habeas
corpus challenges concerning these same criminal proceedings.
See Nelson v. Brown, CV 118-166 (S.D. Ga. Oct. 2,
2018); Nelson v. Frazier, CV 108-033 (S.D. Ga. Mar.
6, 2008). Defendants executed waivers of service, and timely
filed the motions to dismiss now before the Court.
Plaintiff's criminal case commenced when twenty
“selected, chosen, and sworn” grand jurors
sitting in Jefferson County, Georgia, convened on May 29,
2001, and among other business, charged Plaintiff with two
counts of burglary and one count of terroristic threats in an
indictment signed by foreperson Ollie Carter and filed in the
Clerk of Superior Court on June 1, 2001. Georgia v.
Nelson, 01-CR-00059; doc. nos. 17-1, 17-2; doc. no. 25,
Jefferson County jury convicted Plaintiff of (1) burglary
with intent to commit theft, (2) burglary with intent to
commit terroristic threats, and (3) terroristic threats.
Nelson v. State, 625 S.E.2d 465, 467 (Ga.Ct.App.
2005). The first and second burglary counts merged for
sentencing purposes, and Plaintiff was sentenced to
consecutive terms of imprisonment for twenty years and five
years, without the possibility of parole. Id. at
472-73; doc. no. 17-4. Defendants Palmer and Altman presided
over Plaintiff's criminal trial as the Judge and
Assistant District Attorney, respectively. (See doc. no. 1,
p. 3.) Defendant Jackson-Bell served as Plaintiff's trial
counsel. (Id.) Plaintiff does not state in the
complaint whether he is suing Defendants in their individual
or official capacity, or both. (Id.) He does state,
however, in his opposition papers he is suing Defendants
Palmer and Altman in their individual and official
capacities. (Doc. no. 26, p. 1.)
does Plaintiff identify in his complaint what federal or
state law or constitutional provision any Defendant allegedly
violated. (Doc. no. 1, pp. 3-4.) Rather, Plaintiff generally
alleges all three Defendants conspired to obtain false
convictions for burglary and terroristic threats pursuant to
a fraudulently obtained indictment returned by an
“illegally qualified Grand Jury.” (Id.)
All three Defendants knew the indictment was not proper, yet
they all “allowed” the indictment to be filed and
his case to be prosecuted based on the fraudulent charges.
(Id.) In his opposition papers, Plaintiff states all
three Defendants violated his Fifth Amendment rights, and
Defendant Jackson-Bell committed fraud under Georgia statutes
and provided ineffective assistance of counsel by allowing
him to be prosecuted “under a false indictment.”
(Doc. no. 25, p. 1; doc. no. 26; doc. no. 38, p. 2.)
Amendment Due Process claim should be dismissed because they
are not federal actors. As explained below, Defendants'
motions should be granted.
Legal Standard for Rule 12(b)(6) Motion
considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the
Court tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint, not
whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail on the merits.
Adinolfe v. United Techs. Corp., 768 F.3d 1161, 1168
(11th Cir. 2014). The Court must accept as true all facts
alleged in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences
in Plaintiff's favor. Erickson v. Pardus, 551
U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007) (per curiam); Am. Dental Ass'n
v. Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1288 (11th Cir. 2010). To
avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted, the allegations in the amended
complaint must “state a claim to 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.
Court must also consider Rule 12(b)(6) in conjunction with
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. Id. While Rule
8(a) 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
enhancement.'” Id. (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557). The Court is
“not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched
as a factual allegation.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at
555 (citation omitted). In short, the complaint must provide
a “‘plain statement' possess[ing] enough heft
to ‘sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to
relief.'” Id. at 557 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P.
the Court affords a liberal construction to a pro se
litigant's pleadings, holding them to a more lenient
standard than those drafted by an attorney. Erickson, 551
U.S. at 94. However, this liberal construction does not mean
that the Court has a duty to re-write the complaint. Snow
v. DirecTV, Inc., 450 F.3d 1314, 1320 (11th Cir. 2006).
Plaintiff's Claims Are Barred by Heck v.
complaint is barred under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S.
477, 486-87 (1994). In Heck, the Supreme Court held, when an
inmate's allegations rest on the invalidity of his
imprisonment, his § 1983 claim does not accrue until
that invalidity is proven. Id. The Supreme Court
further explained, if “a judgment in favor of the
plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his
conviction or sentence, ” then that § 1983 claim
must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can show his
conviction has already been invalidated. Id. at 487.
In short, a claim for monetary damages or injunctive or
declaratory relief that challenges Plaintiff's conviction
is not cognizable under § 1983. Wilkinson v.
Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 (2005) (concluding
“cases, taken together, indicate that a state
prisoner's § 1983 action is barred (absent prior
invalidation) - no matter the relief sought (damages or
equitable relief), no matter the target of the prisoner's
suit (state conduct leading to conviction . . .) - if success
in that action would necessarily demonstrate the invalidity
of confinement or its duration”); Heck, 512
U.S. at 483; Abella v. Rubino, 63 F.3d 1063, 1066
(11th Cir. 1995) (per curiam) (“Thus, declaratory or
injunctive relief claims which are in the nature of habeas
corpus claims - i.e., claims which challenge the validity of
the claimant's conviction or sentence and seek release
-are simply not cognizable under § 1983.”); see
also Nelson v. Campbell, 541 U.S. 637, 643 (2004)
(explaining claims challenging fact of conviction or duration
of sentence “fall within the ‘core' of habeas
corpus, ” while claims challenging the conditions of
confinement may be brought in a civil rights action under 42
U.S.C. § 1983).
claims: (1) the indictment charging him was invalid because
there is no record of any minutes or proceedings of a grand
jury summoned or sworn in the Superior Court of Jefferson
County in May, 2001; and (2) Defendants Palmer and Altman
joined in a conspiracy with Defendant Jackson-Bell to accept
the jury's guilty verdict when they knew the charging
indictment was invalid. (See doc. no. 1, pp. 3-4.) Were these
claims resolved in Plaintiff's favor in this Court, the
outcome would inevitably undermine Plaintiff's state
convictions. Zeigler v. Woodford, No. 5:17-CV-00480,
2018 WL 2248754, at *3 (M.D. Ga. Apr. 27, 2018) ...