United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division
ORDER AND REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
pro se and in forma pauperis, plaintiff
Maurice Lavell Johnson has filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983
complaint for ten million dollars for punitive and
compensation damages, based on alleged false imprisonment
against a variety of defendants. Doc. 1 at 5-6. The Court now
screens his Complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which
requires the immediate dismissal of any prisoner complaint
that fails to state at least one actionable claim against a
governmental entity or official.
alleges that he was sentenced on February 25, 2019. Doc. 1 at
5. He claims he was sentenced to 30 years and 30 days to
serve in confinement with 29 years, 11 months suspended with
credit for time served. Id. According to plaintiff,
he should have been released on February 25, 2019, but was
apparently not released until at least the next day.
Id. He alleges that when he was returned to the
prison and informed Ofc. Joseph and Ofc. Johnson of his
discharge, they contacted records and were told that there
was no confirmation of his discharge. Id. Ostensibly
because he was upset by this circumstance, he was transferred
from the infirmary to lockdown by Lt. Keys. Id.
However, he was also told by Lt. Blanklin that someone would
check on his situation. Id. He claims that this
error occurred because Ms. Mosley failed to make sure that
the Clerk of Court had a copy of the disposition. He also
alleges that two public defenders Martin and Byrne failed to
make sure that the disposition was conveyed to staff at the
prison. Doc. 1 at 5. Based on the allegations in the
complaint, plaintiff was held for at least one day after
February 25. Id.
does not include a fully developed legal theory supporting
his claim. Instead, he asserts he suffered from anxiety and
depression from “not knowing if I was going to be
released or when.” Doc. 1 at 5. In order to establish a
cognizable claim for unlawful detention under § 1983,
plaintiff must allege facts showing the elements of common
law false imprisonment: (1) intent to confine, (2) acts
resulting in confinement, and (3) consciousness of the victim
of confinement or resulting harm. Ortega v.
Christian, 85 F.3d 1521, 1526 (11th Cir. 1996).
Plaintiff must further establish that the imprisonment
resulted in a violation of his substantive due process rights
under the Fourteenth Amendment.
have recognized that incarceration beyond the sentence
imposed can constitute a violation of the Eighth
Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment,
see e.g., Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1108 (3rd
Cir. 1989) (“We think there can be no doubt that
imprisonment beyond one's term constitutes punishment
within the meaning of the eighth amendment.”), or a
deprivation of liberty without due process in violation of
the Fourteenth Amendment. See, e.g., West v.
Tillman, 496 F.3d 1321, 1327 (11th Cir. 2007) (citing
Cannon v. Macon County, 1 F.3d 1558, 1562-63 (11th
Cir. 1993)). However, both theories require that a particular
official was deliberately indifferent to the violation.
See Sample, 885 F.2d at 1110 (“we hold that
there can be no eighth amendment liability . . . in the
absence of a showing of deliberate indifference on the part
of the defendant . . .”); West, 496 F.3d at
1327 (“To establish [a due process violation],
Plaintiffs must show that Defendants acted with deliberate
indifference to Plaintiffs' due process rights.”).
The deliberate indifference element of both theories implies
that mere error is insufficient to establish a violation.
Sample, 885 F.2d at 1108-09 (“unforeseeable
accidents or inadvertent mistakes may occur during
imprisonment, resulting in harms to inmates. Such accidents
or mistakes are a necessary cost of any prison system; they
therefore are not ‘repugnant to the conscience of
mankind,' [cit.] and do not violate the eighth
amendment.” (citations omitted)); West, 496
F.3d at 1327 (“Human error does not equal deliberate
has alleged nothing that suggests that the officers he
notified of his supposed release were deliberately
indifferent, even if they had sufficient knowledge. His
allegations suggest that they-at worst- commited mere error.
See doc. 1. Whether construed as alleging either a
violation of the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendment, Johnson must
allege that a particular defendant was deliberately
indifferent to his detention. See Sample, 855 F.2d
at 1110 (to establish an Eighth Amendment violation, “a
plaintiff must first demonstrate that a prison official had
knowledge of the prisoner's problem and thus of the risk
that unwarranted punishment was being, or would be,
inflicted. Second, the plaintiff must show that the official
either failed to act or took only ineffectual action under
circumstances indicating that his or her response to the
problem was a product of deliberate indifference to the
prisoner's plight. Finally, the plaintiff must
demonstrate a causal connection between the official's
response to the problem and the infliction of the unjustified
detention.”). These essential allegations must be
factual; i.e. it is not enough for Johnson
to merely assert that “some” official had the
requisite knowledge and failed to act - he must point to some
fact that shows it. See, e.g., Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (a pleading is insufficient if it
offers no more than “naked assertions devoid of further
factual enhancement.” (quotations, alterations, and
citation omitted); Hall v. Smith, 170 Fed.Appx. 105,
107-108 (11th Cir. 2006) (explaining “vague and
conclusory allegations” are not sufficient to state a
claim requiring allegation of deliberate indifference).
Johnson alleges that he informed various officers of the
error, he also asserts that they attempted to clarify the
accuracy of his statements-and indeed-appeared to receive
confirmation regarding Johnson's continuing incarceration
from Records. Doc. 1 at 5. Moreover, at least one of the
officers checked up on his statements at a later date
potentially-although it is unclear from the
Complaint-resulting in his release the next day. Id.
Accordingly, the allegations plaintiff makes establish that
the officers who were, at least, presumptively aware of his
plight did not intentionally disregard it. In the absence of
any sufficient allegation of deliberate indifference, Johnson
fails to state a viable claim against the named officers.
claims against the remaining defendants; Sheriff Wilcher,
Tammie Mosley, Meg Heap, Todd Martin, James Byrne, and Judge
John Morse should also be dismissed. District Attorney Meg
Heap is absolutely immune from § 1983 liability where
her alleged malfeasance stemmed entirely from her
“function as an advocate.” Jones v.
Cannon, 174 F.3d 1271, 1281 (11th Cir. 1999)
(“[A]bsolute immunity extends to a prosecutor's
‘acts undertaken . . .in preparing for the initiation
of judicial proceedings or for trial, and which occur in the
course of his role as an advocate for the State. . . .'
”), see Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 431
(1976); Jackson v. Capraun, 534 Fed.Appx. 854, 859
(11th Cir. 2013) (prosecutor entitled to absolute immunity
for initiating prosecution even if he did so with malicious
intent). Likewise, defense counsel, whether court-appointed
or privately retained, does not qualify as a state actor for
purposes of § 1983 liability. Polk Cty. v.
Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 318 n. 7 (1981) (“[A] lawyer
representing a client is not, by virtue of being an officer
of the court, a state actor ‘under color of state
law' within the meaning of § 1983); Pearson v.
Myles, 186 Fed.Appx. 865, 865 (11th Cir. 2006)
(court-appointed defense counsel did not act under color of
state law and thus was not subject to liability under §
1983); Deas v. Potts, 547 F.2d 800, 800 (4th Cir.
1976) (“A private attorney who is retained to represent
a criminal defendant is not acting under color of state
law.”), cited in Robinson v. Bernie, 2007 WL
80870 at *1 (S.D. Ga. Jan 8, 2007). Accordingly, claims
against Meg Heap, Todd Martin, and James Byrne are dead on
judges, like Judge Morse, are absolutely immune from civil
liability for acts taken pursuant to their judicial
authority, see, e.g., Forrester v. White, 484 U.S.
219, 227-229 (1988), even when the judicial acts were done
maliciously or corruptly. Stump v.
Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356 (1978) (recognizing as a
“well established” principle of law “of the
highest importance” that “judges of courts of
superior or general jurisdiction are not liable to civil
actions for their judicial acts, even when such acts are in
excess of their jurisdiction, and are alleged to have been
done maliciously or corruptly.”); Harris v.
Deveaux, 780 F.2d 911, 914 (11th Cir. 1986). To the
extent that plaintiff seeks to sue Judge Morse in his
official capacity, his claim also founders on the Eleventh
Amendment. See Simmons v. Conger, 86 F.3d 1080, 1084
(11th Cir. 1996) (district court erred in awarding damages
against state court judge “in his official capacity,
given that such relief is barred by the Eleventh
Amendment”). The question of liability in their
individual capacity, however, is more complicated.
individual liability depends upon the application of a
two-part test. Simmons, 86 F.3d at 1084. The first
part of the test requires determination of “whether the
judge dealt with the plaintiff in a judicial capacity.”
Id. If not, “then there is no immunity.”
Id. at 1085. “If the judge was dealing with
the plaintiff in his judicial capacity, however, the second
part of the test is whether the judge acted in the clear
absence of all jurisdiction.” Id. (quotes and
cite omitted). Only judicial acts “in the clear absence
of jurisdiction” can support a judge's individual
liability. Id. The distinction between judicial acts
“lacking jurisdiction, ” for which a judge might
be individually liable, and those merely exceeding his
jurisdiction, which will not, is often subtle. Nothing in
plaintiff's Complaint indicates that Judge Morse was
acting in any capacity other than those over which he had
jurisdiction. Accordingly, claims against Judge John Morse
should be DISMISSED.
Wilcher also cannot be sued because § 1983 claims
require an allegation of a causal connection between a
defendant's acts or omissions and the alleged
constitutional deprivation. See Zalter v.
Wainwright, 802 F.2d 397, 401 (11th Cir. 1986). Such
claims cannot be based upon theories of respondeat
superior or vicarious liability. See Polk Cty.,
454 U.S. at 325; Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of
New York, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978); Brown v.
Crawford, 906 F.2d 667, 671 (11th Cir. 1990).
Johnson's statements do not include any allegations
connecting Sheriff Wilcher to his allegedly tortious
confinement beyond merely listing his name on the case
caption. That is not enough to state a claim. See, e.g.,
Ashcrift v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)
(“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not
suffice” to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted.) Accordingly, any claim against Sheriff Wilcher
should be DISMISSED.
the Clerk of Court, Ms. Mosley, cannot be held liable under
§ 1983 because plaintiff does not allege that she had
any intent to confine him beyond the term of his sentence.
Rather, in Georgia, a state prisoner seeking to challenge the
computation of their sentence should file a state petition
for a writ of “mandamus or injunction against the
Commissioner of the Department of Corrections or . . . a
[state] petition for habeas corpus, depending on what point
in time the service of [the prisoner's] sentence any
additional action may be filed.” Maldonado v.
State, 580 S.E.2d 330, 331 (Ga.Ct.App. 2003) (citations
omitted). To the extent plaintiff seeks to file a claim
against Mosely for failure to supervise or negligence, these
are state-law claims. Since the Court determines that no
viable federal claims exist in this case, the Court should
decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any state
claims which could arguably remain. See 28 U.S.C.