Williams v. Cooper et al
ORDER DISMISSING CASE for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, § 1915A(b)(1); granting Plaintiff's Application to Proceed IFP. Signed by Chief Judge Robert J. Conrad, Jr on 9/28/2012. (Pro se litigant served by US Mail.) (tmg)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
TOMMIE LEE WILLIAMS,
Z. COOPER, Charlotte Mecklenburg
Police Department, ANDREW
MURRAY, District Attorney,
A. PARKER, Magistrate Judge, JOHN )
DOE, District Court Judge, FNU FREER,)
Attorney, MARTHA H, CURRAN, Clerk )
of Mecklenburg County Courthouse,
THIS MATTER is before the Court on initial review of Plaintiff’s Complaint, filed
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (Doc. No. 1), and on Plaintiff’s Application to Proceed Without
Prepayment of Fees or Costs, (Doc. No. 1-1). First, with regard to Plaintiff’s Motion to Proceed
in forma pauperis, on March 30, 2012, the Court entered an Order waiving the initial filing fee
and directing monthly payments to be made from Plaintiff’s prison account. (Doc. No. 6).
Plaintiff’s application to proceed in forma pauperis is granted.
Pro se Plaintiff Tommie Lee Williams, currently incarcerated in the Mecklenburg County
Jail, filed this action on February 9, 2012, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In his Complaint,
Plaintiff names as Defendants the following individuals: Z. Cooper of the CharlotteMecklenburg Police Department; District Attorney Andrew Murray; Magistrate A. Parker;
District Court Judge John Doe; Attorney FNU Freer; and Mecklenburg County Clerk of Court
Martha H. Curran.
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated numerous of his federal constitutional rights,
beginning with his arrest on November 29, 2011, by Defendant Cooper, identified in the
Complaint as a police officer with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. (Doc. No. 1 at
3-4). Plaintiff alleges that: he was arrested on a “bond warrant,” in which Defendant Cooper
was “the sole complainant to allegations respecting property and said property allegedly
belonging to an entity other than Defendant Cooper.” (Id. at 4); the arrest violated his Fourth
Amendment rights because he was arrested on a warrant that was “not the result of probable
cause findings supported by oath or affirmation of a Grand Jury.” See (Id.); on the day he was
arrested, Defendant Magistrate Parker ordered Plaintiff to be incarcerated in the Mecklenburg
County Jail. (Id.); and, that Defendant Parker knew that Plaintiff had been arrested on a
defective warrant in violation of the Fourth Amendment. See (Id.).
Defendant further alleges that: he made his first appearance on December 1, 2011,
during which Defendant District Court Judge John Doe “fraudulently” assigned counsel to
Plaintiff. (Id. at 5-6); and Defendant Doe knew that the appointment of counsel violated
Plaintiff’s due process rights and was not done in accordance with state statutes and rules. (Id. at
Plaintiff next alleges that on around December 14, 2011, Plaintiff repeatedly told his
appointed defense counsel Defendant Freer that he (Plaintiff) was not a party to any criminal
action, and that Plaintiff had not consented to jurisdiction in the criminal court. (Id. at 7);
Defendant Freer knew at all relevant times that Plaintiff had not consented to appointment of
counsel. (Id.); and that Mecklenburg County Clerk of Court Defendant Curran did not ensure
that an affidavit of indigency was completed and filed in the record as required by North
Carolina state law and the rules of the North Carolina Indigent Defense Services. (Id. at 8-9).
Plaintiff alleges that: Defendants conspired to deprive him of his rights as secured by the
United States Constitution and to defraud the local and state treasuries of the State of North
Carolina. (Doc. No. 1 at 10);Defendants knew that Plaintiff had not “prior to, during, or after the
commencement of the criminal charges waived indictments, or waived the jurisdictional limits in
civil cases, or had in any form or fashion, or other manner entered into any contract with the
state, county, city, or town . . . [f]or the accomplishment of public purposes as would be required
by Article V, Section 2 subsection (7) to the North Carolina State Constitution.” (Id. at 12); at
all times Defendants knew that Plaintiff had not consented to the jurisdiction of the State of
North Carolina through criminal charges. (Id. at 14); and finally he “has become
unconstitutionally subjected to the imprisonment, slavery, and involuntary servitude in that he is
not a party to any criminal action by which security bonds were fraudulently obtained through
borrowing of money by Defendants in criminal proceeding . . . .” (Id.).
In his prayer for relief, Plaintiff asks for, among other things, monetary damages against
all of the named Defendants; that Defendants be disbarred from practice or removed from public
office; and that Defendants should be criminally investigated for defrauding state and local
treasuries. (Id. at 17).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court must review the Complaint
to determine whether it is subject to dismissal on the grounds that it is “frivolous or malicious
[or] fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Furthermore,
§ 1915A requires an initial review of a “complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks
redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity,” and the
court must identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint,
if the complaint is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted; or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.
In its frivolity review, this Court must determine whether the Complaint raises an
indisputably meritless legal theory or is founded upon clearly baseless factual contentions, such
as fantastic or delusional scenarios. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989).
Furthermore, a pro se complaint must be construed liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519,
520 (1972). However, the liberal construction requirement will not permit a district court to
ignore a clear failure to allege facts in his Complaint which set forth a claim that is cognizable
under federal law. Weller v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990).
The Court will dismiss this action first on immunity grounds. Some of the named
Defendants enjoy absolute immunity from suit or are private individuals not acting under color
of state law for the purpose of an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. As to the
remaining claims and Defendants, Plaintiff fails to state a cognizable claim in this § 1983 action.
Defendants Magistrate Judge A. Parker and District Court Judge “John Doe”
Defendants Magistrate Judge A. Parker and District Court Judge “John Doe” are immune
from suit under the doctrine of judicial immunity. See Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 419
(1976) (stating that judicial “immunity applies even when the judge is accused of acting
maliciously and corruptly, and it is not for the protection or benefit of a malicious or corrupt
judge, but for the benefit of the public, whose interest it is that the judges should be at liberty to
exercise their functions with independence and without fear of consequences”) (internal
quotations omitted). Thus, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff’s claims against Defendants
Magistrate Judge A. Parker and District Court Judge “John Doe.”
District Attorney Murray
Defendant Murray is the District Attorney for Mecklenburg County and a state official.
Plaintiff’s claims that Murray violated his federal constitutional rights are barred by the Eleventh
Amendment to the United States Constitution and by the district attorney’s absolute immunity.
See Nivens v. Gilchrist, 444 F.3d 237, 248 (4th Cir. 2006) (claims against district attorney in his
official capacity are barred by the Eleventh Amendment and in his individual capacity by the
doctrine of prosecutorial immunity). Because Murray is a state official, an action for monetary
damages against him in his official capacity would have an adverse impact on the State and is
therefore barred by the Eleventh Amendment. See Nivens, 444 F.3d at 250; see also Kentucky
v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985) (noting that the government entity is “the real party in
interest” in an official capacity suit).
As for any claim by Plaintiff for monetary damages against Murray in his individual
capacity, “prosecutors enjoy absolute immunity from civil suits for damages for actions taken
while performing traditional prosecutorial duties.” Puckett v. Carter, 454 F. Supp. 2d 448, 452
(M.D.N.C. 2006) (citing Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409 (1976)). In Imbler, the Supreme
Court held that in “initiating a prosecution and in presenting the State’s case, the prosecutor is
immune from a civil suit for damages under § 1983.” 424 U.S. at 430. The Court explained that
prosecutors should be afforded absolute immunity when their “activities were intimately
associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process.” Id. Here, Plaintiff has not alleged
that Murray was acting outside the scope of his prosecutorial duties in this case. In sum, the
Court will dismiss Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant Murray.
Defendant Mecklenburg County Clerk of Court Curran
Next, the doctrine of quasi-judicial immunity bars recovery against Clerk of Court
Curran. Court clerks are accorded derivative absolute immunity when they act in obedience to
judicial order or under the court’s direction. See, e.g., Pink v. Lester, 52 F.3d 73, 77 (4th Cir.
1995); McCray v. Maryland, 456 F.2d 1, 5 (4th Cir. 1972). Here, there are no allegations that
Clerk of Court Curran did anything other than act in obedience to a judicial order or under the
court’s direction when she processed an affidavit of indigency on behalf of the state district
court. The doctrine of quasi-judicial immunity therefore shields Defendant Curran from suit,
and Plaintiff’s claims against her are dismissed on this ground. See Hedgepeth v. Wilkes C., No.
3:12-cv-262-RJC, 2012 WL 2092853, at *14-16 (W.D.N.C. June 11, 2012) (dismissing
plaintiff's section 1983 claims against county clerk in her official and individual capacities based
on quasi-judicial immunity). In sum, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant
Defendant Defense Counsel Freer
Next, Defendant Freer is entitled to dismissal because no action will lie under § 1983
against a defense attorney, whether privately retained, court-appointed, or a public defender.
Defense counsel does not act under color of state law when performing the traditional functions
of counsel. See Polk Cnty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 318 (1981) (explaining that it is well
understood that “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”); see also Hall v. Quillen,
631 F.2d 1154 (4th Cir. 1980) (dismissal of § 1983 complaint affirmed where claims against
court-appointed attorney lacked necessary “state action” requirement); Deas v. Potts, 547 F.2d
800 (4th Cir. 1976) (affirming dismissal of § 1983 action against retained counsel). In sum, the
Court will dismiss Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant Freer.
Finally, as to Defendant Cooper, Plaintiff claims that Defendant Cooper violated his
Fourth Amendment rights by issuing a “bond warrant” which named Cooper “as the sole
complainant to allegations respecting property and said property allegedly belonging to an entity
other than Defendant Cooper,” and that the warrant was “not the result of probable cause
findings supported by oath or affirmation of a Grand Jury.” (Doc. No. 1 at 4).
Plaintiff fails to state a claim against Defendant Cooper. First, police officers need not
secure an indictment before requesting an arrest warrant from a judicial officer. Second, law
enforcement officers are encouraged “to seek warrants because magistrates from their detached
perspective serve as the essential ‘checkpoint between the Government and the citizen.’ When a
police officer protects a suspect’s rights by obtaining a warrant from a neutral magistrate, the
officer should, in turn, receive some protection from suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” Torchinsky
v. Siwinski, 942 F.2d 257, 262 (4th Cir. 1991) (quoting Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204,
212 (1981)). It is only where an officer, “deliberately or ‘with reckless disregard for the truth’
makes material false statements or omits materials facts” from a warrant affidavit that the officer
becomes liable for a Fourth Amendment violation. Miller v. Prince George’s Cnty., Md., 475
F.3d 621, 631 (4th Cir. 2007) (quoting Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154, 155 (1978)). Here,
Plaintiff does not allege that Cooper’s representations were false or that Cooper made any other
false statement or omitted any material fact from the warrant for Plaintiff’s arrest. Thus,
Plaintiff fails to state a claim against Defendant Cooper.
Plaintiff’s Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, names as
Defendants individuals who are not subject to suit under § 1983, and seeks monetary damages
against individuals who enjoy immunity from suit. Plaintiff’s Complaint will therefore be
IT IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED that:
Plaintiff’s Application to Proceed Without Prepayment of Fees or Costs, (Doc.
No. 1-1), is GRANTED.
Plaintiff’s Complaint, (Doc. No. 1), is DISMISSED for failure to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted, § 1915A(b)(1), and because his Complaint
seeks monetary relief against defendants who are immune from such relief, §
Signed: September 28, 2012