State of Alabama v. Pearson (JOINT ASSIGN)
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER that this case is REMANDED to the District Court of Dale County, Alabama, and Mr. Pearson's pending 2 Motion to Proceed in forma pauperis is DENIED as moot. The Clerk of the Court is DIRECTED to take the steps necessary to effectuate the remand. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 6/3/2015. Copy mailed to Clerk, Circuit Court of Dale County.(dmn, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
STATE OF ALABAMA,
CASE NO. 1:15-CV-246-WKW
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This action is before the court on Defendant Lorenzo Pearson’s removal of a
criminal case currently pending against him in the District Court of Dale County,
Alabama. Mr. Pearson seeks to remove the action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1443.
Pursuant to § 1443:
Any of the following civil actions or criminal prosecutions,
commenced in a State court may be removed by the defendant to the
district court of the United States for the district and division
embracing the place wherein it is pending:
(1) Against any person who is denied or cannot enforce in the
courts of such State a right under any law providing for the equal civil
rights of citizens of the United States, or of all persons within the
(2) For any act under color of authority derived from any law
providing for equal rights, or for refusing to do any act on the ground
that it would be inconsistent with such law.
28 U.S.C. § 1443.
When a defendant seeks the removal of a state-court
prosecution, the district court is required to “examine the notice promptly” to
determine whether removal is appropriate, and, if it “clearly appears on the face of
the notice and any exhibits annexed thereto that removal should not be permitted,
the court shall make an order for summary remand.” § 1455(b)(4).
The Supreme Court addressed the scope of removal under § 1443 in Georgia
v. Rachel, 384 U.S. 780 (1966), and articulated the two-pronged test that still
controls today. First, a defendant must show “that the right upon which [he]
rel[ies] is a ‘right under any law providing for . . . equal civil rights.’” Id. at 788
(quoting § 1443(1)). Second, the defendant must show that he is “‘denied or
cannot enforce’ that right” in the state court in which the action currently sits. Id.
Mr. Pearson argues that the State’s prosecution of him has resulted in the
denial of his rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and 18 U.S.C. § 245, as well as under
the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. As to Mr. Pearson’s reliance upon
18 U.S.C. § 245 and the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments, these rights do
not fall within the scope of § 1443(1), as they provide rights of “general
application available to all persons or citizens,” and § 1443(1) only encompasses
those rights which “‘provid[e] for specific civil rights stated in terms of racial
equality.’” Alabama v. Conley, 245 F.3d 1292, 1295–96 (11th Cir. 2001) (quoting
Rachel, 384 U.S. at 792). Mr. Pearson’s allegation of the violation of his rights
afforded under § 1981, however, would support a valid claim for removal under §
Id. at 1296.
Because, as the Supreme Court explained in City of
Greenwood, Mississippi v. Peacock, 384 U.S. 808, 825 (1966), § 1981 is a statute
“providing for ‘equal civil rights’ within the meaning of § 1443(1).”
Despite meeting prong one of the test provided in Rachel v. Georgia, the
removal petition fails because Mr. Pearson is unable to meet Rachel’s second
“Generally, the denial of the petitioner’s equal civil rights must be
‘manifest in a formal expression of state law.’” Conley, 245 F.3d at 1296 (quoting
Rachel, 384 U.S. at 803).
As the Eleventh Circuit has explained, “[t]his
requirement ensures that removal is available only in cases where the denial of the
right can be clearly predicted and avoids involving federal judges in ‘the unseemly
process of prejudging their brethren of the state courts.’” Id. (quoting Rachel, 384
U.S. at 803–04). Mr. Pearson’s pending state-court prosecution is for illegally
committing theft of water in violation of Alabama Code § 13-8-23, and there is no
contention that Alabama’s theft of water provision is not facially neutral.
The Supreme Court has created a narrow exception to allow the removal of
an action grounded upon the violation of a facially neutral law “if the very act of
bringing the state court proceedings will constitute a denial of the rights conferred”
by the applicable federal statute. Id. To fall within this exception, however, it is
not enough to allege that one’s civil rights have been “illegally and corruptly”
denied prior to trial, “that the charges are false, or that the defendant is unable to
obtain a fair trial in a particular state court.” City of Greenwood, 384 U.S. at 827.
As the Supreme Court has highlighted, it is insufficient to rely solely upon
allegations as to the underlying motives of the charging officers or other applicable
parties, because such motives do not necessitate that a defendant will be found
guilty in state court if he is innocent “or that in any other manner the defendant
will be ‘denied or cannot enforce in the courts’ of the State any right under a
federal law providing for equal civil rights.” Id. (quoting § 1443(1)). Unlike
Rachel, in which the defendants were prosecuted in state court despite being
immunized from suit by the federal right relied upon, the vindication of Mr.
Pearson’s federal rights are appropriately left to the state court because those rights
are not being denied by the mere act of bringing him to trial. See Rachel, 384 U.S.
at 804; Conley, 245 F.3d at 1298 (“In Rachel, it was only because section 203(c) of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964 expressly immunized the defendants from prosecution
[for the applicable activity] . . . that ‘the mere pendency of the prosecution
enable[d] the federal court to make the clear prediction that the defendants w[ould]
be ‘denied or c[ould] enforce in the courts of (the) State’ the right to be free of any
‘attempt to punish’ them for [the] protected activity.”).
Based on the foregoing analysis, it is ORDERED that this case is
REMANDED to the District Court of Dale County, Alabama, and Mr. Pearson’s
pending motion to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. # 2) is DENIED as moot.
The Clerk of the Court is DIRECTED to take the steps necessary to
effectuate the remand.
DONE this 3rd day of June, 2015.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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