Thrash v. McDaniel et al
ORDER finding that Mr. Thrash's complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Accordingly, Mr. Thrash's 2 complaint is dismissed without prejudice. Signed by Judge Kristine G. Baker on 06/02/2014. (rhm)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
ANTHONY FREDERICK THRASH
Case No. 4:13-cv-00732-KGB
DUSTIN McDANIEL, et al.
Plaintiff Anthony Frederick Thrash, an inmate incarcerated by the Arkansas Department
of Correction (“ADC”), has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis in this action filed
pursuant to 42 U.S.C.§ 1983 (Dkt. No. 4). In his complaint, Mr. Thrash alleges that defendants
violated his rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution
by promulgating and enforcing rules and procedures that deny him an adequate and meaningful
opportunity to petition the trial court for a writ of error coram nobis (Dkt. No. 2).
The Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) requires federal courts to screen prisoner
complaints seeking relief against a governmental entity, officer, or employee. 28 U.S.C. §
1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised
claims that: (a) are legally frivolous or malicious; (b) fail to state a claim upon which relief may
be granted; or (c) seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. §
1915A(b). The in forma pauperis statute also imposes these standards for dismissal. 28 U.S.C.
An action is frivolous if “it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Neitzke v.
Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). An action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted if it does not plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).
In reviewing the sufficiency of a pro se complaint under the Court’s screening function,
the Court must give the complaint the benefit of a liberal construction. Estelle v. Gamble, 429
U.S. 97, 106 (1976). The Court also must weigh all factual allegations in favor of the plaintiff,
unless the facts alleged are clearly baseless. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32 (1992).
Although pro se complaints are to be liberally construed, the complaint must allege specific facts
sufficient to state a claim. See Martin v. Sargent, 780 F.2d 1334, 1337 (8th Cir. 1985).
Mr. Thrash was convicted of capital murder in 1985 and is currently incarcerated in the
ADC’s Brickeys unit. The Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed his conviction in 1987. Thrash v.
State, 726 S.W.2d 283 (Ark. 1987). According to Mr. Thrash, in 1998 he received information
that the prosecutor failed to inform him of a plea agreement with Diedra Gaddy, one of the
State’s witnesses, and that the prosecutor knowingly solicited perjured testimony. Because such
claims could only be heard by the trial court on a writ of error coram nobis, he petitioned the
Arkansas Supreme Court to have jurisdiction reinvested with the trial court. See Dansby v. State,
37 S.W.3d 599, 600-01 (Ark. 2001) (“The essence of the writ of error coram nobis is that it is
addressed to the very court which rendered the judgment,” but after judgment is affirmed on
appeal, the trial court may entertain the writ after appeal only if the Arkansas Supreme Court
grants permission and reinvests the trial court with jurisdiction). In his petition, Mr. Thrash
alleged that “the State suppressed exculpatory evidence and knowingly presented false testimony
in order to obtain plaintiff’s conviction.” (Dkt. No. 2, at 5)
The Arkansas Supreme Court denied Mr. Thrash’s petition and explained that, even if
Mr. Thrash had established that there was a hidden plea agreement between Ms. Gaddy and the
State, he had “failed to show that there was actual prejudice to the defense sufficient to constitute
a fundamental error which calls into question the outcome of the trial. Before a writ of error
coram nobis may issue it must appear that the facts as alleged as grounds for its issuance are
such as would have precluded the entry of the judgment had they been available at trial; not that
such facts might have produced a different result.” Thrash v. State, No. CR 86-161, 1999 WL
66683, *1 (Ark. Feb. 11, 1999). Specifically, the Court explained that Mr. Thrash’s attorney had
questioned Ms. Gaddy “about inducements to testify which were granted to her by the State, and
the attorney had Gaddy read aloud to the jury the order granting immunity to her.” Id.
Mr. Thrash states that, in January 2003, Ms. Gaddy provided him an affidavit in which
she attested that, during his trial, she denied having entered into a plea agreement with the State
in exchange for her testimony and that she previously had told several police officers and the
prosecutor that Mr. Thrash was not involved in the underlying crime. With Ms. Gaddy’s
affidavit, Mr. Thrash again petitioned the Arkansas Supreme Court so that jurisdiction could be
reinvested in the trial court. The Arkansas Supreme Court denied Mr. Thrash’s second petition,
explaining that he had not demonstrated that “the prosecutor withheld material evidence” or “that
there was actual prejudice to the defense sufficient to constitute a fundamental error which calls
into question the outcome of the trial.” Thrash v. State, 2003 WL 21299559, *2 (Ark. June 5,
Mr. Thrash states that, several years later, Ms. Gaddy located the letter that she allegedly
received from the prosecutor that contained the terms of the plea agreement as well as a draft of
the plea agreement. For a third time, Mr. Thrash petitioned the Arkansas Supreme Court so that
jurisdiction could be reinvested in the trial court, including the newly discovered evidence, and
asserted a Brady violation.1 Again Mr. Thrash’s petition was denied. Thrash v. State, 2011 WL
913211 (Ark. March 17, 2011).
Although Mr. Thrash alleged that a Brady violation had
occurred, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that alleging such a violation “is not alone sufficient
to provide a basis for error coram nobis relief.” Id. at *3. The court stated that “the defense was
not shown to be prejudiced by the alleged Brady violation, and disclosure of an existing
agreement between the prosecution and Gaddy at trial was simply not likely to have produced a
different result.” Id. at *5.
Mr. Thrash now brings this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his due process
rights, as well as his equal protection rights, were violated. He names as defendants Arkansas
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and the Arkansas Supreme Court Justices. He asks this
Court to prohibit the Arkansas Supreme Court from enforcing the rules and procedures
governing petitions for writ of error coram nobis and to promulgate constitutionally sound
procedures that allow an individual an adequate and meaningful opportunity to bring such claims
in the proper forum. Mr. Thrash specifically states that he does not challenge the legality of his
conviction or sentence, nor does he seek to challenge the decisions made by the Arkansas
In Brady v. Maryland, the United States Supreme Court held “that the suppression by
the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process where the
evidence is material either to guilt or punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of
the prosecution.” 373 U.S. 83, 87 (1963). “The elements of a Brady violation are: ‘The evidence
at issue must be favorable to the accused, either because it is exculpatory, or because it is
impeaching; that evidence must have been suppressed by the State, either willfully or
inadvertently; and prejudice must have ensued.’” United States v. Roy, No. 4:13CR00010 JLH,
2013 WL 5673419, at *5 (E.D. Ark. Oct. 15, 2013) (quoting Strickler v. Greene, 527 U.S. 263,
Supreme Court. After careful examination, this Court determines his claims fail as a matter of
law and must be dismissed.2
To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right
secured by the federal Constitution or laws and must show that the deprivation was committed
by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Cook v. City
of Bella Villa, 582 F.3d 840, 848-49 (8th Cir. 2009). Because § 1983 is a method for vindicating
federal rights, not a source of substantive rights itself, the first step in an action under § 1983 is
to identify the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266,
Due Process Claim
Mr. Thrash claims that the procedures governing petitions for writ of error coram nobis
followed by the Arkansas Supreme Court violate his right to due process under the Fourteenth
Amendment. To establish a procedural due process violation, an individual must establish first
that a protected liberty or property interest is at stake and second that the defendant deprived him
of that interest without due process of law. Schmidt v. Des Moines Public Schools, 655 F.3d 811,
817 (8th Cir. 2011).
Due process is a flexible concept and requires only the procedural protections that a
particular situation demands. Clark v. Kan. City Mo. Sch. Dist., 375 F.3d 698, 702 (8th Cir.
2004) (quoting Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 334 (1976)). The fundamental requirement
Because Mr. Thrash is not seeking review of a state court decision, the RookerFeldman doctrine does not prohibit him from bringing this claim in federal court. See Lemonds
v. St. Louis Cnty, 222 F.3d 488, 492 (8th Cir. 2000) (citing District of Columbia Court of
Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 476 (1983); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 316
of due process is the opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.
Id. (quoting Mathews, 424 U.S. at 333).
“A criminal defendant proved guilty after a fair trial does not have the same liberty
interests as a free man.” Dist. Attorney’s Office v. Osborne, 557 U.S. 52, 68 (2009). Mr. Thrash
acknowledges that “[f]ederal law imposes no obligation on a state to provide the right to a direct
appeal from a judgment of conviction or the right to collateral review of that judgment once it is
final.” Losh v. Fabian, 592 F.3d 820, 824-825 (8th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). He argues,
however, that if a state provides a convicted person collateral review, “due process requires that
the proceeding be fundamentally fair.” (Dkt. No. 2, at 2).
States have flexibility in deciding what procedures are needed in the context of postconviction relief. Osborne, 557 U.S. at 69. “Federal courts may upset a State’s postconviction
relief procedures only if they are fundamentally inadequate to vindicate the substantive rights
Accordingly, Mr. Thrash has the burden of showing that the procedures
governing a petition for writ of error coram nobis “offend some principle of justice so rooted in
the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental,” or “transgress a
recognized principle of fundamental fairness in operation.”
Id. (internal quotation marks
According to Arkansas law, a writ of error coram nobis is an extraordinary remedy that is
rarely granted and is permitted “only under compelling circumstances to achieve justice and to
address errors of the most fundamental nature.” Pitts v. State, 986 S.W.2d 407, 409 (Ark. 1999).
After a conviction has been affirmed, the writ is appropriate only to secure relief from a
judgment when the petitioner can demonstrate that a fundamental error or fact was in existence
that was not or could not have been addressed at trial because it was somehow hidden or
unknown. Cloird v. State, 182 S.W.3d 477, 479 (Ark. 2004); Larimore v. State, 938 S.W.2d 818,
822 (Ark. 1997). “Newly discovered evidence in itself is not a basis for relief under coram
nobis.” Pitts, 986 S.W.2d at 409.
The Arkansas Supreme Court will grant permission for a convicted person to proceed
with a petition for writ of error coram nobis “only when it appears that the proposed attack on
the judgment is meritorious.” Newman v. State, 354 S.W.3d 61, 65 (Ark. 2009). In making
such a determination, the Arkansas Supreme Court “look[s] to the reasonableness of the
allegations of the petition and to the existence of the probability of the truth thereof.” Id.; Echols
v. State, 125 S.W.3d 152, 156 (Ark. 2003). Although Mr. Thrash argues that this process
violates his due process, the United States Supreme Court has held to the contrary.
In Taylor v. State of Alabama, 335 U.S. 252 (1948), a convicted prisoner sought review
of his petition for writ of error coram nobis by the Supreme Court of Alabama. Like Arkansas’s
procedure, under Alabama law, the prisoner had to petition the Alabama Supreme Court to
reinvest jurisdiction in the trial court before the writ could be heard. Id. at 261. The Alabama
Supreme Court denied Mr. Taylor’s petition, and Mr. Taylor sought review by the United States
Supreme Court, claiming that his due process rights had been violated. Id. at 254. The Alabama
procedure for addressing petitions for writs of error coram nobis tested not only whether the
proposed attack would be meritorious but also the reasonableness and probability of truth of the
allegations in the petition. Id. at 262-64. In upholding the procedure used by the Alabama
courts, the Court specifically stated that “the petitioner has no mandatory right to the permission”
and found that “[t]he Supreme Court of Alabama was acting within its constitutional authority
when, in its supervisory capacity over the procedure in the criminal trials of that State, it denied
to petitioner the right to file this petition for writ of error coram nobis.” Id. at 261, 271.
Citing Taylor, the Arkansas Supreme Court has previously addressed and rejected a due
process claim based on the denial of a petition of writ of error coram nobis. See Jenkins v. State,
265 S.W.2d 512, 515 (Ark. 1954) (“On this petition for rehearing[,] appellant’s principal
contention is that a denial of his petition amounts to a denial of due process of law under the U.S.
Constitution. The United States Supreme Court held to the contrary in [Taylor, 335 U.S. 252],
under circumstances more favorable to the defendant than those in the instant case.”).
Here, Mr. Thrash availed himself of this process and sought relief three times. That his
requests for relief were denied does not necessarily imply that he was denied due process.
Although Mr. Thrash claims that the process is unconstitutional as applied and that he was
denied due process, he does not provide any factual basis for his constitutional challenge. He
fails to state how he was denied due process. It is Mr. Thrash’s “burden to demonstrate the
inadequacy of the state-law procedures available to him in state postconviction relief.” Osborne,
557 U.S. at 71. Because he fails to provide any factual basis to support his contention that he
was, in fact, denied procedural due process, he has failed to state a constitutional claim for relief
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Mr. Thrash also claims that he was denied equal protection. An inmate bringing an equal
protection claim must show intentional or purposeful discrimination. See Klinger v. Dep’t. of
Corr., 31 F.3d 727, 733 (8th Cir. 1994). “The heart of an equal protection claim is that similarly
situated inmates were treated differently and that this difference in treatment bore no rational
relationship to any legitimate penal interest.” Weiler v. Purkett, 137 F.3d 1047, 1051 (8th Cir.
1998) (citing Timm v. Gunter, 917 F.2d 1093, 1103 (8th Cir. 1990)). Thus, an equal protection
analysis begins with asking whether the plaintiff alleged facts showing that he was treated
differently from others who were similarly situated. Rouse v. Benson, 193 F.3d 936, 942 (8th
Cir. 1999). Here, Mr. Thrash fails to include any allegations to support an equal protection
claim. As a result, this claim also must be dismissed.
The Court finds that Mr. Thrash’s complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can
be granted. Accordingly, Mr. Thrash’s complaint is dismissed without prejudice pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1915A(b) and 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
IT IS SO ORDERED this 2nd day of June, 2014.
Kristine G. Baker
United States District Judge
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