Smith v. Mansfield et al

Filing 7

ORDER dismissing action without prejudice. Ordered by Judge Hugh Lawson on 11/29/2010. (nbp)

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Smith v. Mansfield et al Doc. 7 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F O R THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA M A C O N DIVISION RONALD EUGENE SMITH, : : P la in tiff : : V S. : : M A R C MANSFIELD; : F R A N C IS T. JARVIS; : A S H L E Y TODD CROSBY; : G E O R G IA BUREAU OF : IN V E S T IG A T IO N , : : D e fe n d a n ts : __________________________________ C IV IL ACTION NO: 5:10-CV-325(HL) ORDER P la in tiff RONALD EUGENE SMITH, an inmate at Hancock State Prison in Sparta, Georgia, has filed a pro se civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. 1983. I. REQUEST TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS P la in tiff also sought leave to proceed in forma pauperis. The Court granted this m o tio n but ordered that he pay an initial partial filing fee. Plaintiff has paid that fee. Hereafter, plaintiff will be required to make monthly payments of 20% of the deposits m a d e to his prisoner account during the preceding month toward the full filing fee. The a g e n c y having custody of plaintiff shall forward said payments from plaintiff's account to th e clerk of the court each time the amount in the account exceeds $10.00 until the filing fees a re paid. 28 U.S.C.1915(b)(2). The clerk of court is directed to send a copy of this Order to the business manager and the warden of the institution where plaintiff is confined. II. STANDARD OF REVIEW Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1915A(a), a federal court is required to conduct an initial s c re e n in g of a prisoner complaint "which seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity." Section 1915A(b) requires a federal court to dismiss a prisoner complaint that is: (1) "frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which re lie f may be granted"; or (2) "seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from s u c h relief." A claim is frivolous when it appears from the face of the complaint that the factual a lle g a tio n s are "clearly baseless" or that the legal theories are "indisputably meritless." C a r r o ll v. Gross, 984 F.2d 392, 393 (11th Cir. 1993). A complaint fails to state a claim when it does not include "enough factual matter (taken as true)" to "give the defendant fair notice o f what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests[.]" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. T w o m b ly , 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007) (noting that "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level," and that the complaint "must contain s o m e th in g more . . . than ... a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally c o g n iz a b le right of action") (internal quotations and citations omitted); see also Ashcroft v. I q b a l, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (explaining that "threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice"). In making the above determinations, all factual allegations in the complaint must be v ie w e d as true. Brown v. Johnson, 387 F.3d 1344, 1347 (11th Cir. 2004). Moreover, "[p]ro s e pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys and will, th e re fo re , be liberally construed." Tannenbaum v. United States, 148 F.3d 1262, 1263 (11th C ir. 1998). In order to state a claim for relief under 1983, a plaintiff must allege that: (1) an act o r omission deprived him of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or a statute of the United States; and (2) the act or omission was committed by a person acting 2 under color of state law. Hale v. Tallapoosa County, 50 F.3d 1579, 1581 (11th Cir. 1995). If a litigant cannot satisfy these requirements, or fails to provide factual allegations in support o f his claim or claims, then the complaint is subject to dismissal. See Chappell v. Rich, 340 F .3 d 1279, 1282-84 (11th Cir. 2003) (affirming the district court's dismissal of a 1983 c o m p la in t because the plaintiff's factual allegations were insufficient to support the alleged c o n s titu tio n a l violation). See also 28 U.S.C. 1915A(b) (dictating that a complaint, or any p o r tio n thereof, that does not pass the standard in 1915A "shall" be dismissed on p re lim in a ry review). III. STATEMENT AND ANALYSIS OF PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS In January 2010, plaintiff was convicted of malic murder, felony murder, aggravated a s s a u lt, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, possession of a firearm b y a convicted felon, and tampering with evidence. Plaintiff maintains that his defense at tria l was that the victim's death was accidental due to a malfunctioning rifle. However, the G e o rg ia Bureau of Investigation ("GBI") report stated that the alleged murder weapon (R e m in g to n Model 742 Woodmaster 30-06 rifle) worked properly. According to plaintiff, G B I agents reached this result only because they sprayed "down the alleged murder weapon . . . with a lubricant before the weapon was tested." Plaintiff alleges that GBI agents M a n s fie ld and Crosby failed to present exculpatory evidence and this denied him a fu n d a m e n ta lly fair trial. Plaintiff states as follows: "Being that the weapon failed to work p ro p e rly at the time of the accident, had the GBI agents not failed in preserving it, it would h a v e proved the plaintiff's defense, and exonerated him of the crime of murder." Plaintiff seeks damages, "removal of life sentence," to be "exonerated of . . . murder," 3 and to have a new trial. A change in sentence, exoneration, or the grant of a new trial are not remedies that are a v a ila b le in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action. Preiser v. Rodriquez, 411 U.S. 475 (1973). These a re remedies that can be obtained only through a 28 U.S.C. 2254 habeas corpus action. However, prior to filing a habeas corpus in federal district court, plaintiff must first exhaust a ll available state court remedies. Following exhaustion, he may file a federal habeas corpus a n d seek to have his conviction and/or sentence set aside or otherwise modified. T h is leaves plaintiff's claim for damages. However, any claims against the GBI and a g a in s t the GBI agents in their official capacities must be dismissed. A state agency (the G B I in this case) and its agents, acting in their official capacities, are not suable persons u n d e r 1983 for retrospective compensatory relief. Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 4 9 1 U.S. 58 (1989). Therefore, plaintiff is left with a claim for damages against the GBI agents in their in d iv id u a ls capacities. However, this claim is barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1 9 9 4 ). In Heck, the Supreme Court held that: [I]n order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or im p ris o n m e n t, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would re n d e r a conviction or sentence invalid, a 1983 plaintiff must prove that the c o n v ic tio n or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by e x e c u tiv e order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such d e te rm in a tio n , or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of h a b e a s corpus, 28 U.S.C. 2254. Id. at 486-87. In other words, a prisoner cannot bring a 1983 action that would invalidate a s e n te n c e or conviction unless the sentence or conviction in question has previously been in v a lid a te d . Such an action, if brought prior to invalidation of the conviction or sentence 4 challenged, must therefore be dismissed as premature. Id. at 2372. In the case at bar, plaintiff's allegations that the agents withheld exculpatory evidence 1 a n d denied him a fundamentally fair trial, if proven, may invalidate his conviction or s e n te n c e . In fact, plaintiff even states that he would be exonerated of the crime of murder if defendants had not altered the weapon and then presented testimony that the weapon w o rk e d properly. Because plaintiff has not demonstrated that he has appealed his conviction in the state courts or that his conviction has been reversed, expunged, set aside, or called into q u e s tio n by the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, Heck bars all of plaintiff's claims that w o u ld necessarily call into question his conviction or sentence. Plaintiff must return to the a p p ro p ria te court and attempt to invalidate his conviction or sentence and, if he should s u c c e e d , he may then institute an action for damages under 1983 in federal court. B a se d on these findings, plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 action must be DISMISSED W I T H O U T PREJUDICE. SO ORDERED, this 29th day of November, 2010. s / Hugh Lawson HUGH LAWSON U N IT E D STATES DISTRICT JUDGE ln b T h e Court also notes that to any extent plaintiff claims the GBI agents presented false testimony, th e agents would have absolute immunity for any testimony given during the judicial proceedings. Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325 (1983)(holding that witnesses, including police officers, are protected by a b s o lu te immunity, even if the witness gives perjured testimony). 1 5 6

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