JAMES v. BUTTS COUNTY GEORGIA
ORDER OF DISMISSAL. Plaintiff's complaint is DISMISSED without prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The Clerk's office is DIRECTED to terminate Butts County as the Defendant and is DIRECTED to show William A. Fears, Anthony Codwell, Artist Singleton, Jonathon Adams, and Timothy C. Ward as Defendants as named in Plaintiff's recast complaint. Ordered by CHIEF DISTRICT JUDGE MARC T TREADWELL on 10/14/2020. (kat)
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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
ROBERT R. JAMES,
WILLIAM A. FEARS,
TIMOTHY C. WARD,
Plaintiff Robert R. James, a prisoner currently confined in Wheeler Correctional
Facility, filed a complaint on March 17, 2020 seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ECF
No. 1. The United States Magistrate Judge reviewed the complaint and found that Plaintiff
failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. ECF No. 14. The deficiencies
in the original complaint were noted and Plaintiff was permitted to file a recast complaint.
Id. Plaintiff was also granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Id. Plaintiff filed his
recast complaint on August 26, 2020. ECF No. 15.
Because Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, his
Plaintiff was informed that his recast complaint would take the place of his original complaint. ECF No.
14. In his recast, Plaintiff does not name Butts County, Georgia as the Defendant, but rather, he names
William A. Fears, Anthony Codwell, Artist Singleton, Jonathon Adams, and Timothy C. Ward as
Defendants. ECF No. 15 at 1, 3. The Clerk’s office is DIRECTED to terminate Butts County as the
Defendant and is DIRECTED to show William A. Fears, Anthony Codwell, Artist Singleton, Jonathon
Adams, and Timothy C. Ward as Defendants as named in Plaintiff’s recast complaint. Id.
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complaint is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.
Preliminary Review of Plaintiff’s Complaint
A. Standard of Review
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), a federal court is required to conduct an initial
screening of a prisoner complaint that “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 relief may be granted”; or (2) “seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is
immune from such relief.”
A claim is frivolous when it appears from the face of the complaint that the factual
allegations are “clearly baseless” or that the legal theories are “indisputably meritless.”
Carroll 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 of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests[.]” Bell Atlantic Corp.
v. Twombly, 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
something more . . . than … a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a
legally cognizable right of action”) (internal quotations and citations omitted); see also
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (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
viewed as true. Brown v. Johnson, 387 F.3d 1344, 1347 (11th Cir. 2004). Moreover, “[p]ro
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se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys and
will, therefore, be liberally construed.” Tannenbaum v. United States, 148 F.3d 1262, 1263
(11th Cir. 1998).
In order to state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that: (1) an
act or 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 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 of his claim or claims, then the complaint is subject to dismissal. See Chappell
v. Rich, 340 F.3d 1279, 1282-84 (11th Cir. 2003) (affirming the district court’s dismissal
of a section 1983 complaint because the plaintiff’s factual allegations were insufficient to
support the alleged constitutional violation). See also 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b) (dictating that
a complaint, or any portion thereof, that does not pass the standard in section 1915A “shall”
be dismissed on preliminary review).
Plaintiff’s §1983 claims against Defendants William A. Fears and
Plaintiff states that Superior Court Judge William A. Fears and District Attorney
Jonathan Adams violated he Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments when they refused to
“drop charges and release” Plaintiff. 2 ECF No. 15 at 4. Plaintiff seeks money damages
In the Magistrate Judge’s July 29, 2020 Order, Plaintiff was specifically informed that Heck v. Humphrey,
512 U.S. 477 (1994) barred litigants from seeking damages for an allegedly unlawful conviction and
subsequent confinement unless the conviction has been overturned. ECF No. 14 at 5-6. Plaintiff was
further informed that the appropriate cause of action for contesting his conviction or sentence was a petition
for writ of habeas corpus and not a § 1983 action. Id.
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and to be released from incarceration. Id. at 5.
Release from custody is not a remedy that is available in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action.
Preiser v. Rodriquez, 411 U.S. 475, 389, 489, 499 n.14 (1973). To the extent that Plaintiff
seeks damages, his claims are barred by the doctrine set forth in Heck v. Humphrey, 512
U.S. 477 (1994). Under Heck, “when a state prisoner seeks damages in a § 1983 suit, the
district court must consider whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily
imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence.” Id. at 486. If a favorable judgment
would render a conviction or sentence invalid, the claim is not cognizable under § 1983
and must be dismissed unless the conviction or sentence has been invalidated. Id.
The Eleventh Circuit has explained that “as long as it is possible that a [section]
1983 suit would not negate the underlying conviction, then the suit is not Heck-barred.”
Dyer v. Lee, 488 F.3d 876, 879-880 (11th Cir. 2007). On the other hand, where success in
a § 1983 suit “would necessarily negate one of the elements of the underlying offense;
under those circumstances a conviction would not stand, as a matter of law,” and the suit
would be barred under Heck. Id. at 880.
According to Plaintiff, the Judge presiding over proceedings violated Plaintiff’s
constitutional rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. ECF 15 at 5. Success
on these claims would necessarily imply the invalidity of Plaintiff’s conviction or sentence.
See e.g. Trupei v. United States., 304 F. App’x 776, 784 (11th Cir. 2008) (per curiam)
(claims Heck-barred where plaintiff’s challenged his conviction though an overall
contention that he was improperly indicted, tried, and convicted); Cobb v. Florida., 293
F. App’x 708, 709 (11th Cir. 2008) (finding due process challenge to probation revocation
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proceedings barred by Heck).
Only after Plaintiff’s “conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal,
expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such
determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas
corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254” may Plaintiff recover damages in a § 1983 action. Heck, 512
U.S. at 487. It is clear from Plaintiff’s complaint that he remains confined pursuant to the
proceedings he challenges and his conviction or sentence has not been invalidated or
otherwise been called into question through appropriate proceedings. Therefore, this claim
must be dismissed under Heck. Id.
Judge William Fears and District Attorney Jonathan Adams, who were involved in
Plaintiff’s conviction proceedings, are also entitled to judicial and prosecutorial immunity
from suit. “Judges are entitled to absolute immunity from suits for acts performed while
they are acting in their judicial capacity unless they acted in ‘complete absence of all
jurisdiction.’” Allen v. Fla., 458 F. App’x 841, 843 (11th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (citing
Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9 (1991)). “Immunity applies even when the judge’s acts are in
error, malicious, or in excess of his or her jurisdiction.” Id. (citing Bolin v. Story, 225 F.3d
1234, 1239 (11th Cir. 2000)). “This immunity applies to proceedings under 42 U.S.C. §
1983.” Wahl v. McIver, 773 F.2d 1169, 1172 (11th Cir. 1985) (per curiam) (citing Pierson
v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554 (1967)).
In this case, Plaintiff complains that Judge Fears inappropriately refused to dismiss
his charges and release him. ECF No. 15 at 4. The acts of which Plaintiff complains
constitute judicial acts normally performed by a judge in his or her judicial capacity.
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Defendant Fears is, therefore, entitled to judicial immunity.
Plaintiff refers to Defendant Adams as “the District Attorney which is handling
Butts County legal cases.” Id. Plaintiff complains that “Adams and those under him…
refuse[d] to drop charges and release” Plaintiff. Id. Because these actions stem from the
prosecutor’s function as advocate, Defendant Adams is entitled to immunity.
A prosecutor enjoys absolute immunity from allegations stemming from the
prosecutor's function as advocate. Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 273 (1993).
Likewise, prosecutors enjoy absolute immunity for the initiation and pursuit of criminal
prosecution. Jones v. Cannon, 174 F.3d 1271, 1281 (11th Cir. 1999) (quoting Imbler v.
Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409 (1976)). Such absolute 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." Id. (citing Buckley at 273); See
also Mastroianni v. Bowers, 173 F.3d 1363 (11th Cir.1999).
Plaintiff’s §1983 claims against Defendants Artist Singletary and
Plaintiff states that in June 2019, he was placed in disinfected/sterilized cell.
Plaintiff complains that the cell was “unfit for human living at all” and that “the way the
cell smelled and the condition of the cell was inhumane.” ECF No. 15 at 9. Plaintiff states
his placement in that cell was due to an incident in the dorm related to gang members and
Plaintiff had not participated in that incident (as validated by video, a sergeant, and a
lieutenant). Id. Plaintiff complains he was still held in “the heat of segregation…after
being told he was no longer a suspect.” Id.
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Plaintiff was later released from segregation and transferred by bus to Wheeler
Correctional Facility. Id. at 9-10. During the transfer, the bus he was on overheated and
broke down “in the heat of the sweltering summer.” Id. at 10. Officers on the transport
detail had loaded firearms and live ammunition “that we all know as human beings if
overheated to a certain degree can be fairly dangerous to the lives of anybody who may
operate such ammunition.” Id. After hours, Plaintiff states he, as well as other inmates,
were removed from the original transport bus onto a secondary bus and taken to Wheeler
Correctional Facility. Id. In his allegations, Plaintiff makes no mention of Artis Singletary
other than stating that he was the warden at the time of these alleged incidents. Id. at 9.
In Plaintiff’s entire recast complaint, he makes no other statements of facts as to
Timothy Ward other than Ward is “currently the Commissioner over Georgia Department
of Corrections and Georgia Department of Corrections is over all prisons in the State of
Georgia.” Id. at 4-5. Plaintiff states that “while incarcerated in Georgia’s Prison System,
Plaintiff … has experienced violations of his [Eighth] and [Fourteenth] [A]mendment
rights, cruel and unusual punishment and due process.” Id. at 5.
Supervisory officials, such as Singletary and Ward, are not liable under § 1983 on
the basis of respondeat superior or supervisory liability. Wardens and Commissioners are
liable under § 1983 only if they personally participate in the constitutional violation, direct
their subordinates to act unlawfully, or know their subordinates will act unlawfully but fail
to stop them. Keating v. City of Miami, 598 F.3d 753, 762 (11th Cir.2010). Nowhere in
Plaintiff’s recast complaint is there any allegation that would plausibly support an inference
that Singletary or Ward had any direct or indirect involvement in the alleged incidents
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about which Plaintiff complains.
Plaintiff’s § 1983 claims against Anthony Codwell
In 2015, Plaintiff asserts that he was taken from his housing unit in general
population and was placed in segregation for no apparent reason. ECF No. 15 at 5. After
being so confined for approximately 14 days, Plaintiff questioned Defendant Codwell, the
warden at the time, why he was being held in segregation. Id. According to Plaintiff,
neither Codwell nor other “rank[ing]” staff knew why he was in segregation. Id. Plaintiff
states that approximately one week later, he again asked Codwell about his detention in
segregation. Id. Plaintiff maintains that Codwell questioned others regarding why Plaintiff
was being held in segregation. According to Plaintiff, when Codwell failed to receive a
“valid reason” from those he questioned, he “instructed his staff to release [Plaintiff] back
to general population right then”. Id.
Plaintiff was once again placed in segregation confinement in 2016. Id. at 7.
Plaintiff states that his segregation placement was for no valid reason and lasted from the
first week of December 2016 until the second week of January 2017. Id. Plaintiff alleges
that during this time, Defendant Codwell verbally abused him. Id.
Plaintiff knew by January 2017 of every act by Defendant Codwell which he now
asserts violated his constitutional rights and a plethora of other “human rights”. Id. at 58. Yet, he did not initiate this suit until March 2020. ECF No. 1. The statute of
limitations for a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is the forum state’s statute of limitations for
personal injury. Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 249-50 (1989). Georgia’s two-year
statute of limitations applies. Lovett v. Ray, 327 F.3d 1181, 1128 (11th Cir. 2003). The
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statute of limitations begins to run when the facts which would support a cause of action
are apparent or should be apparent to a person with a reasonably prudent regard for his
rights. Rozar v. Mullis, 85 F.3d 556, 561-62 (11th Cir. 1996). Here, the latest that the
statute of limitations began to run was January 2017. More than three years passed
before Plaintiff filed his suit in March 2020. Assuming claims such as those the Plaintiff
attempts to bring under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 existed, such claims are barred by the two-year
statute of limitations. Thus, his action is time barred and must be dismissed. See Clark v.
State of Georgia Pardons and Paroles Bd., 915 F.2d 636 (11th Cir.1990) (affirmative
defenses, such as a statute of limitations defense, apparent on the face of the complaint
justifies dismissal under 28 U .S.C. § 1915(d)); Salas v. Pierce, 297 F. App’x 874, 877
(11th Cir. 2008) (claims filed after the expirations of the statute of limitations are timebarred).
Pursuant to the above, Plaintiff’s complaint is DISMISSED without prejudice
for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
SO ORDERED, this 14th day of October, 2020.
S/ Marc T. Treadwell
MARC T. TREADWELL, CHIEF JUDGE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
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