Jackson v. Exum et al
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS of the Magistrate Judge that the Court DISMISS this action for improper venue and failure to state a claim and DIRECT the Clerk to enter the appropriate judgment of dismissal and to CLOSE this case re 1 Complaint filed b y Stephen Lakeith Jackson. I further RECOMMEND that the Court DENY Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal. The Court ORDERS any party seeking to object to this Report and Recommendation to file specific written objections within fourt een (14) days of the date on which this Report and Recommendation is entered (Objections to R&R due by 5/23/2017). ORDER directing service of the REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION of the Magistrate Judge. Signed by Magistrate Judge R. Stan Baker on 5/9/2017. (ca)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
STEPHEN LAKEITH JACKSON,
CIVIL ACTION NO.: 2:17-cv-3
BRENT EXUM; FEELON GAY; TRENT
EXUM; JUDGE MCCLAIN; UNKNOWN,
District Attorney; and OFFICER UNKNOWN,
ORDER and MAGISTRATE JUDGE’S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Plaintiff, who is currently housed at Tift County Jail in Tifton, Georgia, filed a Complaint
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 contesting his arrest and pretrial detention. (Doc. 1.) For the
reasons which follow, I RECOMMEND that the Court DISMISS Plaintiff’s Complaint for
improper venue and failure to state a claim, DIRECT the Clerk of Court to CLOSE this case,
and DENY Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal.
In his Complaint, Plaintiff contends that the named Defendants—employees of either Tift
or Cook County—violated his constitutional rights when they arrested and detained him on
August 10, 2016, and August 11, 2016. (Doc. 1.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants
did not follow appropriate “seizure to conduct a search[,] . . . will not let me recorded [sic] the
event[,] . . . held without questing [sic] or Miranda Rights[,]” refused bail and a preliminary
hearing, and generally “not following court procedures or court rules.” (Doc. 1, p. 6.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Plaintiff seeks to bring this action in forma pauperis under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Under
28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1), the Court may authorize the filing of a civil lawsuit without the
prepayment of fees if the plaintiff submits an affidavit that includes a statement of all of his
assets and shows an inability to pay the filing fee and also includes a statement of the nature of
the action which shows that he is entitled to redress. Even if the plaintiff proves indigence, the
Court must dismiss the action if it is frivolous or malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)–(ii). Additionally, pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915A, the Court must review a complaint in which a prisoner seeks redress from a
governmental entity. Upon such screening, the Court must dismiss a complaint, or any portion
thereof, that is frivolous or malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted
or which seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C.
When reviewing a Complaint on an application to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court is
guided by the instructions for pleading contained in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See
Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 (“A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain [among other things] . . .
a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”); Fed. R.
Civ. P. 10 (requiring that claims be set forth in numbered paragraphs, each limited to a single set
of circumstances). Further, a claim is frivolous under Section 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) “if it is ‘without
arguable merit either in law or fact.’” Napier v. Preslicka, 314 F.3d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 2002)
(quoting Bilal v. Driver, 251 F.3d 1346, 1349 (11th Cir. 2001)).
Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under Section 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by
the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6). Thompson v. Rundle, 393 F. App’x 675, 678 (11th Cir. 2010). Under that
standard, this Court must determine whether the complaint contains “sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A
plaintiff must assert “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action will not” suffice. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Section 1915 also
“accords judges not only the authority to dismiss a claim based on an indisputably meritless legal
theory, but also the unusual power to pierce the veil of the complaint’s factual allegations and
dismiss those claims whose factual contentions are clearly baseless.” Bilal, 251 F.3d at 1349
(quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989)).
In its analysis, the Court will abide by the long-standing principle that the pleadings of
unrepresented parties are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys and,
therefore, must be liberally construed. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Boxer X v.
Harris, 437 F.3d 1107, 1110 (11th Cir. 2006) (“Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent
standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys.”) (emphasis omitted) (quoting Hughes v. Lott, 350
F.3d 1157, 1160 (11th Cir. 2003)). However, Plaintiff’s unrepresented status will not excuse
mistakes regarding procedural rules. McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993) (“We
have never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so as
to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel.”). The requisite review of Plaintiff’s
Amended Complaint raises several doctrines of law, which the Court discusses in turn.
Whether Venue is Proper in This Court
A district court may raise the issue of defective venue sua sponte. Collins v. Hagel, No.
1:13-CV-2051-WSD, 2015 WL 5691076, at *1 (N.D. Ga. Sept. 28, 2015) (citing Kapordelis v.
Danzig, 387 F. App’x 905, 906–07 (11th Cir. 2010) (affirming sua sponte transfer, pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1406(a), of pro se prisoner’s civil rights action from New York to Georgia); Berry v.
Salter, 179 F. Supp. 2d 1345, 1350 (M.D. Ala. 2001); cf. Lipofsky v. New York State Workers
Comp. Bd., 861 F.2d 1257, 1259 (11th Cir. 1988); and Nalls v. Coleman Low Fed. Inst., 440 F.
App’x 704, 706 (11th Cir. 2011)). When venue is improper, a court “shall dismiss, or if it be in
the interest of justice, transfer such case to any district . . . in which it could have been brought.”
28 U.S.C. § 1406(a). “The court may transfer the case if (1) the proposed transferee court is one
in which the action ‘could have been brought’ and (2) transfer would be ‘in the interest of
justice.’” Leach v. Peacock, Civil Action No. 2:09cv738-MHT, 2011 WL 1130596, at *4 (M.D.
Ala. Mar. 25, 2011) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a)). Trial courts generally have broad discretion in
determining whether to transfer or dismiss a case. Id. (citing England v. ITT Thompson Indus.,
Inc., 856 F.2d 1518, 1520 (11th Cir. 1988)).
This Court is not the proper venue to hear Plaintiff’s claims against the named
Defendants. 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) sets forth the applicable venue provisions:
A civil action may be brought in (1) a judicial district in which any defendant
resides, if all defendants are residents of the State in which the district is located;
(2) a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving
rise to the claim occurred, or a substantial part of property that is the subject of
the action is situated; or (3) if there is no district in which an action may otherwise
be brought as provided in this section, any judicial district in which any defendant
is subject to the court’s personal jurisdiction with respect to such action.
Plaintiff complains about events occurring in Tift County against Tift and Cook County
employees, both of which lie within the Middle District of Georgia. 28 U.S.C. § 90(b)(6).
Ordinarily, this Court would transfer this case in the interest of justice, as venue is not proper in
However, as explained below, because Plaintiff fails to state a claim, the interest of
justice would not be served by transferring this case to the Middle District of Georgia. Plaintiff’s
claims would be subject to dismissal in that court, and thus, transferring this case to another
district would be futile. Accordingly, the Court should DISMISS Plaintiff’s Complaint.
Heck v. Humphrey and the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine
Plaintiff’s Complaint centers on his arrest and detention in the Tift County Jail. Plaintiff
subsequently filed a letter with the Court to inform the Court that, on February 9, 2017, a
revocation hearing was held during which he alleges there was “conflict of the Judge and
Lawyer.” (Doc. 7.) However, Plaintiff gives no indication whether the original charges he was
detained on resulted in an indictment much less a conviction. What is clear is that any potential
conviction has not been reversed, expunged, invalidated, called into question by a federal court’s
issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, or otherwise overturned. In fact, in his letter to the Court,
Plaintiff requests that this Court provide “help and a venue change of trial and cook county [sic]
case and on the appeal to have case tried[.]” (Doc. 7.) As such, this Court is precluded from
reviewing his claims by the decision in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994).
In Heck, a state prisoner filed a Section 1983 damages action against the prosecutors and
investigator in his criminal case for their actions which resulted in his conviction. The United
States Supreme Court analogized the plaintiff’s claim to a common-law cause of action for
malicious prosecution, which requires as an element of the claim that the prior criminal
proceeding be terminated in favor of the accused. 512 U.S. at 484. The Supreme Court
We think the hoary principle that civil tort actions are not appropriate vehicles for
challenging the validity of outstanding criminal judgments applies to § 1983
damages actions that necessarily require the plaintiff to prove the unlawfulness of
his conviction or confinement, just as it has always applied to actions for
malicious prosecution (footnote omitted).
We hold that, in order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional
conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose
unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, (footnote omitted), a
§ 1983 plaintiff must prove that the 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. A claim for damages
bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so
invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983. Thus, 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; if it would, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can
demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated.
Id. at 486–87 (emphasis added).
Under Heck, a plaintiff who is attempting “to recover damages for allegedly
unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose
unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid,” must make a showing that his
conviction, sentence, or other criminal judgment was reversed, expunged, declared invalid by an
appropriate state tribunal, or called into question in a federal court’s issuance of a writ of habeas
corpus. Id. If a plaintiff fails to make this showing, then he cannot bring an action under
Section 1983. Id. at 489. Furthermore, to the extent a plaintiff contends that a favorable ruling
on his claims would not invalidate his conviction, sentence, confinement, or other criminal
judgment, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove this contention in order for his claims to
proceed. Id. at 487. Although Heck involved a claim brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for money
damages, Heck’s holding has been extended to claims seeking declaratory or injunctive relief as
well as money damages. See Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81–82 (2005); Abella v.
Rubino, 63 F.3d 1063, 1066 (11th Cir. 1995); see also Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500
(1973) (“[W]e hold today that when a state prisoner is challenging the very fact or duration of his
physical imprisonment, and the relief he seeks is a determination that he is entitled to immediate
release or a speedier release from that imprisonment, his sole federal remedy is a writ of habeas
corpus.”); Desravines v. Fla. Dep’t of Fin. Servs., No. 6:11-CV-235-ORL-22, 2011 WL
2292180, at *3 (M.D. Fla. May 23, 2011) report and recommendation adopted by No. 6:11-CV235-ORL-22, 2011 WL 2222170 (M.D. Fla. June 8, 2011) (citing Gray v. Kinsey, No. 3:09-cv324/LC/MD, 2009 WL 2634205, at *9 (N.D. Fla. Aug. 25, 2009) (“Under this standard, it is not
unusual for a § 1983 claim to be dismissed for failure to satisfy Heck’s favorable termination
requirement.”); Domotor v. Wennet, 630 F. Supp. 2d 1368, 1379 (S.D. Fla. 2009) (“allowing the
plaintiff to circumvent applicable state procedures and collaterally attack her convictions in
federal court is the precise situation that Heck seeks to preclude” when plaintiff entered into a
plea agreement with knowledge of substantially all of the allegations that now form the basis of a
§ 1983 action for damages); Cooper v. Georgia, No. CV413-091, 2013 WL 2253214, at *2 (S.D.
Ga. May 22, 2013) report and recommendation adopted by No. CV413-091, 2013 WL 2660046
(S.D. Ga. June 11, 2013); Brown v. Renfroe, No. CV210-003, 2011 WL 902197, at *2 (S.D. Ga.
Jan. 25, 2011), report and recommendation adopted by No. CV210-003, 2011 WL 892359
(S.D. Ga. Mar. 9, 2011), aff’d sub nom., Brown v. Coleman, 439 F. App’x 794 (11th Cir. 2011).
In this case, Plaintiff has not shown favorable termination of his conviction or sentence.
In fact, Plaintiff does not even indicate whether he has been convicted or what sentence he may
have received. His chief complaint is that he feels the arrest was wrongful and that he was
denied bond. (Doc. 1, p. 6; Doc. 7.) Accordingly, the Heck decision unquestionably precludes
Even if Plaintiff is not challenging a conviction, he is at least challenging his post-arrest
confinement after Judge McClain denied bond. However, Heck is not only limited to claims
challenging the validity of criminal convictions. It also applies to detentions absent convictions.
See Cohen v. Clemens, 321 F. App’x 739, 741 (10th Cir. 2009) (In the immigration context,
“Heck bar[red the plaintiff’s] claims for damages because success on those claims would
necessarily imply the invalidity of [his] detention.”); Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U .S. 641 (1997)
(applying Heck to a Section 1983 claim challenging procedures used to deprive a prison inmate
of good time credits); Huftile v. Miccio-Fonseca, 410 F.3d 1136, 1137 (9th Cir. 2005) (applying
Heck to a Section 1983 claim challenging civil commitment under California’s Sexually Violent
Predators Act); Hamilton v. Lyons, 74 F.3d 99, 102–03 (5th Cir. 1996) (applying Heck to a
Section 1983 claim challenging the coercive nature of a pretrial detainee’s confinement prior to
giving a statement regarding pending charges).
Additional grounds also support dismissal, to the extent Plaintiff desires the Court to
review any underlying criminal conviction. Pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the Court
is without jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claims, which essentially seek review of a state-court
criminal charge against him. “The Rooker-Feldman doctrine derives from Rooker v. Fidelity
Trust Company, 263 U.S. 413 (1923), and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman,
460 U.S. 462 (1983), and provides that, as a general matter, federal district courts lack
jurisdiction to review a final state court decision.” McCorvey v. Weaver, No. 15-10470, 2015
WL 5751756, at *1 (11th Cir. Oct. 2, 2015). “Rooker-Feldman applies because, among the
federal courts, Congress authorized only the Supreme Court to reverse or modify a state court
decision.” Helton v. Ramsay, 566 F. App’x 876, 877 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing Exxon Mobil Corp.
v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005)). Because Plaintiff, through this Section
1983 action, essentially asks this Court to invalidate the charges he is currently facing before
Judge McClain of the Alapaha Circuit, this Court lacks jurisdiction over his claims.
For these reasons, the Court should DISMISS Plaintiff’s claims in their entirety.
Younger Abstention Doctrine
Additionally, insofar as Plaintiff is asking this Court to intervene in the state case’s
ongoing proceedings, the Younger abstention doctrine bars Plaintiff’s Complaint. Under the
Younger abstention doctrine, a federal court must abstain from exercising jurisdiction over a case
where there is an ongoing state action. See Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). While
Younger involved a federal suit for injunctive relief of the ongoing state proceedings, the
Eleventh Circuit has also indicated that the Younger abstention extends to cases involving
Section 1983 claims for monetary damages. See Doby v. Strength, 758 F.2d 1405, 1405–06
(11th Cir. 1985) (requiring Younger abstention where plaintiff raised Fourth Amendment Section
1983 damages claims related to ongoing state criminal proceedings); see also Kowalski v.
Tesmer, 543 U.S. 125, 133 (2004) (intervention in ongoing state court proceedings is not
appropriate as a Section 1983 cause of action when there is ample opportunity to raise
constitutional challenges in those state court proceedings).
Here, because the status of Plaintiff’s indictment is unknown and his criminal prosecution
is potentially ongoing, any ruling by this Court as to the constitutionality of Defendants’ actions
could substantially interfere with the results reached in the state court proceeding. See 31 Foster
Children v. Bush, 329 F.3d 1255, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003) (noting the importance of “whether the
federal proceeding will interfere with an ongoing state court proceeding” in determining whether
Younger abstention is appropriate). Moreover, Plaintiff cannot demonstrate the lack of an
adequate remedy at law because he is free to allege the same violations by Defendants in his
state criminal proceedings. See Boyd v. Georgia, No. CV 112-042, 2012 WL 2862157, at *2
(S.D. Ga. May 14, 2012) report and recommendation adopted, No. CV 112-042, 2012 WL
2862123 (S.D. Ga. July 11, 2012), aff'd, 512 F. App’x 915 (11th Cir. 2013) (concluding that
plaintiff had an adequate remedy at law with respect to constitutional claims that he could bring
in his pending state criminal case). In addition, Plaintiff’s allegations provide no indication of
irreparable injury, and the hardships associated with having to defend against a criminal
prosecution do not establish it as a matter of law. Younger, 401 U.S. at 47 (“Certain types of
injury, in particular, the cost, anxiety, and inconvenience of having to defend against a single
criminal prosecution, could not by themselves be considered ‘irreparable’ in the special legal
sense of that term.”).
For these reasons, the Court should DISMISS Plaintiff’s claims in their entirety.
Leave to Appeal in Forma Pauperis
The Court should also deny Plaintiff leave to appeal in forma pauperis. Though Plaintiff
has, of course, not yet filed a notice of appeal, it is proper to address these issues in the Court’s
order of dismissal. See Fed. R. App. P. 24(a)(3) (trial court may certify that appeal of party
proceeding in forma pauperis is not taken in good faith “before or after the notice of appeal is
An appeal cannot be taken in forma pauperis if the trial court certifies that the appeal is
not taken in good faith. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3); Fed. R. App. P. 24(a)(3). Good faith in this
context must be judged by an objective standard. Busch v. Cty. of Volusia, 189 F.R.D. 687, 691
(M.D. Fla. 1999). A party does not proceed in good faith when he seeks to advance a frivolous
claim or argument. See Coppedge v. United States, 369 U.S. 438, 445 (1962). A claim or
argument is frivolous when it appears the factual allegations are clearly baseless or the legal
theories are indisputably meritless. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989); Carroll v.
Gross, 984 F.2d 392, 393 (11th Cir. 1993). Or, stated another way, an in forma pauperis action
is frivolous and, thus, not brought in good faith, if it is “without arguable merit either in law or
fact.” Napier v. Preslicka, 314 F.3d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 2002); see also Brown v. United States,
Nos. 407CV085, 403CR001, 2009 WL 307872, at *1–2 (S.D. Ga. Feb. 9, 2009).
Based on the above analysis of Plaintiff’s action, there are no non-frivolous issues to
raise on appeal, and an appeal would not be taken in good faith. Thus, the Court should DENY
Plaintiff in forma pauperis status on appeal.
For the above-stated reasons, I RECOMMEND the Court DISMISS this action for
improper venue and failure to state a claim and DIRECT the Clerk of Court to enter the
appropriate judgment of dismissal and to CLOSE this case. I further RECOMMEND that the
Court DENY Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal.
The Court ORDERS any party seeking to object to this Report and Recommendation to
file specific written objections within fourteen (14) days of the date on which this Report and
Recommendation is entered. Any objections asserting that the Magistrate Judge failed to address
any contention raised in the Complaint must also be included. Failure to do so will bar any later
challenge or review of the factual findings or legal conclusions of the Magistrate Judge. See 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140 (1985). A copy of the objections must be
served upon all other parties to the action. The filing of objections is not a proper vehicle
through which to make new allegations or present additional evidence.
Upon receipt of Objections meeting the specificity requirement set out above, a United
States District Judge will make a de novo determination of those portions of the report, proposed
findings, or recommendation to which objection is made and may accept, reject, or modify in
whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the Magistrate Judge. Objections not
meeting the specificity requirement set out above will not be considered by a District Judge. A
party may not appeal a Magistrate Judge’s report and recommendation directly to the United
States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Appeals may be made only from a final
judgment entered by or at the direction of a District Judge. The Court DIRECTS the Clerk of
Court to serve a copy of this Report and Recommendation upon Plaintiff.
SO ORDERED and REPORTED and RECOMMENDED, this 9th day of May, 2017.
R. STAN BAKER
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
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