Brown v. Courtade
OPINION; signed by Judge Gordon J. Quist (Judge Gordon J. Quist, jmt)
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Case No. 1:17-cv-153
Honorable Gordon J. Quist
This is a civil rights action brought by a federal prisoner under Bivens v. Six Unknown
Named Agents of Fed. Bur. of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). The Court has granted Plaintiff leave
to proceed in forma pauperis. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, PUB. L. NO. 104-134, 110
STAT. 1321 (1996), the Court is required to dismiss any prisoner action brought under federal law
if the complaint is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or
seeks monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A.
The Court must read Plaintiff’s pro se complaint indulgently, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519,
520 (1972), and accept Plaintiff’s allegations as true, unless they are clearly irrational or wholly
incredible. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992). Applying these standards, Plaintiff’s
action will be dismissed for failure to state a claim.
Plaintiff Sidney Brown presently is incarcerated with the Bureau of Prisons and
housed at USP Pollack in Pollack, Louisiana. Plaintiff sues Western District of Michigan Assistant
United States Attorney Mark Courtade.
In January 2012, Plaintiff was tried in this Court on charges of possessing with intent
to distribute 28 grams or more of cocaine base, 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1), being a felon in
possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug
trafficking crime, 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i), 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). In the instant complaint,
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Courtade violated his right to due process and a fair trial by
introducing false evidence that the money seized during a second search of Plaintiff’s residence was
drug proceeds. Plaintiff contends that Defendant was aware at the time of trial that the money had
been returned to its owner by the United States Attorney, apparently because there was insufficient
evidence linking the currency to illegal activities. Plaintiff alleges that he was prejudiced by
Defendant’s false representations about the money, given that it was used as the evidence of drug
trafficking underlying Plaintiff’s conviction for possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug
trafficking crime, on which he was sentenced to a consecutive prison term of 60 months.
For relief, Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages in the amount of $5 million.
Failure to state a claim
A complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it fails “‘to give the
defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.’” Bell Atl. Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). While
a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s allegations must include more
than labels and conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)
(“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements,
do not suffice.”). The court must determine whether the complaint contains “enough facts to state
a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial
plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Although
the plausibility standard is not equivalent to a “‘probability requirement,’ . . . it asks for more than
a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. at 556). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the
mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged – but it has not ‘show[n]’ – that the
pleader is entitled to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2)); see also Hill
v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010) (holding that the Twombly/Iqbal plausibility
standard applies to dismissals of prisoner cases on initial review under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b)(1)
Although he seeks only damages, Plaintiff effectively challenges the validity of his
conviction on one or more offenses. A challenge to the fact or duration of confinement should be
brought as a petition for habeas corpus and is not the proper subject of a civil rights action brought
pursuant to § 1983. See Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 484 (1973) (the essence of habeas
corpus is an attack by a person in custody upon the legality of that custody and the traditional
function of the writ is to secure release from illegal custody). Therefore, to the extent that Plaintiff’s
complaint challenges the fact or duration of his incarceration, it must be dismissed. See Adams v.
Morris, 90 F. App’x 856, 858 (6th Cir. 2004) (dismissal is appropriate where § 1983 action seeks
equitable relief and challenges fact or duration of confinement); see also Moore v. Pemberton, 110
F.3d 22, 23-24 (7th Cir. 1997) (reasons for not construing a § 1983 action as one seeking habeas
relief include (1) potential application of Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), (2) differing
defendants, (3) differing standards of § 1915(a)(3) and § 2253(c), (4) differing fee requirements, (5)
potential application of second or successive petition doctrine or three-strikes rules of § 1915(g)).
To the extent Plaintiff seeks monetary relief for alleged violations of Constitutional
rights, his claim is barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994), which held 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, a § 1983
plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been [overturned].”
See Edwards v.
Balisok, 520 U.S. 641, 646 (1997) (emphasis in original). In Heck, the Supreme Court held that a
state prisoner cannot make a cognizable claim under § 1983 for an allegedly unconstitutional
conviction or for “harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or
sentence invalid” unless a prisoner shows 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.”
Id. at 486-87 (footnote omitted). The holding in Heck has been extended to actions seeking
injunctive or declaratory relief. See Edwards, 520 U.S. at 646-48 (declaratory relief); Clarke v.
Stalder, 154 F.3d 186, 189-90 (5th Cir. 1998) (claim for injunctive relief intertwined with request
for damages); Wilson v. Kinkela, No. 97-4035, 1998 WL 246401, at *1 (6th Cir. May 5, 1998)
(injunctive relief). Plaintiff’s allegations clearly call into question the validity of his conviction.
Therefore, his action is barred under Heck until his criminal conviction has been invalidated.
A court’s dismissal of a claim on the basis that it is barred by Heck v. Humphrey is
properly considered a dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) because it fails to state a claim on which
relief can be granted. See Hunt v. Michigan, 482 F. App’x 20, 22 (6th Cir. 2012) (a claim barred
by Heck is properly dismissed for failure to state a claim); Morris v. Cason, 102 F. App’x 902, 903
(6th Cir. 2004) (same).
Having conducted the review required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the Court
determines that Plaintiff’s action will be dismissed for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(b).
The Court must next decide whether an appeal of this action would be in good faith
within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3). See McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 611
(6th Cir. 1997). For the same reasons that the Court dismisses the action, the Court discerns no
good-faith basis for an appeal. Should Plaintiff appeal this decision, the Court will assess the
$505.00 appellate filing fee pursuant to § 1915(b)(1), see McGore, 114 F.3d at 610-11, unless
Plaintiff is barred from proceeding in forma pauperis, e.g., by the “three-strikes” rule of § 1915(g).
If he is barred, he will be required to pay the $505.00 appellate filing fee in one lump sum.
This is a dismissal as described by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).
A Judgment consistent with this Opinion will be entered.
Dated: March 24, 2017
/s/ Gordon J. Quist
GORDON J. QUIST
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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