Walker v. Dueker et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER: IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that plaintiff's application to proceed without prepaying fees and costs [ECF No. 3 ] is GRANTED and the initial filing fee is waived. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Clerk of Court shall change the d ocket sheet spelling of defendant "Kelly Lynn Snider" to "Kelly Lynn Snyder." IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Clerk shall not issue process or cause process to issue upon the complaint because the complaint is frivolous and fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Plaintiff's claims against defendants Joseph Shockley Dueker and Kelly Lynn Snyder are DISMISSED without prejudice. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that plaintiffs motion for appointment of counsel [ECF No. 2 ] is DENIED as moot. IT IS HEREBY CERTIFIED that an appeal from this dismissal would not be taken in good faith. Signed by District Judge Ronnie L. White on 1/6/2021. (TMT)
Case: 4:20-cv-01500-NCC Doc. #: 5 Filed: 01/06/21 Page: 1 of 10 PageID #: 18
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
JOSEPH SHOCKLEY DUEKER and
KELLY LYNN SNIDER,
Case No. 4:20-CV-1500 NCC
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Self-represented plaintiff Eric E. Walker brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for
alleged violations of his civil rights.
The matter is now before the Court upon plaintiffs
Application to Proceed in District Court Without Prepaying Fees or Costs. ECF No. 3. Having
reviewed the Application and the financial information submitted in support, the Court will grant
the motion and will not assess an initial partial filing fee at this time. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4).
Furthermore, after reviewing the complaint, the Court will dismiss this case for frivolity and failure
to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
Initial Partial Filing Fee
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(l), a prisoner bringing a civil action informa pauperis is
required to pay the full amount of the filing fee. If the prisoner has insufficient funds in his or her
prison account to pay the entire fee, the Court must assess and, when funds exist, collect an initial
partial filing fee of 20 percent of the greater of (1) the average monthly deposits in the prisoner's
account, or (2) the average monthly balance in the prisoner's account for the prior six-month
period. After payment of the initial partial filing fee, the prisoner is required to make monthly
payments of 20 percent of the preceding month's income credited to the prisoner's account. 28
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U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2). The agency having custody of the prisoner will forward these monthly
payments to the Clerk of Court each time the amount in the prisoner's account exceeds $10, until
the filing fee is fully paid. Id.
Plaintiff has submitted an Application to Proceed in District Court Without Prepaying Fees
or Costs, but no certified prison account statement. In his Application, however, he states that he
has no money in cash or in any checking or savings account, and he owns nothing of value. ECF
No. 3 at 2. Taking this into consideration, the Court will not assess an initial partial filing fee at
this time. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4) ("In no event shall a prisoner be prohibited from bringing a
civil action ... for the reason that the prisoner has no assets and no means by which to pay the
initial partial filing fee.").
Legal Standard on Initial Review
Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court may dismiss a complaint filed informa pauperis
if the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or
seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. When reviewing a
complaint filed by a self-represented person under 28-U.S.C. § 1915, the Court accepts the wellpleaded facts as true, White v. Clark, 750 F.2d 721, 722 (8th Cir. 1984), and it liberally construes
the complaint. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520
(1972). A "liberal construction" means that if the essence of an allegation is discernible, the district
court should construe the plaintiffs complaint in a way that permits the claim to be considered
within the proper legal framework. Solomon v. Petray, 795 F.3d 777, 787 (8th Cir. 2015).
However, even self-represented plaintiffs are required to allege facts which, if true, state a claim
for relief as a matter of law. Martin v. Aubuchon, 623 F.2d 1282, 1286 (8th Cir. 1980); see also
Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914-15 (8th Cir. 2004) (refusing to supply additional facts or to
construct a legal theory for the self-represented plaintiff).
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To state a claim for relief, a complaint must plead more than "legal conclusions" and
"[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action [that are] supported by mere conclusory
statements." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A plaintiff must demonstrate a plausible
claim for relief, which is more than a "mere possibility of misconduct." Id at 679. "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."
Id at 678.
Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief is a context-specific task that
requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. Id at 679.
Plaintiff, a pretrial detainee at the St. Louis County Justice Center, brings this action under
42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his civil rights against defendants Joseph Shockley Dueker
(Missouri state court Circuit Judge) and Kelly Lynn Snyder 1 (prosecuting attorney). ECF No. 1 at
2-3. Plaintiff sues both defendants in their official capacities only.
Plaintiffs§ 1983 complaint pertains to his pending state court matter, State v. Walker, No.
18SL-CR05713-01 (21st Jud. Cir. 2018), taking too long to go to trial. He alleges that his
constitutional rights are being violated by his illegal detention without trial. According to plaintiff,
he has been incarcerated since 2018 on state court charges that were scheduled for trial on April
6, 2020. However, a week before the case was set for trial, plaintiffs attorney withdrew because
plaintiffs family could no longer afford to pay him. After his counsel's withdraw was granted by
the court, plaintiff's case was further delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting state
court shutdowns. Plaintiff complains that his multiple requests for a trial have been ignored by
Plaintiff uses two different spellings for this defendant's last name in his complaint: "Snider" and "Snyder." ECF
No. 1 at 3, 4. However, a review of plaintiff's pending state court matter on Missouri Case.net reveals that the
correct spelling is "Snyder." As such, the Court will use this spelling in its Order and direct the Clerk of Court to
change the docket sheet accordingly.
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the court and by the prosecuting attorney, defendant Kelly Snyder. Plaintiff alleges that his
continued confinement poses a safety issue because he is being threatened by fellow detainees due
to the allegations of the pending charges against him. However, plaintiff cannot be held in
protective custody because it is being used to house COVID-19 positive detainees. Plaintiff further
complains that his request for bond reduction has been denied. Plaintiff states that the state court
has not responded to his motion for dismissal based on the grounds that the prosecution cannot
For relief, plaintiff seeks a dismissal of his state court matter and $500,000 in damages.
Independent review of plaintiff's criminal case on Missouri Case.net, the State of
Missouri's online docketing system, shows that plaintiff was charged in St. Louis County,
Missouri in July 2018, with one count of statutory sodomy or attempted statutory sodomy/ deviate
sexual intercourse with a person less than 12, and one count of first degree statutory rape or
attempted statutory rape with a person less than 14. Kelly Snyder is the prosecuting attorney and
the case is currently before Judge Joseph Dueker. The case was set for a jury trial on April 6,
2020. However, on February 5, 2020, plaintiff's attorney filed a motion to withdraw, stating that
plaintiff had refused to pay any legal fees and costs pertaining to his defense. On March 27, 2020,
the motion was granted but further court proceedings were canceled due to the COVID-19
pandemic. A new attorney entered for plaintiff on April 8, and in June, the case was set for trial
on November 30, 2020. In August 2020, plaintiff filed a letter with the state court complaining
about how long it was taking to get to trial and plaintiffs attorney filed a motion for bond
reduction. After a hearing on the motion, it was denied in September 2020. Plaintiff filed
additional correspondence with the state court in September and October complaining about time
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Plaintiff's § 1983 complaint in this matter is dated October 5, 2020. Since its filing, on
October 22, the state court granted the joint motion of prosecutor Snyder, and plaintiff's counsel,
for a continuance of the pretrial conference due to ongoing depositions. On November 3, 2020,
plaintiff's counsel filed a motion to continue the November 30 trial date, stating that he needed
additional time in order to complete pretrial investigation and depositions, prepare for and litigate
pretrial issues, and prepare for trial. On November 5, 2020, the court granted the continuance,
stating that defense counsel informed the court that plaintiff did not oppose the continuance. On
December 4, 2020, the case was scheduled for a settlement conference on February 5, 2021.
The two defendants named in this matter, Judge Dueker and prosecuting attorney Snyder,
are protected by absolute immunity from plaintiff's § 1983 claims. Furthermore, to the extent that
plaintiff's allegations could be liberally construed as speedy trial claims more properly raised in a
petition for habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, the Court finds that such claims would also
fail. As such, it would be futile to allow self-represented plaintiff to file an amended complaint in
this matter. This case will be dismissed for frivolity and failure to state a claim upon which relief
may be granted.
Immunity bars plaintiff's§ 1983 claims against Judge Dueker. Although plaintiff does not
name Judge Dueker in the allegations of his complaint, he refers to actions taken by the state court,
which this Court construes as accusations against Judge Dueker. Plaintiff's allegations are based
on alleged wrongdoings by Dueker while performing his judicial duties in plaintiff's state court
proceeding. Judicial immunity grants absolute immunity to judges from civil lawsuits based on
alleged judicial misconduct, subject to two exceptions: (1) when a judge does not act within his
judicial capacity or (2) when a judge takes judicial action in the complete absence of all
jurisdiction. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11-12 (1991). Furthermore, judicial immunity applies
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"even when the judge is accused of acting maliciously and corruptly." Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S.
Here, plaintiff alleges no facts of Judge Dueker acting outside his judicial capacity or
without jurisdiction. All of Judge Dueker's allegedly unlawful actions were judicial in nature.
Further, Judge Dueker, acting as a judge in the 21st Judicial Circuit Court, took judicial action
pursuant to that court's jurisdiction granted to it by the Missouri Constitution. See Mo. Const. art
V, § 14. Because Judge Dueker acted within his judicial capacity and within his court's proper
jurisdiction, he is granted absolute immunity from civil suit as to plaintiffs claims against him.
Plaintiffs claims against Judge Dueker are legally frivolous and will be dismissed.
Immunity also bars plaintiffs § 1983 claims against prosecutor Snyder.
immunity protects prosecutors against claims arising from their initiation of a prosecution and
presenting a criminal case, even when vindictive prosecution is alleged. Imbler v. Pachtman, 424
U.S. 409, 427-31 (1976) (prosecutors are absolutely immune from § 1983 claims for damages
when civil rights violations are alleged based on actions taken by prosecutor while initiating and
pursuing a criminal prosecution); Brodnicki v. City of Omaha, 75 F.3d 1261, 1266 (8th Cir. 1996)
("Absolute immunity covers prosecutorial functions such as the initiation and pursuit of a criminal
prosecution, the presentation of the state's case at trial, and other conduct that is intimately
associated with the judicial process"); Myers v. Morris, 810 F.2d 1437, 1446 (8th Cir. 1987)
(prosecutorial immunity extends even to allegations of vindictive prosecution) (abrogated on other
grounds). Here, plaintiff alleges that Snyder ignored his requests for a trial in his state court matter,
and that Snyder is in general, not diligently pursuing trial. Regardless of the fact that the state
court record refutes this allegation, plaintiffs claims against prosecutor Snyder relate to her pursuit
of a criminal prosecution against him and are therefore covered by absolute immunity. Plaintiffs
claims against prosecutor Snyder are legally frivolous and will be dismissed.
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The Court notes that the allegations of plaintiffs complaint sound more appropriately
brought in a petition for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. _A state court defendant
attempting to litigate the authority of his or her pretrial detention may bring a habeas petition
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. See Walck v. Edmondson, 472 F.3d 1227, 1235 (10th Cir. 2007)
(stating "that a state court defendant attacking his pretrial detention should bring a habeas petition
pursuant to the general grant of habeas authority contained within 28 U.S.C. § 2241"); Dickerson
v. State of La., 816 F.2d 220, 224 (5th Cir. 1987) (stating that pretrial petitions "are properly
brought under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, which applies to persons in custody regardless of whether final
judgment has been rendered and regardless of the present status of the case pending against him").
However, even if the Court ordered self-represented plaintiff to amend his complaint as a
habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 asserting violations his speedy trial rights under federal
and state law, the Court finds his allegations insufficient to state a claim for relief. The Sixth
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides in relevant part: "In all criminal prosecutions, the
accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and
district wherein the crime shall have been committed." U.S. Const. amend. VI. In addition, the
Missouri Speedy Trial Act provides that "[i]f defendant announces that he is ready for trial and
files a request for a speedy trial, then the court shall set the case for trial as soon as reasonably
possible thereafter." Mo. Rev. Stat. § 545.780(1).
However, federal courts do "not have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 ... to issue a writ
of habeas corpus for violation of state law by state authorities." Cain v. Petrovsky, 798 F.2d 1194,
1195 (8th Cir. 1986). Rather, speedy trial claims based on state law and the actions of state
officials must be addressed by a state court. Id. For this reason, any speedy trial claim that plaintiff
is attempting to bring under Missouri law fails to state a valid claim for relief.
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With regards to any alleged Sixth Amendment claim, federal courts should not interfere,
absent extraordinary circumstances, with a state's "pending judicial processes prior to trial and
conviction, even though the prisoner claims he is being held in violation of the Constitution."
Sacco v. Falke, 649 F.2d 634, 636 (8th Cir. 1981) (quoting Wingo v. Ciccone, 507 F.2d 354, 357
(8th Cir. 1974)). To that end, when a state prisoner is seeking pretrial habeas relief on the basis of
speedy trial issues, the prisoner is required to exhaust state remedies, unless the prisoner can
demonstrate the existence of special circumstances. See Braden v. 30th Judicial Circuit Court of
Ky., 410 U.S. 484, 489 (1973) (stating that "federal habeas corpus does not lie, absent special
circumstances, to adjudicate the merits of an affirmative defense to a state criminal charge prior to
a judgement of conviction by a state court"). "The exhaustion requirement is satisfied if the federal
issue has been properly presented to the highest state court." Dever v Kan. State Penitentiary, 36
F.3d 1531, 1534 (10th Cir. 1994).
In this case, plaintiff has not demonstrated that he has exhausted his state court remedies.
Review of the state court record indicates that plaintiff filed correspondence with the circuit court
concerning a trial date in his pending criminal matter, but it does not indicate that plaintiff filed a
motion for a speedy trial. In addition, the Court can find no record of plaintiff filing a writ of
mandamus, which is the vehicle explicitly provided by statute to enforce his speedy trial rights in
See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 545.780(2).
Plaintiff does not establish any "special
circumstances" that would allow him to avoid exhausting his state remedies and alleging a speedy
trial violation alone, is not enough. See Dickerson, 816 F.2d at 227 (stating that the constitutional
right to a speedy trial does not qualify as a special circumstance that obviates the exhaustion
The Supreme Court has warned federal courts to guard against the interruption of state
adjudications by federal habeas proceedings. See Braden, 410 U.S. at 490. Plaintiff's state
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criminal case is still ongoing. A settlement conference has been scheduled for February 5, 2021.
Plaintiff is represented by counsel in his state criminal case, and the Court notes that some of the
delays in the case are the result of motions filed by plaintiffs own attorney. The state court record
indicates that the most recent motion for a continuance of trial was requested by plaintiffs counsel
and that plaintiff represented to his counsel that he did not oppose the request.
For all the reasons discussed above, to the extent that plaintiff is attempting to assert
violations of his right to a speedy trial, such claims fail to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted. As such, it would be futile to allow plaintiff to amend his complaint to bring such claims.
Therefore, the Court finds that the allegations of plaintiffs complaint are frivolous and fail
to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). This case will be
dismissed and plaintiffs motion for appointment of counsel (ECF No. 2) will be denied as moot.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that plaintiffs application to proceed without prepaying fees
and costs [ECF No. 3] is GRANTED and the initial filing fee is waived.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Clerk of Court shall change the docket sheet
spelling of defendant "Kelly Lynn Snider" to "Kelly Lynn Snyder."
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Clerk shall not issue process or cause process to
issue upon the complaint because the complaint is frivolous and fails to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted. Plaintiffs claims against defendants Joseph Shockley Dueker and Kelly
Lynn Snyder are DISMISSED without prejudice. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that plaintiffs motion for appointment of counsel [ECF
No. 2] is DENIED as moot.
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IT IS HEREBY CERTIFIED that an appeal from this dismissal would not be taken in
An Order of Dismissal will accompany this Memorandum and Order.
Dated this£.. day of January, 2021.
RONNIE L. WHITE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT illDGE
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