Woods v. State of Tennessee
ORDER DISMISSING CLAIMS, CERTIFYING AN APPEAL WOULD NOT BE TAKEN IN GOOD FAITH AND NOTIFYING PLAINTIFF OF APPELLATE FILING FEE. Signed by Chief Judge S. Thomas Anderson on 8/9/17. (Anderson, S. Thomas)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
STATE OF TENNESSEE,
ORDER DISMISSING CLAIMS,
CERTIFYING AN APPEAL WOULD NOT BE TAKEN IN GOOD FAITH
AND NOTIFYING PLAINTIFF OF APPELLATE FILING FEE
On August 24, 2016, Plaintiff Reginald Woods, who at the time of filing was a pre-trial
detainee at the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center in Memphis, Tennessee, filed pro se a
Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 accompanied by a motion to proceed in forma pauperis.
On September 16, 2016, the Court granted Woods leave to proceed in forma pauperis and
assessed the civil filing fee pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1915(a)-(b). The Clerk shall record the Defendant as the State of Tennessee.
Woods alleges that an arresting officer told him he was being arrested for making a
possible threat. According to the Complaint, the caller reporting the alleged threat told officers
three different lies in the arrest report. Woods specifically denies that there were weapons on the
premises. Wood also points out that an individual identified only as Mr. Grady, who is not a
party to this action, did not press charges against Woods. Woods alleges that the charge was
dismissed and then refiled on May 8, 2015, exposing him to double jeopardy. Woods finally
alleges that he had an additional exculpatory witness, though it is not clear from the Complaint
what her testimony would have been. Woods asks to be released, to have the state drop all
charges, and to receive reimbursement for lost wages, job tools, and mental stress.
On November 18, 2015, Woods was indicted for criminal attempted aggravated burglary
and domestic assault with bodily harm under indictment number 15 05811-15114158. On
September 14, 2016, a jury found Woods guilty on both counts.
The Court is required to screen prisoner complaints and to dismiss any complaint, or any
portion thereof, if the complaint—
(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be
(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.
28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
In assessing whether the Complaint in this case states a claim on which relief may be
granted, the Court applies the pleadings standards under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6), announced in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-79 (2009), and in Bell Atlantic Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-57 (2007). Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010).
“Accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true, the Court ‘consider[s] the
factual allegations in [the] complaint to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to
relief.’” Williams v. Curtin, 631 F.3d 380, 383 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681)
(alteration in original). “[P]leadings that . . . are no more than conclusions . . . are not entitled to
the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they
must be supported by factual allegations.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at
555 n.3 (“Rule 8(a)(2) still requires a ‘showing,’ rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to
relief. Without some factual allegation in the complaint, it is hard to see how a claimant could
satisfy the requirement of providing not only ‘fair notice’ of the nature of the claim, but also
‘grounds’ on which the claim rests.”).
“Pro se complaints are to be held ‘to less stringent standards than formal pleadings
drafted by lawyers,’ and should therefore be liberally construed.” Williams, 631 F.3d at 383
(quoting Martin v. Overton, 391 F.3d 710, 712 (6th Cir. 2004)). Pro se litigants and prisoners
are not exempt from the requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Wells v. Brown,
891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989); see also Brown v. Matauszak, 415 F. App’x 608, 612-13 (6th
Cir. 2011) (affirming dismissal of pro se complaint for failure to comply with “unique pleading
requirements” and stating “a court cannot ‘create a claim which [a plaintiff] has not spelled out
in his pleading’”) (quotation omitted); Young Bok Song v. Gipson, 423 F. App’x 506, 510 (6th
Cir. 2011) (“[W]e decline to affirmatively require courts to ferret out the strongest cause of
action on behalf of pro se litigants.”).
I. Section 1983
Woods filed his Complaint on the court-supplied form for actions under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. Section 1983 provides:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation,
custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects,
or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within
the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities
secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an
action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in
any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such
officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a
declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the
purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the
District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of
To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) a deprivation
of rights secured by the “Constitution and laws” of the United States (2) committed by a
defendant acting under color of state law. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 150
The Court holds that the Complaint fails to state a claim for relief. Woods cannot sue the
State of Tennessee under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Eleventh Amendment to the United States
Constitution provides that “[t]he Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to
extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by
Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S. Const. amend.
XI. The United States Supreme Court has construed the Eleventh Amendment to prohibit
citizens from suing their own states in federal court. Welch v. Tex. Dep’t of Highways & Pub.
Transp., 483 U.S. 468, 472 (1987); Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89,
100 (1984); Employees of Dep’t of Pub. Health & Welfare v. Mo. Dep’t of Pub. Health &
Welfare, 411 U.S. 279, 280 (1973); see also Va. Office for Protection & Advocacy v. Stewart,
131 S. Ct. 1632, 1638 (2011) (“A State may waive its sovereign immunity at its pleasure, and in
some circumstances Congress may abrogate it by appropriate legislation. But absent waiver or
valid abrogation, federal courts may not entertain a private person’s suit against a State.”
By its terms, the Eleventh Amendment bars all suits, regardless of the relief sought.
Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at 100-01. Tennessee has not waived its sovereign immunity. Tenn. Code
Ann. § 20-13-102(a). Moreover, a state is not a person within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Lapides v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. Sys. of Ga., 535 U.S. 613, 617 (2002); Will v. Mich. Dep’t
of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). For these reasons Woods’s claims against the State of
Tennessee are DISMISSED.
In the alternative, any claims arising from Woods’s conviction are barred by Heck v.
Humphrey. The Supreme Court held:
[I[n 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 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. But if the district court determines that the plaintiff's
action, even if successful, will not demonstrate the invalidity of any outstanding
criminal judgment against the plaintiff, the action should be allowed to proceed,
in the absence of some other bar to the suit.
512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994) (footnotes omitted). See also Schilling v. White, 58 F.3d 1081,
1086 (6th Cir. 1995) (same) (footnotes omitted). A plaintiff has no cause of action under § 1983
if the claims in that action hinge on factual proof that would call into question the validity of a
state court order directing his confinement unless and until any prosecution is terminated in his
favor, his conviction is set aside, or the confinement is declared illegal. Heck, 512 U.S. at
481-82; Schilling, 58 F.3d at 1086; see also Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973)
(whenever the relief sought is release from prison, the only remedy is through a habeas petition,
not a § 1983 complaint).
Here, Heck applies to bar Woods’s claims attacking his criminal prosecution. Woods has
not yet had his conviction overturned on direct appeal. Woods must have the conviction
overturned on direct appeal or set aside on collateral attack before any § 1983 claim can accrue.
For the foregoing reasons, Woods’s Complaint is dismissed in its entirety for failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
II. Leave to Amend
The Sixth Circuit has held that a district court may allow a prisoner to amend his
complaint to avoid a sua sponte dismissal under the PLRA. LaFountain v. Harry, 716 F.3d 944,
951 (6th Cir. 2013). But in this case, the Court concludes that leave to amend is not warranted
because Woods cannot cure the defects identified by the Court.
The Court DISMISSES Woods’s Complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief
can be granted, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and 1915A(b(1). Leave to amend is
DENIED because the deficiencies in Woods’s Complaint cannot be cured.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915(a)(3), the Court must also consider whether an appeal by
Woods in this case would be taken in good faith. The good faith standard is an objective one.
Coppedge v. United States, 369 U.S. 438, 445 (1962). The test for whether an appeal is taken in
good faith is whether the litigant seeks appellate review of any issue that is not frivolous. Id. It
would be inconsistent for a district court to determine that a complaint should be dismissed prior
to service on a defendant but has sufficient merit to support an appeal in forma pauperis. See
Williams v. Kullman, 722 F.2d 1048, 1050 n.1 (2d Cir. 1983). The same considerations that lead
the Court to dismiss this case for failure to state a claim also compel the conclusion that an
appeal would not be taken in good faith.
Therefore, it is CERTIFIED, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915(a)(3), that any appeal in this
matter by Woods would not be taken in good faith.
The Court must also address the assessment of the $505 appellate filing fee if Woods
nevertheless appeals the dismissal of this case. A certification that an appeal is not taken in good
faith does not affect an indigent prisoner plaintiff’s ability to take advantage of the installment
procedures contained in § 1915(b). See McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 610-11 (6th
Cir. 1997), partially overruled on other grounds by LaFountain, 716 F.3d at 951. McGore sets
out specific procedures for implementing the PLRA, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)-(b). Therefore, Woods
is instructed that if he wishes to take advantage of the installment procedures for paying the
appellate filing fee, he must comply with the procedures set out in McGore and § 1915(a)(2) by
filing an updated in forma pauperis affidavit and a current, certified copy of his inmate trust
account for the six months immediately preceding the filing of the notice of appeal.
For analysis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) of future filings, if any, by Woods, this is the first
dismissal of one of his cases as frivolous or for failure to state a claim. This “strike” shall take
effect when judgment is entered. Coleman v. Tollefson, 135 S. Ct. 1759, 1763-64 (2015).
The Clerk is directed to prepare a judgment.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/ S. Thomas Anderson
S. THOMAS ANDERSON
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Date: August 9, 2017.
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