Pettit v. United States District Court et al
MEMORANDUM DECISION and ORDER dismissing 1 Complaint. Signed by Judge David Sam on 3/8/2017. (blh)
THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF UTAH
MICHAEL E. PETTIT
Case No. 2:16-cv-01201-DS
UNITED STATES DISTRICT
COURT DISTRICT FOR THE
DISTRICT OF UTAH, and
UTAH HIGHWAY PATROL
Mr. Pettit filed this Complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Arkansas. Subsequently, the matter was transferred to the District of Utah and
assigned to this Court. The Complaint, which is less than clear, was characterized upon
transfer to this district as a prisoner civil rights lawsuit. The essence of the Complaint
appears to be that Mr. Pettit wants the return of some $2000 he asserts was unlawfully
taken when he was stopped and arrested by Troopers of the Utah Highway Patrol (“UHP”).
Presumably, Mr. Pettit invokes 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as the basis of his alleged deprivation.
In 2013, Mr. Pettit was indicted in the United States District Court for the District of
Utah on one count of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, in violation of 21
U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), after UHP Troopers discovered 2.5 kilograms of cocaine hidden in a
vehicle he was driving. After a jury trial before this Court, Mr. Pettit was found guilty and
sentenced to ten years of imprisonment to be followed by eight years of supervised
release. See Case No. 2:13-cr-00286-DS.
On August 1, 2014, Mr. Pettit filed in Case No. 2:13-cr-00286-DS a Motion for
Return of Property pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(g), asserting that
approximately $3000 had been unlawfully seized. In an order dated October 6, 2014, this
Court denied that motion because there was no evidence that the United States ever
seized, forfeited, or physically possessed the cash at issue. The Court noted that should
he discover that the cash was in the possession of the State of Utah, Mr. Pettit had an
adequate remedy at law in the Utah State Courts. See October 6, 2014 Order. On June
6, 2016, Mr. Pettit filed in Case No. 2:13-cr-00286-DS a second Motion for Return of
Property which focused on the same $3000. That Motion was also denied. See July 8,
The Court has reviewed Plaintiff’s Complaint with the deference due his pro se
status. Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10 t h Cir. 1991). Because Plaintiff is
proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court is directed to dismiss such a case at any time if
it determines that the action is frivolous or malicious or fails to state a claim on which relief
may be granted. 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B). The Court on its own may also dismiss a
complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. Hall, 935 F.2d at
Although the pleadings in pro se cases are to be liberally construed, “[t]he broad
reading of the Plaintiff’s complaint does not relieve [him] of the burden of alleging sufficient
facts on which a recognized legal claim could be based.” Id. While Plaintiff need not
describe every fact in specific detail, “conclusory allegations without supporting factual
averments are insufficient to state a claim on which relief can be based.” Id.
Complaint must present sufficient allegations of fact, assumed to be true, that “raise a right
to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555
(2007). The complaint must present “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible
on its face.” Id. at 550.
Jurisdictional questions can be raised at any time by a court on its own motion. First
State Bank & Trust Co. v. Sand Springs State Bank, 528 F. 2d 350, 353 (10th Cir. 1976).
Here, Mr. Pettit names as defendants the United States District Court for the District of
Utah and the Utah Highway Patrol. As for the District Court, “[a]bsent a waiver, sovereign
immunity shields the Federal Government and its agencies from suit.” FDIC v. Meyer, 510
U.S. 471, 475 (1994). Unless the United States waives immunity and consents to suit,
sovereign immunity is a jurisdictional bar to such actions. Id. “Because immunity is
assumed until proven otherwise, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the sovereign
has waived its immunity and that the Court has the jurisdictional right to hear the case.
Cheyenne-Arapaho Gaming Comm’n v. Nat’l Indian Gaming Comm’n, 214 F. Supp. 2d
1155, 1164 (N.D. Okla. 2002) (citing McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298
U.S. 178, 188 (1936).
Mr. Pettit has not established waiver of immunity by the United
States, nor can he. Absent jurisdiction, the District Court must be dismissed from the
As for the UHP, the Eleventh Amendment operates as a jurisdictional bar to suits
in federal court against a state and arms of the state that have not consented to suits of
that specific kind. Wagoner Cty. Rural Water Dist. No. 2 v. Grand River Dam Auth., 577
F.3d 1255, 1258 (10th Cir. 2009) (citing Steadfast Ins. Co. F. Agric. Ins. Co., 507 F.3d
1250, 1252-53 (10th Cir. 2007). Section 1983 does not abrogate a state’s Eleventh
Ellis v. Univ. of Kan. Med Ctr., 163 F.3d 1186, 1196 (10th Cir.
1999). Utah has not waived its immunity. Utah Code Ann. § 63G-7-201(4)(b). Because
the Utah Highway Patrol, through the Utah Department of Public Safety, constitutes an arm
of the state of Utah it cannot be sued in federal court due to its Eleventh Amendment
immunity. See Schaefer v. Wilcock, 676 F. Supp. 1092, 1098 (D. Utah 1987) (holding UHP
“immune from any suit in federal court, whether based on § 1983 or on breach of any state
law obligation); Absent jurisdiction, the Utah Highway Patrol must be dismissed.
For the reasons stated, Mr. Pettit’s Complaint is dismissed.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated this 8th day of March, 2017
BY THE COURT:
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
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