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Shankle v. Ubben

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

July 24, 2013



Hon. Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge

The plaintiff, Kenneth Shankle, is suing multiple defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The four defendants are Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Deputy William C. Ubben, Rappahannock County Commonwealth’s Attorney Arthur Goff, Rappahannock County General District Court Judge J. Gregory Ashwell, and Rappahannock County itself. The defendants each filed motions to dismiss pursuant to 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The plaintiff also filed a motion for emergency injunctive relief requesting that the court enjoin the Commonwealth of Virginia from pursuing all pending and future court action against the plaintiff. For the reasons that follow, the defendants’ motions to dismiss will be granted, and the plaintiff’s motion for injunctive relief will be denied.


The suit stems from the prosecution of the plaintiff in Rappahannock General District Court for driving on a suspended license, in violation of Virginia Code § 46.2-301, and speeding, in violation of Virginia Code § 46.2-870. On June 29, 2012, Deputy Ubben pulled Shankle over for speeding. Upon being asked for his license and registration, Shankle stated that he did not have a license. Deputy Ubben then charged the plaintiff with driving with a suspended license and with speeding.

On August 21, 2012, Shankle appeared before Judge Ashwell in the Rappahannock County General District Court to be arraigned on the charges. Because a potential jail term accompanied a conviction, Judge Ashwell advised Shankle that he had the right to have an attorney appointed to represent him, or that he could waive such right. Shankle stated that he “waive[d] no rights, ” and, proceeding pro se, challenged Judge Ashwell’s and the Court’s jurisdiction. (Docket No. 1-14, p. 10:16.) Judge Ashwell ruled that he had jurisdiction, appointed standby counsel for Shankle’s discretionary use, and continued the case until October 16. Shankle failed to appear on October 16, and Judge Ashwell issued a show cause order. A trial on the underlying charges was set for November 13.

On October 16, 2012, Shankle filed the instant civil rights lawsuit in federal court, seeking $9, 362, 000.00 in monetary relief against the defendants as well as an “administrative review” of Judge Ashwell’s judicial conduct.

At the November 13 hearing, Judge Ashwell again appointed standby counsel to appear beside Shankle. Shankle asked that the attorney be removed from counsel’s table, and she was. Shankle then again challenged the Court’s jurisdiction to preside over the case and repeatedly demanded that Judge Ashwell and Commonwealth’s Attorney Goff recuse themselves, on account of their being parties to the instant lawsuit. Judge Ashwell overruled Shankle’s objections and found him guilty of the two offenses.[1]

Shankle’s complaint casts a wide net. Included are allegations that Deputy Ubben deprived him of his common law right to travel; that Mr. Goff deprived him of his right to life, liberty, and due process of law by pursuing a charge knowing that there was no probable cause; that Judge Ashwell deprived him of the right to speak freely on his own behalf and to choose or decline counsel; and that the County is liable for maintaining a pattern or practice of depriving liberty and property, for a failure to train and supervise its employees, and for all of the previously listed violations under a theory of respondeat superior. The opening statement of the complaint also includes nonspecific allegations of “conspiracy, ” “fraud, ” “extortion, ” and “criminal treason.” The complaint itself includes little to no factual allegations, but the plaintiff submitted a number of affidavits that outline the circumstances of the arrest and his original hearing on August 21.


I. Motions to Dismiss

A. Standard of Review

In reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must “accept as true all well-pleaded allegations” and construe those allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). A complaint need not assert detailed factual allegations, but must contain “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Furthermore, even assuming the factual allegations in the complaint are true, they “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id.

B. Analysis

i. Commonwealth’s Attorney Goff and Deputy ...

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