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Brown v. Caldwell

United States District Court, Western District of Virginia, Roanoke Division

March 18, 2014

MARTY BROWN, Plaintiff
v.
DONALD S. CALDWELL, et al. Defendants

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

Pamela Meade Sargent, United States Magistrate Judge

This case is before the court on the Motion to Dismiss filed on behalf of defendants Donald S. Caldwell, ("Caldwell"), and John McNeil, ("McNeil"), (Docket Item No. 18), and on the Motion To Dismiss filed by defendant Sergeant Kevin D. Assenat, ("Sgt. Assenat"), (Docket Item No. 21), (collectively, "Motions"). The Motions are before the undersigned magistrate judge by referral pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). The parties have not requested a hearing on the Motions, which are now ripe for decision. As directed by the order of referral, the undersigned now submits the following report and recommended disposition.

I. Facts & Procedural History

The plaintiff, an inmate housed at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, ("FMC Butner"), originally filed his Complaint on January 31, 2013, in the Eastern District of North Carolina, (Docket Item No. 1). Thereafter, the case was transferred to this court on November 21, 2013, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1391(b), 1406(a). (Docket Item No. 9). Brown filed this civil rights action pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971).[1] He named as defendants, Caldwell, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Roanoke, and McNeil, an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Roanoke, in their individual and official capacities, alleging violations of his civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and seeking damages and injunctive relief. He also sues Sgt. Assenat, a sergeant with the Roanoke City Police Department’s Warrant Service Unit, in his official capacity only, based on the same violations. In particular, Brown alleges that the defendants held two criminal arrest warrants in the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and the police department without properly informing the court of their existence, in violation of his due process rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Brown further alleges that the defendants’ actions failed to comply with the provisions of the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act, (“IADA”), and violated his right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

In his Complaint, Brown alleges that, on December 7, 2009, Sgt. Assenat, of the Roanoke City Police Department’s Warrant Service Unit, provided two criminal arrest warrants to the Bureau of Prisons, (“BOP”), and requested that a detainer be placed on Brown based on the existence of these warrants. (Docket Item No. 1-1 at 1.) The warrants were based on charges of malicious wounding and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. On November 24, 2010, Brown filed an IADA Petition with the BOP’s Records Department. (Docket Item No. 1-1 at 2.) The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office for the City of Roanoke received this Petition on December 15, 2010, as evidenced by a certified mail receipt. (Docket Item No. 1-1 at 3.) Also on December 15, 2010, a deputy clerk for the General District Court for the City of Roanoke, signed a certified mail receipt for the IADA Petition. (Docket Item No. 1-1 at 3). On May 4, 2011, Terri Campbell, Correctional Systems Officer at FMC Butner, sent a letter to Caldwell, advising that the 180-day time limitation under Article III of the IADA would lapse on June 15, 2011. (Docket Item No. 1-1 at 4.) On July 27, 2012, a deputy clerk for the General District Court for the City of Roanoke responded to a Request For Information by Brown’s Unit Manager, stating that the court did not have any records relating to the warrants or any charges pending against Brown. (Docket Item No. 1-1 at 5.) Brown now has submitted the same letter from this deputy clerk, but containing handwritten notes which state that the letter should not have been sent because there were two active warrants, and the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office wanted the detainer to remain in place. (Docket Item No. 35-1.)

Brown alleges that the Roanoke City Warrant Service Unit and the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office for the City of Roanoke failed to inform the General District Court for the City of Roanoke of the warrants, which hinders him from addressing a grievance, in violation of his due process rights under the United States Constitution. Brown further alleges that McNeil advised A. Little, of the FMC Records Department, on September 12, 2012, long after the 180-day time limitation under the IADA had lapsed, “that the detainer is to remain in place.” He contends that this proves that the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office had no intention of complying with the provisions of the IADA or the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.

Brown requests that the court issue a declaratory judgment, stating that the actions of Caldwell, McNeil and Sgt. Assenat violated his constitutional rights. He further requests that the court issue an injunction for the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office for the City of Roanoke to comply with Article III of the IADA, by dismissing the state warrants / detainer with prejudice. Brown also requests that the court award damages against Sgt. Assenat in the amount of $5, 000 for emotional injuries sustained as a result of his refusal to “confirm or confabulate his intentions” to the courts. He further requests that the court award damages against Caldwell in the amount of $1, 000 for emotional injuries resulting from his failure to respond to or comply with IADA provisions. He requests that the court award damages against McNeil in the amount of $10, 000 for keeping records from the courts and deliberately refusing to comply with the provisions stipulated within the IADA, which violates his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Lastly, Brown requests that the court award punitive damages against Sgt. Assenat in the amount of $2, 500, against Caldwell in the amount of $1, 000 and against McNeil in the amount of $5, 000.

II. Analysis

Rule 12(b)(6) provides for dismissal of a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, the Supreme Court stated that “a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief’ requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). The “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted). Additionally, the Court established a “plausibility standard, ” in which the pleadings must allege enough to make it clear that relief is not merely conceivable, but plausible. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-63.

The Court further explained the Twombly standard in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009):

Two working principles underlie our decision in Twombly. First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. … Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. …
In keeping with these principles a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they 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. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

(Internal citations omitted).

Thus, for the purpose of ruling on the Motions, this court will assume that all well-pleaded factual allegations contained in the plaintiff’s Complaint are true, and all reasonable inferences will be drawn in favor of the plaintiff. See Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court may consider “matters of public record, orders, items appearing in the record of the case, and exhibits attached to the complaint.” Moore v. Flagstar Bank, 6 F.Supp.2d 496, 500 (E.D. Va. 1997) (quotation omitted).

A. Official Capacity Claims & Eleventh Amendment Immunity for Defendants Caldwell & McNeil

Brown sues Caldwell and McNeil in both their official and individual capacities. These defendants argue that Brown’s claims against them for damages in their official capacities are barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity. For the reasons that follow, I agree.

Pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment, the “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. …” U.S. Const. amend. XI. However, the United States Supreme Court has interpreted the sovereign immunity conferred by the Eleventh Amendment to extend beyond the Amendment’s literal terms. See Harbison v. Commonwealth of Virginia, 2010 WL 3655980, at *3 (E.D. Va. Aug. 11, 2010). In particular, the Supreme Court has interpreted it to bar suits by citizens against their own state in federal court. See Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 15 (1890). “[A]n unconsenting State is immune from suits brought in federal courts by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another State.” Harbison, 2010 WL 3655980, at *3 (citing Bd. of Trustees of the Univ. of Ala. v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 363 (2001); Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 663 (1974)). Moreover, courts have extended this Eleventh Amendment immunity to state agencies considered “arms of the state” and state employees acting in their official capacity. See Plaster v. Brown, 2005 WL 3021961, at *3 (W.D. Va. Nov. 8, 2005) (citing Harter v. Vernon, 101 F.3d 334, 337 (4th Cir. 1996); Dawkins v. Craig, 483 F.2d 1191, 1194 (4th Cir. 1973)).

In Ram Ditta v. Md. Nat’l Capital Park & Planning Comm’n, 822 F.2d 456 (4th Cir. 1987), the Fourth Circuit outlined a nonexclusive four-part test to determine whether a state official is immune under the Eleventh Amendment. The first, and most important, consideration is whether the state treasury will pay any judgment that might be awarded. See Ram Ditta, 822 F.2d at 457. Further, the court is to consider whether the state entity exercises a significant degree of autonomy from the state, whether it is involved with local versus state-wide concerns, and finally, how it is treated as a matter of state law. See Ram Ditta, 822 F.2d at 457-58. Thereafter, in Hess v. Port Auth. Trans-Hudson Corp., 513 U.S. 30, 47 (1994), the Supreme Court announced that Eleventh Amendment inquiries should be guided by its twin reasons for being: (1) preventing judgments from depleting state treasuries; and (2) maintaining the integrity retained by each state in our federal system. The Hess Court considered “indicators” of state entities, such as whether local or state governance controlled the entity, whether the implementing legislation characterized the entity as a state agency and how state courts have ruled on the issue, whether the entity’s functions have traditionally been regarded as state or local and whether a state has financial responsibility for the entity. The Court reasoned that when these factors, which echo those articulated in Ram Ditta, point in opposite directions for purposes of determining Eleventh Amendment immunity, a court must focus on “the impetus for the Eleventh Amendment: the prevention of federal-court judgments that must be paid out of a State’s treasury … Accordingly, Courts of Appeals have recognized the vulnerability of the State’s purse as the most salient factor in Eleventh Amendment determinations.” 513 U.S. at 48 (internal citation omitted). Thus, Hess established that, in making a determination as to entitlement to Eleventh Amendment immunity, a number of factors must be considered, but that Ram Ditta was correct that the state treasury factor is the most important.

Two years later, in Harter, the Fourth Circuit reiterated that the most important factor is determining whether the state treasury will pay any resulting judgment. See 101 F.3d at 338-39 (citing Cromer v. Brown, 88 F.3d 1315, 1332 (4th Cir. 1996); Gray v. Laws, 51 F.3d 426, 433 (4th Cir. 1995); Bockes v. Fields, 999 F.2d 788, 790-91 (4th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1092 (1994); Ram Ditta, 822 F.2d at 457)). Recognizing this as the dominant inquiry in the courts of appeals, and “the correct legal theory, ” in Hess, the Supreme Court noted that a finding that the state treasury will pay the judgment is usually “dispositive.” 513 U.S. at 49, 51. In light of the importance of the state treasury factor, the Fourth Circuit held in Bockes, and reiterated in Gray, that if the state treasury will pay the judgment, the entity is immune from suit, and the other Ram Ditta factors need not be considered. See Gray, 51 F.3d at 433-34 (citing Bockes, 999 F.2d at 790-91). Therefore, when deciding if an officer or entity enjoys Eleventh Amendment immunity, a court must first determine whether the state treasury will be affected by the lawsuit. If the answer is “yes, ” the officer or ...


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