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Matthews v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

January 12, 2015

Alexander Otis Matthews, Plaintiff,
United States of America, Defendant.


LIAM O'GRADY, District Judge.

Alexander Otis Matthews, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, has filed an action under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2671. Plaintiff's initial complaint, filed on December 21, 2012, raised both FTCA claims and constitutional claims pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). On July 8, 2013, the Court granted plaintiff's Motion to Voluntarily Dismiss his Bivens claims. Dkt. 20. Accordingly, plaintiff's suit is currently based solely on the FTCA, and is brought against the United States of America. On March 3, 2014, defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction and a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. Dkt. 39. Plaintiff was provided with the notice required under Local Civil Rule 7(K) and by Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), and he filed a response in opposition. Dkt. 42. Defendant submitted a reply, and plaintiff thereafter filed a Motion for Leave to File a Reply Memorandum. Dkt. 44. For the reasons that follow, defendant's motions will be granted, and judgment will be entered in favor of the United States on plaintiff's FTCA claim. Plaintiffs Motion for Leave to File a Reply, as well as plaintiffs other pending motions, will be denied.

On August 27, 2010, plaintiff was charged by criminal complaint with one count of wire fraud in the District of Maryland. On November 17, 2010, he was indicted on one count of bank fraud in the same court. On February 17, 2011, plaintiff was indicted in the Eastern District of Virginia on one count of wire fraud. Plaintiff pled guilty to all three charges in this Court on July 15, 2011, and was sentenced on September 30, 2011. See generally United States v. Matthews, 1:11-cr-348-L0-1. On February 8, 2012, plaintiff filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. See id. Dkt. 13. His § 2255 motion raised allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel, attorney conflict of interest, Due Process violations and prosecutorial misconduct by Assistant U.S. Attorney ("AUSA") Ryan Faulconer, and Due Process violations due to false information introduced at his sentencing hearing. The Court denied plaintiff's motion on April 17, 2013. See id. Did. 53.

Plaintiff then filed the instant complaint, raising substantially the same allegations as made in his February 8, 2012 motion, on December 21, 2012. See Compl. [Dkt. 1]. As noted above, his original complaint was brought pursuant to both Bivens and the FTCA. Plaintiff then moved to voluntarily dismiss his FTCA claims in order to properly exhaust his administrative remedies. On January 10, 2013, the Court granted his motion. Dkt. 5. On June 13, 2013, plaintiff filed a "Motion to Add FTCA Suit" and a motion to voluntarily dismiss his Bivens claims. Dkt. 18, 19. The Court granted both motions on July 8, 2013. On December 27, 2013, the Court, upon reviewing plaintiffs FTCA claims, dismissed plaintiff's intentional infliction of emotional distress and loss of consortium claims, substituted the United States of America as the defendant in the action, and served the defendant. Dkt. 28.

Plaintiff makes four allegations in the instant action. First, he alleges that two FBI agents and AUSA Michael Pauze of the District of Maryland illegally prosecuted him when they failed to disclose and take action on an alleged conflict of interest his defense attorney had with his codefendant. See Plaintiff's Motion to Add FTCA Suit ("Pl.'s Mot. to Add FTCA Suit") [Dkt. 18-1] ¶¶ 11-19. Plaintiff argues that these actions denied him "conflict free counsel" in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights, and constituted negligence and wrongful conduct. Id . in ¶¶ 19-21. He alleges that that he has "a Constitutional right under the 6th Amendment to conflict free counsel, " and that "defendant United States of America is liable to the plaintiff for the unlawful actions of AUSA Pauze and FBI Agent Alicia Wojtkonski." Id . ¶ 21. Second, plaintiff alleges that all the FBI agents and AUSAs involved in his case selectively prosecuted him. Id . ¶ 46 ("Of the more than 18 culpable participants in this case... [plaintiff] was the only person prosecuted.").

Third, plaintiff alleges that defendant Faulconer "sought to convince [plaintiff] not to pursue" a. § 2255 motion, and that Faulconer retaliated against plaintiff when he filed his § 2255 motion. Id . ¶¶ in 29-31. Lastly, plaintiff claims that Faulconer introduced false statements at his sentencing hearing based on a previously-dismissed assault and battery charge against his exwife. Id . ¶ 32. Similarly, plaintiff alleges that Faulconer and defendant Carla Coopwood, U.S. Probation Officer, submitted a victim impact statement to the Court that "falsely and maliciously portrayed [him] as a foreign national of Ethiopian origins who had been converted to Islam on the hands of' a known radical Islamist preacher." Id . ¶ 33. Plaintiff alleges that the defendants violated notions of "fundamental fairness, " id. ¶ 56, that the defendants violated his First Amendment rights, id. ¶ 41, that he suffered an illegal conviction, id. ¶ 22, and that his sentence violates "the 5th and 14th Amendments, " id. ¶ 40, among other injuries. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages from the United States of America in the amount of $37, 000, 000. See id. at 9.


Plaintiff's claims must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Although plaintiff styles his suit as arising out of the FTCA, his claims are, in essence, repetitive of the constitutional claims made in his § 2255 motion. This Court is thus barred from considering his claims by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). In addition, plaintiff's claims are not cognizable under the FTCA, as they are essentially claims for constitutional violations by the defendants.[1]

A. Standard of Review

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and can only exercise the jurisdiction expressly provided by the Constitution and federal statutes. See, e.g., Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 552 (2005). This jurisdiction cannot "be expanded by judicial decree." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994) (citing American Fire & Cas. Co. v. Finn, 341 U.S. 6, 17-18 (1951)). Thus, when a district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over an action, it must dismiss the case. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3) ("If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action."). When determining the merits of a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), a court must determine whether plaintiff's allegations, taken as true, "plead jurisdiction and a meritorious cause of action." Dickey v. Greene, 729 F.2d 957, 958 (4th Cir. 1984). The burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction thus rests on the plaintiff. See Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991) (internal citations omitted). If a defendant's challenge to subject matter jurisdiction arises out of the legal sufficiency of the pleading of the facts supporting jurisdiction, the court must accept all the plaintiff's allegations as true. See, e.g., Crutchfield v. United States Army Corps. of Eng'rs, 230 F.Supp.2d 687, 695 (E.D. Va. 2002) (internal citations omitted).

Based on the present record, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's claims. Thus, his claims must be dismissed.

B. Plaintiffs Claims are Barred from Review by the Heck Doctrine

All of plaintiff's claims challenge the lawfulness of his current conviction. Thus, if the Court were to determine the merits of his claims, it "would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence." Heck, 512 U.S. at 486. Such relief is foreclosed by the Supreme Court's decision in Heck v. Humphrey, which held that, before recovering monetary damages[2] for claims based on the validity of a conviction, a plaintiff must show that his conviction has been either reversed on direct appeal or vacated through a writ of habeas corpus.[3] See id. at 487. Because plaintiffs conviction has not been vacated or overturned, he is precluded from obtaining monetary damages based on the government's actions.

Plaintiff states that Heck does not apply to his claims because his "common law claims cannot as a matter of law serve to render his federal sentence/conviction invalid." Plaintiff's Opposition to Government's Motion to Dismiss ("Pl.'s Opp.") [Dkt. 42], at ¶ 3. He states that, because the Court denied his § 2255 motion, it is legally impossible for claims based on "simple common law torts" to render his conviction invalid. Id. at 5 ¶ 9. He states that his case is distinct from a § 1983 case because, in a § 1983 action, a plaintiff raises constitutional challenges that could render a conviction invalid, whereas his claims could not. Id. at 6 ¶ 11. However, plaintiff's argument is incorrect. As discussed below, plaintiffs "common law tort claims" are, in substance, ...

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