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Alipui v. Byerson

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

June 2, 2015

Christopher Alipui, Plaintiff,
v.
Brian Byerson, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This Matter comes before the Court upon a review of defendant Brian Byerson's First Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Christopher Alipui, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, has filed a civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that he is entitled to damages for an illegal search and seizure by members of the Fairfax County Police Department. Plaintiff has named Byerson and four unnamed Fairfax County police officers as defendants. Defendant Byerson was served with process on December 15, 2014, and has filed an answer to the complaint and a Motion to Dismiss, accompanied by a supporting memorandum. Dkt. 40, 41, 42. Defendant also filed the Notice required by Local Rule 7(K) and Roseboro v. Garrison. 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975). Plaintiff has filed a response to defendant's Motion, and defendant has filed a reply to plaintiffs response. Dkt. 48, 49. Plaintiff has also filed an "Ex Parte Motion for Continuance to Obtain Counsel or be Appointed One by the Court." Dkt. 51. For the reasons that follow, defendant's Motion to Dismiss will be granted, and plaintiffs Motion will be denied, as moot. As the reasons below apply to plaintiffs claims against defendant Byerson as well as the unnamed police officers, the remaining defendants will not be served with process, and the case will be dismissed in its entirety.

I. Background

Plaintiffs complaint arises out of his January 18, 2012 arrest. On that day, plaintiff received a call from his friend Brianna, whom he had sold airline tickets to in the past, and asked him to sell tickets to her friend. Compl. ¶10. At approximately 9:30 p.m., plaintiff visited Brianna and her friend in their hotel room in Alexandria, and discussed the airline purchase with Brianna's friend. Id. Plaintiff then heard a knock at the door. Brianna opened the door, and three Fairfax county police officers, including defendant Byerson, entered the room. Id. ¶11. The officers told Brianna that they had received a call about someone smoking marijuana in the hotel room, and gained consent to search the room. Id.; Def.'s Answer ¶11.

The officers asked plaintiff for identification and asked plaintiff why he was present in the room with the two women. Compl. ¶12. When plaintiff explained that he was selling an airline ticket, the defendants requested proof of this fact. Id. ¶13. The officers then asked to search plaintiff s phone, but he refused to consent to such a search. The officers then searched plaintiff s person and seized his two cell phones, bank card, gift cards, and car keys. Id. The officers then searched plaintiffs car and seized additional electronic devices. Id. ¶14. Plaintiff was arrested and brought to the Fairfax County Police station. Id. ¶¶ 14-15.[1]

On January 19, 2012, plaintiff was charged with five counts of credit card theft, pursuant to Virginia Code § 18.2-192, as well as one count of unauthorized possession of two or more credit cards, pursuant to Virginia Code § 18.2-194. Def.'s Answer ¶ 17; Ex. 1. Plaintiff was held without bond on these charges until March 14, 2012, when the charges were nolle pressed by the Commonwealth's Attorney. Compl. ¶18. Plaintiffs case was then transferred to this Court, where he was indicted for five counts of bank fraud, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1344; three counts of aggravated identity theft, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1028 A; one count of passport fraud, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1542; and three counts of unlawful use of a social security number, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 408(a)(8). Def.'s Answer ¶ 18; Ex. 2-3. On January 22, 2013, plaintiff plead guilty in this Court to one count of bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. Def.' s Answer, Ex.4.

Plaintiff filed this action on January 8, 2014, alleging that the defendants violated his Fourth Amendment rights during the events of January 18, 2012. He also alleged that the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to violate his Fourth Amendment rights.

II. Standard of Review

Defendant's Motion is filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c), which permits a party to move for judgment on the pleadings. When analyzing a Rule 12(c) motion, courts apply the same standard as applied to a Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). See Edwards v. City of Goldsboro. 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). Under this standard, a court must presume that all factual allegations in the complaint are true, and must draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiffs favor. See, e.g., Burbach Broad. Co. of Del, v. Elkins Radio Corp.. 278 F.3d 401, 406 (4th Cir. 2002). Therefore, a court may not dismiss a complaint if the plaintiff pleads any plausible set of facts that would entitle him to relief. See, e.g., Conley v. Gibson. 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). A claim has plausibility if the plaintiff alleges sufficient facts by which a court could reasonably infer the defendant's liability. Ashcroft v. Iqbal. 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009 (citing Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). To meet this standard, however, the plaintiff must do more than simply allege "threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements...." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555)). Thus, the plaintiff must allege facts that show more than a "mere possibility of misconduct" by the defendant. Id. at 679.

While pro se prisoners must meet the plausibility standard to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, courts must also hold complaints filed by prisoners "to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers...." Haines v. Kerner. 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972). Liberal construction of a pro se prisoner's complaint is particularly appropriate when a prisoner brings a lawsuit under § 1983 challenging the denial of his civil rights. See Loe v. Armistead. 582 F.2d 1291, 1295 (4th Cir. 1978).

III. Analysis

A. Plaintiffs Constitutional Claims are Foreclosed by Heck v. Humphrey

Plaintiff fails to state a claim on which relief can be granted because the doctrine of Heck v. Humphrey. 512 U.S. 477 (1994) prevents this Court from considering the merits of his constitutional claims. Under Heck, a plaintiff cannot bring a § 1983 action based on an allegedly unconstitutional conviction and imprisonment if relief in the action would necessarily call into question the validity of the underlying conviction. Id. at 486. The Heck doctrine "precludes a prisoner from a collateral attack that may result in two inconsistent results - for example, a valid criminal conviction and a valid civil judgment under § 1983 for monetary damages due to unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment." Wilson v. Johnson. 535 F.3d 262, 265 (4th Cir. 2008). Therefore, a § 1983 damages claim for unconstitutional imprisonment is not appropriate unless and until plaintiffs 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." Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-87.

Plaintiff's § 1983 action arises directly out of the legality of his arrest and subsequent interrogation. This search, arrest, and interrogation led directly to his indictment in Virginia circuit court and eventual guilty plea in this Court. In Heck, the Court recognized that a § 1983 action based on an allegedly unreasonable search "may lie even if the challenged search produced evidence that was introduced in a state criminal trial resulting in the § 1983 plaintiffs still-outstanding conviction. Because of doctrines like independent source and inevitable discovery, and especially harmless error, such a § 1983 action, even if successful, would not necessarily imply that the plaintiffs conviction was unlawful." Heck. 512 U.S. at 487 n.7 (emphasis in original) (internal citations omitted). Here, however, plaintiff has not provided any indication that he would have been convicted absent the challenged search, arrest, and interrogation.[2] As the Fourth Circuit explained in a case involving a challenge to a search for and seizure of cocaine leading directly to a conviction for drug trafficking:

When evidence derived from an illegal search would have to be suppressed in a criminal case if the judgment in the § 1983 claim were to be applied to the criminal case and the suppression would necessarily invalidate the criminal conviction, the stated principle of Heck would apply, and the § 1983 claim would have to be dismissed; there would be no cause of action under § 1983. It is only when the suppression of the evidence required by the logical application ...

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