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Pleasant v. Thorne-Begland

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

June 17, 2016

JEFFREY A. PLEASANT, Plaintiff,
v.
TRACY THORNE-BEGLAND, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Robert E. Payne Senior United States District Judge.

         Jeffrey A. Pleasant, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, has filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action.[1]The matter is before the Court for evaluation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A.

         I. PRELIMINARY REVIEW

         Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") this Court must dismiss any action filed by a prisoner if the Court determines the action (1) "is frivolous" or (2) "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2); see 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. The first standard includes claims based upon '''an indisputably meritless legal theory, '" or claims where the '''factual contentions are clearly baseless.'" Clay v. Yates, 809 P. Supp. 417, 427 (E.D. Va. 1992) (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989)). The second standard is the familiar standard for a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         "A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint; importantly, it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing 5A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1356 (1990)). In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations are taken as true and the complaint is viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993); see also Martin, 980 F.2d at 952. This principle applies only to factual allegations, however, and ''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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "require [ ] only 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (second alteration in original) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Plaintiffs cannot satisfy this standard with complaints containing only "labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Id. (citations omitted). Instead, a plaintiff must allege facts sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, " id. (citation omitted), stating a claim that is "plausible on its face, " id. at 570, rather than merely "conceivable." Id. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 556). In order for a claim or complaint to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, the plaintiff must "allege facts sufficient to state all the elements of [his or] her claim." Bass v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 324 F.3d 761, 765 (4th Cir. 2003) (citing Dickson v. Microsoft Corp., 309 F.3d 193, 213 (4th Cir. 2002); Iodice v. United States, 289 F.3d 270, 281 (4th Cir. 2002)) . Lastly, while the Court liberally construes pro se complaints, Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), it will not act as the inmate's advocate and develop, sua sponte, statutory and constitutional claims that the inmate failed to clearly raise on the face of his complaint. See Brock v. Carroll, 107 F.3d 241, 243 (4th Cir. 1997) (Luttig, J., concurring); Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

         II. SUMMARY OF ALLEGATIONS

         In his Complaint, Pleasant has named the following individuals as Defendants: Shannon L. Taylor, Commonwealth's Attorney for Richmond, Virginia; Tracy Thome-Begland, Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney for Richmond, Virginia; Ali J. Amirshahi, a court-appointed attorney; and Judge Margaret Spencer of the Circuit Court for the City of Richmond, Virginia. (Compl. ¶¶ 7-11, ECF No. I.)[2] The Court provides the following summary of Pleasant's allegations.

         On January 24, 2000, Pleasant was "charged with committing two robberies, two use of a firearm in the commission of robberies and two counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon." (Compl. ¶ 13.) These charges "were documented as Case Nos. (CR00-362-F), (CR00-363-F), (CR00-364-F) and (CR00-F-1026, CR00-F-1027), (CR00-F-1028)." (Id.) On March 6, 2000, Pleasant appeared in the General District Court for the City of Richmond for a preliminary examination regarding "Case Nos. (CR00-F-2016 through -1028)." (Id. ¶ 15.) The General District Court "certified the offenses to Circuit Court, Commonwealth's Attorney Shannon L. Taylor did not object." (Id.) On March 13, 2000, Pleasant appeared in the Manchester General District Court for a preliminary examination "for Case Nos. (CR00-362-F through -364-F)." (Id; ¶ 16.) The General District Court "certified the offenses to Circuit Court; Commonwealth's Attorney Shannon L. Taylor did not object." (Id.)

         On March 25, 2000, Pleasant was indicted in Chesterfield County, Virginia. (Id. ¶ 17.) On August 1, 2000, in Chesterfield County, Pleasant was "tried and convicted . . . for one count of robbery and one count of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony." (Id. ¶ 18.) The next day, "the sheriff of . . . Richmond turned Pleasant over to the U.S. Marshals." (Id. ¶ 19.) The Marshals brought Pleasant to this Court, where he was informed "that he was about to be arraigned on federal indictments handed down February 25, 2000." (Id.) Subsequently, Pleasant "learned that he was being prosecuted for the exact same state offenses, under 'Project Exile.'" (Id. ¶ 20.)

         On December 12, 2000, a federal jury "found Pleasant guilty." (Id. ¶ 21.) On May 22, 2001, this Court sentenced Pleasant to 622 months of incarceration. (Id.) This Court indicated that the Circuit Court for the City of Richmond had "dismissed the state offenses on July 19, 2000." (Id. ¶ 22.)

         "After many challenges to the state arrest, Pleasant discovered that . . . the Circuit Court did not dismiss the offenses on July 19, 2000." (Id. ¶ 23.) On September 9, 2010, "Pleasant found that in order to maintain the fraud that was committed, Commonwealth's Attorney Tracy Thorne-Begland was willing to . say things in a Motion to Vacate that were contradictory and false." ( Id. ¶ 24.)[3] On March 14 and 19, 2013, Circuit Court Judge Margaret Spencer "issued orders saying that the state offenses were dismissed March 6, 2000." (Id. ¶ 25.)[4] Pleasant asserts that Judge Spencer's statement regarding the dismissal of the state charges was fraudulently made. (Id.)

         Pleasant now claims "that he was treated differently than those similarly situated pursuant to the initiation and furtherance of the PROJECT EXILE law enforcement initiative." (Id. ¶ 27.) The Court construes Pleasant's Complaint to raise the following claims:

Claim One: Pleasant's rights to due process[5] and equal protection[6] under the Fourteenth Amendment were violated when:
(a) Defendant Taylor "unilaterally withdrew case nos. (CR00-362-F through -3 62-F) March 2, 2000, pursuant to the furtherance of the Project Exile law enforcement initiative, without informing Plaintiff that he would not be prosecuted in state jurisdiction prior to the two preliminary examinations March 6, and March 13, 2000." (Id. ¶ 30.)
(b) Defendant Thome-Begland "made false and contradictory allegations in a Motion to Dismiss filed September 9, 2010 . . . [by] plac[ing] on record the presumption that all 6 offenses were heard in Richmond City Circuit Court on March 6, 2000 and dismissed on July 19, ...

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