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Hendrick v. Caldwell

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

February 8, 2017

CARY HENDRICK, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DONALD CALDWELL, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs Cary Hendrick, Bryan Manning, Ryan Williams, Richard Deckerhoff, and Richard Walls bring this action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against defendants Donald Caldwell and Michael Herring, in their official capacities, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202. This case is presently before the court on defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, the court will grant defendants' motion.[1]

         Background

         The following facts, taken from the plaintiffs' complaint, are accepted as true for purposes of the defendants' motion to dismiss. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). The named plaintiffs in this matter are homeless individuals who suffer from alcohol use disorder and have been interdicted pursuant to Virginia Code § 4.1-333(a). Defendants are prosecutors for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

         Virginia Code § 4.1-333(a) states:

When after a hearing upon due notice it appears to the satisfaction of the circuit court of any county or city that any person, residing within such county or city, has been convicted of driving any automobile, truck, motorcycle, engine or train while intoxicated or has shown himself to be an habitual drunkard, the court may enter an order of interdiction prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages to such person until further ordered.

         The statute does not define "habitual drunkard, " and there is no clear standard for removing the label once determined to be such. Compl. ¶ 32-33. A person can be interdicted in absentia, and a defendant does not have the right to counsel or trial by jury at the interdiction hearing as it is a civil proceeding. Id. ¶ 19.

         It is a Class 1 misdemeanor for an interdicted individual to "consume, purchase or possess, or attempt to consume, purchase or posses, any alcoholic beverage." Va. Code § 4.1-305. It is this prohibition of consumption, possession, or attempted possession or consumption that plaintiffs challenge (the "consumption prong"). Virginia Code § 4.1-322 also makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor for an interdicted person to be drunk in public, and plaintiffs do not challenge this aspect of the statutory scheme. The punishment for conviction of a Class 1 misdemeanor is "confinement in jail for not more than twelve months and a fine of not more than $2, 500, either or both." Va. Code § 18.2-11(a). Between August of 2005 and August of 2015, there were 4, 743 convictions under this statutory scheme (the "Interdiction Statute"). Id. ¶ 21.

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2), plaintiffs seek to certify a class of homeless alcoholics who have been or will be interdicted, and a class of defendant Virginia Commonwealth Attorneys who have the authority to enforce the Interdiction Statute. The complaint alleges that alcoholism is an addiction: a chronic disease of the brain that compels the plaintiffs to pathologically pursue alcohol use. Id. ¶ 25. Their homelessness exacerbates their alcoholism and makes long-term abstention "nearly impossible." Id. ¶ 26.

         The named plaintiffs were interdicted between 2009 and 2012. These four plaintiffs have been arrested and prosecuted under the Interdiction Statute between ten and thirty times each. All of the named plaintiffs were either interdicted in absentia or requested counsel, but their requests were denied. Id. ¶ 19. The complaint also alleges that the plaintiffs have been arrested for constructive possession of alcohol, including situations in which a plaintiff was merely sitting near open containers or emitting a detectable odor of alcohol. Id.'¶ 29.

         Plaintiffs challenge the Interdiction Statute, claiming that it violates their rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Specifically, plaintiffs bring five claims against defendants.[2] Count One alleges that the enforcement of the Interdiction Statute results in cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment as applied to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment. Count Three alleges deprivation of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. Count Five claims that the Interdiction Statute is unconstitutionally vague in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Count Seven alleges deprivation of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. Count Eight requests injunctive and declaratory relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202. Plaintiffs ask the court to certify the classes of plaintiffs and defendants, declare that the defendants' practice of enforcing the consumption prong of the Interdiction Statute against homeless alcoholics violates their constitutional rights, and enjoin defendants from further enforcing this portion of the Interdiction Statute against plaintiffs and others in the class.

         Standard of Review

         "The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is to test the sufficiency of a complaint." Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). When deciding a motion to dismiss under this rule, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and draw all reasonable factual inferences in the plaintiffs' favor. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); see also Vitol S.A. v. Primerose Shipping Co., 708 F.3d 527, 539 (4th Cir. 2013). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiffs obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires 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) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). To survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         Discussion

         Defendants make five arguments, four of which are procedural and one of which is substantive, in support of their motion to dismiss: (1) that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine precludes this court from exercising jurisdiction over this case; (2) that plaintiffs have had the opportunity to challenge their interdictions in state court, and those judgments have preclusive effect; (3) that plaintiffs' request for future equitable relief is not ripe for adjudication; (4) that plaintiffs' request for declaratory relief is barred by the statute of limitations; and (5) that plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         I. Procedural Arguments

         a. The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

         Defendants contend that plaintiffs' complaint is a de facto appeal from a state court judgment and is thus barred by Rooker-Feldman. See Rooker v. Fid. Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923); D.C. Ct. of App. v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983). The Rooker-Feldman doctrine arises from Congress' assignment of original jurisdiction to the district courts and appellate jurisdiction over final state court judgments to the United States Supreme Court. Thana v. Bd. of License Comm'rs for Charles Cty., Md., 827 F.3d 314, 318-19 (4th Cir. 2016). When applicable, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is a jurisdictional bar that prevents a state court loser from seeking, in substance, appellate review of his adverse state court decision by a federal district court. Am. Reliable Ins. Co. v. Stillwell 336 F.3d 311, 316 (4th Cir. 2003). In determining whether the doctrine applies, the fundamental question is whether the litigant is seeking federal appellate review of the merits of a state court decision. Id. A litigant may not "escape the jurisdictional bar of Rooker-Feldman by merely refashioning its attack on state court judgments as a §1983 claim." Jordahl v. Democratic Party of Virginia, 122 F.3d 192, 202 (4th Cir. 1997). Stated otherwise, if the federal court's action would render the state court judgment ineffectual, Rooker-Feldman is implicated. Id.

         The Fourth Circuit recently addressed the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and clarified its narrow scope. See Thana, 827 F.3d at 319 ("[T]he Rooker-Feldman doctrine is narrow and focused...."). Noting that the "distinction between preclusion principles and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine can sometimes be subtle, " the Fourth Circuit observed that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine "assesses only whether the process for appealing a state court judgment to the Supreme Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1257(a) has been sidetracked by an action filed in a district court specifically to review the state court judgment." Id. (emphasis in original). The Fourth Circuit further emphasized that the Supreme Court has indicated that the doctrine should be restricted "to cases whose procedural posture mirrored those in the Rooker and Feldman cases themselves." Thana, 827 F.3d at 320 (citing Exxon Mobile Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005)). Accordingly, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars a district court's jurisdiction in similar situations: when "the losing party in state court filed suit in federal court after the state proceedings ended, complaining of an injury caused by the state-court judgment and seeking review and rejection of that judgment." Exxon, 544 U.S. at 291. The Fourth Circuit has never, in a published opinion, applied the Rooker-Feldman doctrine to preclude a district court's jurisdiction. Thana, 827 F.3d at 320.

         In the instant case, and in light of the Fourth Circuit's most recent clarification of the narrow scope of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the court does not believe the doctrine applies. While the instant action was filed after the state proceedings ended, the plaintiffs are not "complaining of an injury caused by the state-court judgment and seeking review and rejection of that judgment." Id. They do not seek to overturn their orders of interdiction or their prior convictions as interdicted individuals. Instead, plaintiffs challenge the statutory scheme-that is, how the Interdiction Statute is applied to them in the future. The court finds that this claim, as pled, is sufficiently independent so as not to act as an impediment to the exercise of federal jurisdiction. See Skinner v. Switzer, 562 U.S. 521, 532 (2011) (stating that if the party "presents an independent claim, it is not an impediment to the exercise of federal jurisdiction that the same or a related question was earlier aired between the parties in state court"). The court, however, cannot escape the tension between the state proceedings and the instant action. Nevertheless, the Fourth Circuit has determined that Rooker-Feldman is not the appropriate vehicle to manage such tensions. Instead, they are to be examined through the doctrines of preclusion, comity, and abstention. Thana, 827 F.3d at 320 (citing Exxon, 544 U.S. at 292-93).

         b. Res Judicata

         The court next turns to the question of whether plaintiffs' claims are procedurally barred under preclusion principles. "Federal courts asked in a § 1983 action to give res judicata effect (in any of the doctrine's aspects) to a state court judgment are bound under the Full Faith and Credit Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1738, to apply the law of the rendering state to determine whether and to what extent the state court judgment should have preclusive effect." Davenport v. North Carolina Dep't of Transp., 3 F.3d 89, 92 (4th Cir. 1993). The effects of res judicata can be divided into two categories: claim preclusion and issue preclusion. Lee v. Spoden, 290 Va. 235, 245 (2015). In Virginia, under the doctrine of claim preclusion,

A party whose claim for relief arising from identified conduct, a transaction, or an occurrence, is decided on the merits by a final judgment, shall be forever barred from prosecuting any second or subsequent civil action against the same opposing party or parties on any claim or cause of action that arises from the same conduct, transaction or occurrence, whether or not the legal theory or rights asserted in the second or subsequent action were raised in the prior lawsuit, and regardless of the legal elements or the evidence upon which any claim in the prior proceeding depended, or the particular remedies sought.

         Virginia Supreme Court Rule l:6(a). Whether a subsequent claim involves "the same conduct, transaction or occurrence" depends on whether the claim is based on a different cause of action. Lee, 290 Va. at 248. "[A] cause of action is a set of operative facts which, under the substantive law, may give rise to a right of action." Roller v. Basic Constr. Co., 238 Va. 321, 327 (1989). "A right of action, on the other hand, 4s the remedial right accorded to a person to enforce a cause of action and arises only when a person's rights are infringed.'" Lee, 290 Va. at 249. Multiple rights may arise under a single cause of action, but "a wrongful act generally gives rise to only a single indivisible cause of action."

         In the instant case, the plaintiffs are seeking declaratory and injunctive relief regarding future arrests and prosecutions that plaintiffs assert are certain to occur. These prosecutions will necessarily include a separate "set of operative facts" that gives rise to the right of action. Lee, 290 Va. at 248. Therefore, although there remains the issue of whether plaintiffs have standing to proceed based on future occurrences, the court does not believe that the instant matter addresses the same cause of action. Accordingly, the doctrine of claim preclusion does not prevent suit.

         Similarly, the doctrine of issue preclusion does not bar plaintiffs' claims. Issue preclusion "bars 'successive litigation of an issue of fact or law actually litigated and resolved in a valid court determination essential to the prior judgment, ' even if the issue recurs in the context of a different claim." Lee, 290 Va. at 246 (quoting Taylor v. Sturgell 553 U.S. 880, 892 (2008)). Here, as explained, there are no factual issues that have already been litigated, as the facts simply have not yet unfolded. Moreover, defendants do not assert that plaintiffs actually litigated their constitutional claims in the state court proceedings. Instead, defendants argue that plaintiffs had the opportunity to do so in their previous state court proceedings, but chose not to raise these issues.

         In arguing that plaintiffs' claims are barred by res judicata, the defendants rely upon Colvin v. Deaton. 577 F.Supp. 925 (W.D. Va. 1984). In Colvm, ten individuals brought constitutional challenges to the Interdiction Statute. The court held that res judicata precluded the plaintiffs from bringing their claims because plaintiffs had the opportunity to folly and fairly litigate their constitutional claims in their state court proceedings, but chose not to do so. Id. at 928.

         The court questions whether the plaintiffs in the instant matter had a full and fair opportunity to litigate their constitutional claims. See Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 101 (1980) (holding that res judicata can apply to § 1983 claims but noting that "[c]ollateral estoppel does not apply where the party against whom an earlier court decision is asserted did not have a full and fair opportunity to litigate the claim or issue decided by the first court"). In determining that the plaintiffs had a full and fair opportunity to litigate their constitutional claims in their state court proceedings, the Colvin court relied, in part, on (1) the fact that the plaintiffs "were represented by counsel at their state court hearing"; and (2) the fact that "[t]heir present claim for declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief arises from the very fact of the state court proceedings themselves." Colvin, 577 F.Supp. at 928-29. The district court also referenced Southern Jam, Inc. y. Robinson, 675 F.2d 94 (5th Cir. 1982), a case in which res judicata barred a plaintiffs constitutional claims because the plaintiffs did not take the opportunity to raise these claims at the state court proceeding. The Colvin court observed that the state law applied in Southern Jam required a party to raise any claim it may have against an opposing party that arose out of the same transaction or occurrence in that same proceeding. Colvin, 557 F.Supp. at 930. In Virginia, however, "[a]ll counterclaims are permissive." Tyler v. Berger, No. Civ.A. 605CV00030, 2005 WL 2596164, at *3 n.2 (W.D. Va. Oct. 13, 2005); Va. Code § 16.1-88.01. The fact that counterclaims are permissive in Virginia supports the argument that plaintiffs may not have had the opportunity to fully and fairly litigate their claims. See Brown v. Transurban USA, Inc., 144 F.Supp.3d 809, ...


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