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Saub v. Phillips

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

May 1, 2017

ERIC B. SAUB, Plaintiff,
v.
GEORGETTE PHILLIPS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          John A. Gibney, Jr. Virginia I United States District Judge

         Eric B. Saub, a Virginia pretrial detainee proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action.[1] The action proceeds on Saub's Amended Particularized Complaint. (ECF No. 20.) 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 F.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 plaintiffs 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 PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS

         Saub is currently detained pending his trial in the Circuit Court for the Isle of Wight County, Virginia ("Circuit Court") for first degree murder, use of a firearm to commit murder, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.[2] Saub's trial for the foregoing charges is currently set to begin on July 24, 2017. In a lengthy and rambling Amended Particularized Complaint, Saub alleges that the named Defendants[3] committed various errors related to his criminal investigation and proceedings. (Am. Part. Compl. 4-32.)[4] Saub raises 41 "counts" for relief, all of which are extremely repetitive. Given the repetitive nature of Saub's claims, and for the goal of orderly disposition, the Court groups them together either by type of claim or by the Defendants named in the claim.

         Saub demands all legal costs, compensatory and punitive damages from each Defendant, injunctive relief, declaratory relief, payment for the value of all of his seized property, payment of all costs related to his "unlawful detention, " and release from custody. (Id. at 33-40.) As explained below, Saub's Amended Particularized Complaint will be DISMISSED.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Saub's Conspiracy Claims

         In the first series of claims, Saub alleges that several Defendants conspired against him to charge him with committing first degree murder despite his professed innocence.

         To establish a civil conspiracy under § 1983, Saub must allege facts indicating that the Defendants "acted jointly in concert and that some overt act was done in furtherance of the conspiracy which resulted in [the] deprivation of a constitutional right." Hinkle v. City of Clarksburg, W.Va., 81 F.3d 416, 421 (4th Cir. 1996) (citing Hafner v. Brown, 983 F.2d 570, 577 (4th Cir. 1992)). To this end, Saub must allege facts that plausibly suggest "an agreement or a 'meeting of the minds' by defendants to violate the claimant's constitutional rights." Simmons v. Foe, 47 F.3d 1370, 1377 (4th Cir. 1995) (quoting Caldeira v. Cty. of Kauai, 866 F.2d 1175, 1181 (9th Cir. 1989)). "Where the complaint makes only conclusory allegations of a conspiracy under § 1983 and fails to demonstrate any agreement or meeting of the minds among the defendants, the court may properly dismiss the complaint." Brown v. Angelone, 938 F.Supp. 340, 346 (W.D. Va. 1996) (citations omitted).

         Here, Saub merely alleges that Defendants Coughlin, Phillips, Edwards, Potter, Everett, Nurney, and Van Wassen

conspired together to fabricate a deceptive and fraudulent case against plaintiff for the murder of his closest friend based on imagination, argument, and the manipulation of innocent evidence of a close platonic friendship without any evidence plaintiff possessed a firearm, used a firearm or murdered his closest friend, Jean Marie.

         (Am. Part. Compl. 14.) Saub also alleges that Defendants Phillips, Edwards, Potter, Coughlin, and Everett conspired together and did in fact and intentionally conceal and withhold the absolutely exculpatory evidence that the homicide plaintiff is wrongfully charged with committing on Wednesday 4-15-15 did in fact occur two days later on the morning of 4-17-15 as medically determined by the stage of rigor mortis.

         (Id.at 18.) Saub vaguely mentions that Stokes was involved in this conspiracy as well. (Id. at 32.) Nowhere in his Amended Particularized Complaint does Saub provide any facts that plausibly suggest that these Defendants "formed any type of agreement or acted in concert to injure him." Brown, 938 F.Supp. at 346. "The mere fact that each of these actors played a part in the events is not sufficient to show such a unity of purpose." Id. For this reason, Saub's conspiracy claims will be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

         B. Prosecutorial Immunity

         In the next series of claims, Saub seeks monetary damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief, from Defendants Phillips and Edwards, prosecutors for the Isle of Wight County. Prosecutorial immunity, however, bars Saub's claims for monetary damages against them. See Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430 (1976). Prosecutorial immunity extends to actions taken while performing "the traditional functions of an advocate, " Kalina v. Fletcher, 522 U.S. 118, 131 (1997) (citations omitted), as well as functions that are "intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process." Imbler, 424 U.S. at 430. To ascertain whether a specific action falls within the ambit of protected conduct, courts employ a functional approach, distinguishing acts of advocacy from administrative duties and investigative tasks unrelated "to an advocate's preparation for the initiation of a prosecution or for judicial proceedings." Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 273 (1993) (citation omitted); Carter v. Burch, 34 F.3d 257, 261-63 (4th Cir. 1994). Absolute immunity protects those "acts undertaken by a prosecutor in preparing for the initiation of judicial proceedings or for trial, and which occur in the course of his role as an advocate for the State." Buckley, 509 U.S. at 273.

         In his Amended Particularized Complaint, Saub faults Phillips and Edwards for working with officers of the Orange County, Florida Sheriffs Office to effect a search and seizure of Saub's office in Orlando, Florida. (Am. Part. Compl. 13.) He also asserts that they ordered Saub's financial records from various institutions. (Id.) Saub further alleges that Phillips and Edwards conducted a preliminary hearing at which they "abandoned their duty to seek justice continuing a deliberate conspiracy calculated to wrongfully and illegally imprison, maliciously prosecute and attempt to wrongfully convict plaintiff. . . ." (Id. at 16.) According to Saub, Phillips and Edwards presented false testimony during this hearing. (Id. at 17.) Saub fails to allege, however, that Phillips and Edwards's actions in his pending criminal proceedings were actions taken outside of their roles as advocates for the Commonwealth. See Imbler, 424 U.S. at 430 (holding that prosecutorial immunity extends to prosecutor's actions "in initiating a prosecution and in presenting the State's case"). Therefore, Saub's claims for damages against Defendants Phillips and Edwards will be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         Moreover, given the frivolous nature of Saub's claims, Saub states no basis for injunctive relief against Defendants Phillips and Edwards. See 28 U.S.C. ยง 1915A(b)(1). Accordingly, Saub's claims for injunctive relief against ...


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