United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Abingdon Division
Michael A. Bragg, Bragg Law, Abingdon, Virginia, for
Jessica Berdichevsky, Assistant Attorney General, Richmond,
Virginia, for Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. Jones United States District Judge
case brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the plaintiff
alleges that the defendants violated his rights under the
Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by holding him against his
will at a Virginia detention center after the expiration of
his term of incarceration. The defendants have moved to
dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and failure
to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Because I
find that subject-matter jurisdiction exists and the
Complaint states a viable claim, I will deny the Motion to
Complaint alleges the following facts, which I must accept as
true for the purpose of deciding the pending motion.
December 13, 2013, a Virginia circuit court judge found the
plaintiff, Michael Shane Wells, guilty of violating the
conditions of his probation. The court sentenced Wells
“to confinement with the Virginia Department of
Corrections for a term of six years and six months with five
years and six months suspended.” Order, Dec. 16, 2013,
Case Nos. F02-450 & F03-40 (Wise Cty. Cir.
Ct.). The court further ordered that Wells
“shall continue on probation as previously
ordered” and that “[a]s a condition of probation
the defendant shall complete the Detention Center and
Diversion Center Programs.” Id.
served his sentence of incarceration at the Southwest
Virginia Regional Jail in Duffield, Virginia, and was advised
that he would be released on August 15, 2014. While
incarcerated, Wells learned that the Virginia Attorney
General had issued an opinion several years earlier finding
that a Virginia court cannot impose both an active sentence
of incarceration and an alternative sentence of detention or
diversion. In a letter dated April 12, 2014, Wells notified
the Virginia Department of Corrections (“DOC”) of
the Attorney General's opinion and stated that he should
not be required to participate in the detention or diversion
August, 2014, Wells was transferred to the Southwest Virginia
Regional Jail in Abingdon, Virginia (“Abingdon
jail”). He received paperwork showing an updated
release date of August 18, 2014, and was advised that the
date had been adjusted to provide for his transfer to the
Appalachian Detention Center (“ADC”), a facility
operated by DOC, to begin the Detention Center Incarceration
Program (“DCIP”). Wells was given a document
stating that he voluntarily agreed to be transferred to ADC
and was asked to sign the document, but he refused to sign
August 18, 2014, an ADC officer forcibly removed Wells from
the Abingdon jail and transported him to ADC. When he arrived
at ADC, Wells met with defendant John Honaker, a corrections
officer who played the role of a drill sergeant in the DCIP.
Wells told Honaker that he did not agree to being held at ADC
and that there was no legal basis for him to be held there.
Honaker told Wells that Wells was in ADC's custody and he
could not leave. Honaker also advised Wells to cooperate to
make things better for himself. While he was held at ADC,
Wells repeatedly complained to Honaker that he was being held
there illegally, and Honaker repeatedly responded that Wells
was in the custody of ADC.
operated in the style of a boot camp. ADC was surrounded by a
fence, and Wells could not leave the premises at will. ADC
imposed severe physical activities on program participants.
Honaker imposed extra physical activity, marching, and drills
on Wells to punish him for complaining that he was being held
Berk Artrip was the Superintendant of ADC. Wells alleges that
as Superintendant, Artrip was responsible for ensuring that
all ADC residents were participating in the program freely
October 25, 2014, Wells was transferred to the Wise County
Circuit Court for a hearing. The next day, he was released
contends that the actions of Honaker and Artrip deprived him
of liberty without due process and subjected him to cruel and
unusual punishment. The defendants have moved to dismiss the
Complaint based on lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and
failure to state a claim. The motion has been fully briefed
and is ripe for decision. For the reasons that follow, I will
deny the Motion to Dismiss.
defendants first move for dismissal on the ground that that
this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Pursuant to
Rule 12(b)(1), a defendant may challenge federal subject
matter jurisdiction in two ways. See Kerns v. United
States, 585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). First, a
defendant may attack the face of the complaint and contend
“that a complaint simply fails to allege facts upon
which subject matter jurisdiction can be based.”
Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982).
In evaluating a facial challenge to subject-matter
jurisdiction, “the plaintiff, in effect, is afforded
the same procedural protection as he would receive under a
Rule 12(b)(6) consideration.” Id. Second, a
defendant may attack subject-matter jurisdiction as a matter
of fact and argue “that the jurisdictional allegations
of the complaint [are] not true.” Id. Under
those circumstances, a plaintiff receives less procedural
protection, and “the district court is to regard the
pleadings' allegations as mere evidence on the issue, and
may consider evidence outside the pleadings without
converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.”
Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. v. United
States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991).
case, the defendants assert a facial challenge based on the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine. See D.C. Court of
Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983); Rooker v.
Fid. Tr. Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923). Under this doctrine,
a “party losing in state court is barred from seeking
what in substance would be appellate review of the state
judgment in a United States district court, based on the
losing party's claim that the state judgment itself
violates the loser's federal rights.” Johnson
v. De Grandy, 512 U.S. 997, 1005-06 (1994). In this
context, “[t]he controlling question . . . is whether a
party seeks the federal district court to review a state
court decision and thus pass upon the merits of that state
court decision.” Jordahl v. Democratic Party of
Va., 122 F.3d 192, 202 (4th Cir. 1997). This doctrine
ensures that state court decisions are first reviewed within
the state appellate courts and then by the United States
Supreme Court. Am. Reliable Ins. Co. v. Stillwell,
336 F.3d 311, 316 (4th Cir. 2003).
articulated by the Supreme Court, the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine applies to a relatively narrow set of circumstances.
The doctrine is limited to “cases brought by
state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by
state-court judgments rendered before the district court
proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and
rejection of those judgments.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v.
Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005).
defendants contend that Wells is seeking review of the Wise
County Circuit Court's sentencing order, which is barred
by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Wells asserts that
he is not asking this court to review the sentencing order.
Rather, he says he aims to hold the defendants liable for
detaining him at ADC against his will after he had served his
sentence of incarceration. Wells argues that the circuit
court did not sentence him to the DCIP but merely made
completion of the program a condition of his probation. ...