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Dixon v. Gravely

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

April 10, 2018

MALVESTER DIXON, JR., a/k/a Malvester Muhammad, Plaintiff,


          Jackson L. Kiser Senior United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Joan Ziglar's Motion to Dismiss and Plaintiff Malvester Dixon's Motion to Substitute Party. The issues have been briefed by the parties, and I heard argument on the motions on April 5, 2018. For the reasons stated herein, I will grant Defendant Ziglar's Motion to Dismiss, deny Plaintiff's Motion to Substitute Parties, and dismiss this action.


         Lisa Thomas was tragically murdered on September 26, 2000, and Billy Ray Manns (“Manns”) implicated Plaintiff in the crime. At Plaintiff's trial, Manns testified that Plaintiff and another individual paid Manns $10, 000.00 to murder Thomas. A jury convicted Plaintiff of capital murder.

         Following his conviction and prior to his sentencing, Plaintiff moved for a new trial. At a hearing on Plaintiff's motion, Manns recanted his testimony and stated that he acted alone in killing Thomas. Plaintiff was granted a new trial and the prosecutor, Defendant Joan Ziglar, nolle prossed the pending charges against Plaintiff. Plaintiff was a free man.

         Now, over a decade after the charges against him were dropped, Plaintiff filed suit in this court asking that I issue a declaration that he is “actually innocent” of the charges. He contends that because his charges were dismissed without a “declaration of innocence, ” his due process right to a fair trial before jury of his peers was violated.

         In his original Complaint, Plaintiff named as defendants both Joan Ziglar, the assistant Commonwealth's Attorney who prosecuted him originally, and H. Clay Gravely, IV, who was the elected Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Martinsville at the time of Plaintiff's prosecution. His Complaint did not specify whether he was suing Gravely and Ziglar in their official capacities as Commonwealth's Attorney and assistant commonwealth attorney, their individual capacities, or both. On January 30, 2018, I informed Plaintiff that Gravely had passed away and instructed him that, if he believed the claim survived, to file an appropriate motion to substitute a party.[2] See Order, Jan. 30, 2018 [ECF No. 10]. On February 8, Plaintiff filed a motion to substitute Andy Hall, the acting Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Martinsville, for Gravely. [ECF No. 16]. Both motions-the motion to substitute a party and the motion to dismiss-were set for oral argument on April 5, 2018. Following argument, I informed Plaintiff that I was constrained to dismiss his case. This Memorandum Opinion sets forth the legal basis for that conclusion.


         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “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. In determining facial plausibility, the court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true. Id. The Complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief” and sufficient “[f]actual allegations . . . to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . .” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks omitted). Therefore, the Complaint must “allege facts sufficient to state all the elements of [the] claim.” Bass v. E.I. Dupont de Nemours & Co., 324 F.3d 761, 765 (4th Cir. 2003). Although “a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, ” a pleading that merely offers “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.


         Plaintiff's Complaint, “‘however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). “Courts must allow a pro se complaint to go forward where the complaint is broad and contains a ‘potentially cognizable claim' that the plaintiff can later particularize, ” Peck v. Merletti, 64 F.Supp.2d 599, 602 (E.D. Va. 1999).

         Plaintiff's Complaint is not entirely clear on his purported theory of recovery. That is not surprising, since he is proceeding pro se and is not trained in the intricacies of the law. Even giving Plaintiff the generous latitude afforded to pro se parties, I see no potential for the recovery he seeks.

         Although Plaintiff does not identify whether he is suing the parties in their individual or official capacities, I will assume he is attempting to sue them in both. Accordingly, I will address his potential theories of recovery in turn.

         A. Suits against Gravely and Ziglar in their ...

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