United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
JOSE L. FRANCE-BEY, Plaintiff,
JUSTIN TODD HAGA, Carroll County Sheriff Department Deputy, et al., Defendants.
Glen E. Conrad Senior United States District Judge
Jose L. France-Bey, proceeding pro se, filed this civil
action against Carroll County Deputy Sheriff Justin Todd
Haga, as well as business owners Posey Clayton Jones and
Jason Lester. This matter is currently before the court on
plaintiffs motion for leave to proceed in forma
pauperis. Although the court grants the motion, for the
following reasons, the court concludes that the complaint
must be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§
1915A(b)(1) and 1915(e)(2)(B).
plaintiffs complaint alleges that, on June 2, 2015, his car
began having trouble while he was driving through Cana,
Virginia. He stopped the car in front of Cana Motors and went
in search of assistance. When France-Bey returned to his car,
he spoke with Jones, the owner of Cana Motors. Jones warned
France-Bey to stay away from the car and then called the
Carroll County Sheriffs Department to report a theft.
France-Bey was arrested and charged with grand larceny.
Deputy Sheriff Haga appears to have been the arresting
officer. According to France-Bey, on June 3, 2015, officers
searched his car pursuant to a search warrant. He claims that
the officers did not find any of Jones' property in the
car and that the Sheriffs Department should have released him
and his car. Instead, he remained in jail, and the Sheriffs
Department called Lester of Lester's Towing to pick up
France-Bey's car. France-Bey then contacted Lester, who
explained that he had taken items from the car, such as the
stereo system, clothes, shoes, and tools, and thrown them
into his dumpster. France-Bey was eventually convicted of the
lesser charge of petit larceny on July 24, 2015, and
sentenced to 12 months imprisonment with 11 months
6, 2018, France-Bey filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 alleging "unlawful arrest." Compl. 7, Dkt. No.
2. The complaint identifies Haga, Jones, and Lester as
defendants and seeks an award of $4, 000, 000.00 in damages.
France-Bey is currently incarcerated in a North Carolina
state correctional institution.
1915A(b)(1) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act provides that
the court shall dismiss "a civil action in which a
prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer
or employee of a governmental entity" "as soon as
practicable" if the court determines that it is
"frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon
which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. §
1915A(b)(1). Additionally, under § 1915(e), which
governs in forma pauperis proceedings, federal
courts have a mandatory duty to screen initial filings.
Eriline Co. v. Johnson, 440 F.3d 648, 656-57 (4th
Cir. 2006). Specifically, "a district court must dismiss
an action that the court finds to be frivolous or malicious
or that fails to state a claim." Michau v.
Charleston Cry., 434 F.3d 725, 728 (4th Cir. 2006)
(citing 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)).
standard of review for dismissal under §
1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) for failure to state a claim is the same as
the standard of review for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a
claim. De'Lonta v. Angelone, 330 F.3d 630, 633
(4th Cir. 2003). Although a pro se plaintiffs pleadings are
liberally construed, the complaint must contain sufficient
factual allegations "to raise a right to relief above
the speculative level" and to "state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007).
is clear from the face of a § 1983 complaint that the
plaintiffs claim is barred by the applicable statute of
limitations, the court may summarily dismiss the complaint
without prejudice as legally frivolous. Nasim v. Warden,
Md. House of Correction, 64 F.3d 951, 956 (4th Cir.
1995) (en banc). A § 1983 claim based on events that
occurred in Virginia is subject to Virginia's statute of
limitations for general personal injury claims, see Owens
v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 239-40 (1989), which requires an
action to be brought within two years of its accrual, Va.
Code Ann. § 8.01-243(A). A claim for false arrest or
false imprisonment under § 1983 accrues when the
plaintiffs false imprisonment comes to an end, meaning that
the plaintiff becomes subject to legal process. Wallace
v. Kato. 549 U.S. 384, 389 (2007). Other claims under
§ 1983, such as a claim for wrongful deprivation of
property, accrue when the plaintiff knows enough about the
harm done to him to bring his lawsuit. Nasim, 64
F.3d 951 at 955; Dougherty v. Virginia, No.
7:14CV00066, 2014 WL 3549003, at *2 (W.D. Va. July 17, 2014),
affd. 585 Fed.Appx. 115 (4th Cir. 2014).
it is clear from the face of the complaint that plaintiffs
claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations.
As to his claim for unlawful arrest, the statute of
limitations accrued by at least July 24, 2015. On that date,
the criminal case that began with plaintiffs June 2, 2015
arrest was finalized in the Carroll County General District
Court. Plaintiff was found guilty of petit larceny and
sentenced to a term of imprisonment. Accordingly, by at least
July 24, 2015, the plaintiff was subject to legal process. To
the extent the complaint also alleges unlawful seizure or
wrongful deprivation of property, the court, finds that such
a claim accrued in June 2015 when France-Bey's car was
towed and he learned that Lester had disposed of certain
property taken from inside the car. Because France-Bey did
not file this § 1983 action until June 6, 2018, over two
years after the accrual of the statute of limitations, the
complaint is time-barred under Va. Code Ann. §
8.01-243(A), and must be summarily dismissed under §
1915A(b)(1) without prejudice as legally frivolous. See
Dougherty, 2014 WL 3549003, at *2.
the court were to consider the allegations in the plaintiffs
complaint, dismissal would be appropriate because the
complaint fails to state a claim for relief against any of
the three defendants. Section 1983 requires a plaintiff to
establish that he has been deprived of rights guaranteed by
the Constitution or laws of the United States and that this
deprivation resulted from conduct committed by a person
acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487
U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Thomas v. Salvation Army S.
Terr., 841 F.3d 632, 637 (4th Cir. 2016). "[T]he
under-color-of-state-law element of § 1983 excludes from
its reach merely private conduct, no matter how
discriminatory or wrongful." Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co.
v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 50 (1999) (internal quotation
case, the plaintiff has not alleged any facts indicating that
Jones engaged in anything other than private conduct.
"[M]erely complaining to the police," as Jones did,
"does not convert a private party into a state
actor" for purposes of liability under § 1983.
Collins v. Womancare, Inc., 878 F.2d 1145, 1155 (9th
Cir. 1989). The plaintiff has not identified any
circumstantial evidence that would suggest that Jones
"possessed and exerted influence over the ... police,
and conspired with them to have [the plaintiff]
arrested." Wagenmann v. Adams. 829 F.2d 196,
211 (1st Cir. 1987). Accordingly, Jones is not a state actor
for purposes of France-Bey's complaint, and the complaint
must be dismissed as to Jones for failure to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted.
Lester, the complaint arguably states that Lester acted under
color of state law when Lester's Towing picked up the car
because the Carroll County Sheriff's Department directed
the towing. Everette v. White, No. 4:14-CV-34-FL,
2015 WL 847194, at *4 (E.D. N.C. Jan. 16, 2015), report
and recommendation adopted. No. 4:14-CV-34-FL, 2015 WL
846748 (E.D. N.C. Feb. 26, 2015) (citing Huemmer v. Mayor
and City Council of Ocean City.632 F.2d 371, 372 (4th
Cir. 1980)). The complaint alleges that the police should
have released the car from impoundment following the search
of the car instead of contacting Lester to tow it away. This
conclusory assertion does not establish a deprivation of
constitutional rights. Moreover, the "precise nature of
[p]laintiff s claim" appears to be an unlawful arrest.
See id To the extent plaintiff challenges Lester's
conduct at all, plaintiff appears to be concerned with the
discarding of the property found inside the car. The
complaint does ...