United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
A. Gibney, Jr. United States District Judge
case arises from a charge of trespassing at a dump in North
Carolina. In 2014, the owner of the dump charged plaintiff
Stephen King with trespassing at the dump, which apparently
specialized in disposal of stumps. King wanted some deputy
sheriffs from Greensville County, Virginia, to testify in his
behalf, but Greensville Commonwealth's Attorney Patricia
Watson allegedly told King the deputies could not attend his
North Carolina trial because they were tied up in court. King
later found out the witnesses were actually available. He
then filed a bar complaint against Watson for lying to him.
Even without the witnesses, he won the trespass case.
2015, with his stump dump charge behind him, King set off on
a political career. Given his success in the trespass case,
he decided to run for sheriff of Greensville County.
Commonwealth's Attorney Watson's cousin, Steve Allen,
complained to Watson that King had committed election fraud
by lying about having lived in Virginia for one year. Watson
passed the complaint along to the Virginia State Police.
Special Agent Kimberly Darden conducted an investigation and
found little evidence of wrongdoing, but obtained a warrant
anyway. King lost the election, but stood trial before a jury
which acquitted him of election fraud.
twice-acquitted King then filed this suit against Allen,
Watson, and Darden because of their dastardly conspiracy
against him. In his complaint, he asserts four counts: (I)
claims under § 1983 for malicious prosecution and false
arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (II) a state law
false imprisonment claim; (III) a state law malicious
prosecution claim; and (IV) a state law business conspiracy
claim. The defendants have moved to dismiss all counts.
the § 1983 claims in Count I, the Court grants
Allen's motion to dismiss because he did not act under
color of law. The Court denies Watson and Darden's
motions as to the Count I § 1983 malicious prosecution
claim; King alleges that Watson and Darden teamed up to
prosecute King on the election charge knowing that they had
no evidence to support the charge. The Court grants their
motions to dismiss the § 1983 false arrest claim because
King fails to allege that the police did not arrest him
pursuant to a facially valid warrant. The Court will grant
King leave to amend if he can somehow come up with facts
showing the facial invalidity of the arrest warrant.
Court grants the defendants' motions to dismiss the state
law false imprisonment claim in Count II, again because King
fails to allege that officers did not arrest him pursuant to
a valid warrant, but grants King leave to amend as to his
claim against Watson and Darden.
Court denies Watson and Darden's motions to dismiss Count
Ill's state law malicious prosecution claim, because,
again, King seems to have alleged that they teamed up to
charge him wrongfully. Count III does not, however, state a
claim against Allen.
the Court grants the motions to dismiss the state law
business conspiracy claim in Count IV because he fails to
allege that the defendants hurt him in any business capacity.
FACTS ALLEGED IN COMPLAINT
discussed above, in late 2014, King filed a bar complaint
against Commonwealth's Attorney Watson after the two
clashed over witness availability issues. In 2015, King filed
to run for Greensville County Sheriff. Watson's cousin
Allen told Watson orally that King had not lived in
Greensville for the full year prior to the scheduled
election, as required by Virginia law, and therefore must
have committed election fraud on his election filing form.
Watson then sent a letter to the Virginia State Police
("VSP") requesting that they investigate the
receiving the letter, the VSP assigned Special Agent Kimberly
Darden to the investigation. Darden then contacted King, who
insisted that he had resided with his father in Greensville
County since October 2014. Darden also spoke with King's
father, but the complaint does not provide the details of
that conversation. Darden spoke to Allen, the original
complainant, who said he had no information other than that
he was unsure whether King lived in North Carolina or
Virginia. Darden also spoke with Greensville County Registrar
Dorothy Kea, who merely confirmed to Darden that to be
eligible to run, King must have resided in Greensville for
one year prior to Election Day. According to the complaint,
this was the full extent of Darden's investigation. On
these scant facts, Darden swore out a warrant for King's
arrest, and officers arrested King shortly thereafter.
Attorney Watson had little to do with the case after asking
the State Police to investigate the possible election fraud.
She only requested the Virginia Circuit Court appoint a
special prosecutor from a different jurisdiction to handle
the election fraud charge hanging over his head, King lost
the election. Three days later, however, a jury found King
not guilty of election fraud.
defendants have moved the Court to dismiss the case on
various grounds, which the Court discusses
42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claims: Under Color of State
Count I, King sues all three defendants under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 for violating his "Fourth Amendment right to
be free from illegal seizure of his person." (Complaint,
Dk. No. 1. ¶ 52.) To state a claim under § 1983,
King must establish that the defendants acted under the color
of state law. Dowe v. Total Action Against Poverty in
Roanoke Valley, 145 F.3d 653, 658 (4th Cir. 1998).
Commonwealth's Attorney and a state police officer
investigating a potential crime, Watson and Darden both acted
under color of law. Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d
516, 523 (4th Cir. 2003) ("Section 1983 therefore
includes within its scope apparently private actions which
have a 'sufficiently close nexus' with the State to
be 'fairly treated as that of the State
itself.'") (citation omitted).
contrast, Allen does not work for state or local government.
A private person can, however, act under color of law in a
few circumstances; as relevant here, a private person can
fall under § 1983 by conspiring with government
officials. Adickes v. S. H Kress & Company, 398
U.S. 144, 152 (1970). To allege such a conspiracy, a
plaintiff "must present evidence that the defendants
acted jointly in concert and that some overt act was done in
furtherance of the conspiracy which resulted in plaintiffs
deprivation of a constitutional right." Cooper v.
Lippa, 3:11-cv-712 (JRS) WL 1410077 at *6 (E.D. Va. Apr.
23, 2012) (citing Hinkle v. City of Clarksburg,
W.Va.,81 F.3d 416, 421 (4th Cir. 1996)). The plaintiff
must plead facts that would "reasonably lead to the
inference that [defendants] positively or tacitly came to a
mutual understanding to try to accomplish a common and
unlawful plan." Hinkle, 81 F.3d at 421. If a
plaintiff alleges the existence of a conspiracy only through
speculation and inference, the claim should be dismissed.
Id. at 423. The complaint alleges only that Allen
called his cousin Watson with suspicions about King's
residence; when quizzed by ...