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Dobson v. Stolle

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

July 9, 2019

COLIN D. STOLLE, et ah, Defendants



         Michael Anthony Dobson, currently incarcerated at Red Onion State Prison, complains that he is suffering an ongoing violation of his constitutional rights. Proceeding pro se, Dobson filed this lawsuit seeking relief via 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants Scott Lang, Patricia Munley, and Colin D. Stolle (the Commonwealth defendants), filed a motion to dismiss on November 1, 2018. ECF No. 24. Defendants Bernard T. Booker, Tod Watson, and Philip White (the BCC defendants), filed a motion to dismiss on November 6, 2018. ECF No. 32. Defendant Derek M. Reed filed a motion to dismiss on November 29, 2018. ECF No. 41. Also pending is Dobson's motion to amend pleadings. ECF No. 50. The parties have fully briefed the issues.

         For the reasons set forth below, Dobson's motion to amend is GRANTED; the motions to dismiss are GRANTED; and Dobson's federal causes of action are DISMISSED. The court to declines to exercise jurisdiction over Dobson's state law causes of action.


         I. Factual Allegations

         The following facts, which are taken from Dobson's complaint, the motions to dismiss, his response to the motions to dismiss, and the attached exhibits, are accepted as true for purposes of the defendants' motions.[1] Dobson is incarcerated in the Virginia Department of Corrections where he has served twenty-one years of a sixty-four year sentence for murder. The events about which he complains began in May 2017 when Dobson was housed at the Buckingham Correctional Center (BCC) in Dillwyn, Virginia.

         Plaintiff has two stepsons, Marquel Leary and Dominique Leary. In July 2016, Marquel shot and killed a man in Virginia Beach.. Dobson's wife, Marie, who is Marquel and Dominique's mother, has a history of mental illness. When it appeared that Marquel would be tried for murder, her mental health declined and Marie became convinced that the only way to save Marquel from going to prison was to hire someone to murder five people who were set to testify against him. Marie told Dobson about her plan and Dobson believed she was serious about hiring someone to commit murder on her behalf. In an effort to stop her, Dobson told Marie that he had a friend, Winston, who could find someone to carry out the murders. It was Dobson's hope that if he stepped in, Marie would come to her senses and change her mind about the plan.

         When Marie learned that Marquel was facing a 30-year sentence, she pushed Dobson to come up with a plan. Dobson became alarmed and sought guidance from three mentors who worked at the prison. With the help of a prison minister, Dobson decided to contact an attorney in the Virginia Beach Commonwealth's Attorney's office.

         The minister arranged a three-way call between himself, Dobson, and an attorney with the Commonwealth's Attorney's office. Dobson did not identify himself on the call, but told the attorney that someone was planning to kill the witnesses who were going to testify against Marquel. The next day, Dobson was called into the investigators' office at BCC and when asked, he admitted that he had made the call. He was reprimanded for making an unauthorized three-way call but the investigators then asked him if he would be willing to talk further with someone from the Commonwealth's Attorney's office. Dobson was upset that his identity was known and declined to talk further.

         A few days later, Marie's mental health appeared to be worsening. Dobson became afraid that she was going to hire someone off the street to commit the murders and he felt like he had no choice but to call the Commonwealth's Attorney. On May 8, 2017, Dobson talked to his own attorney, who he had hired to seek a pardon on his behalf. She told him that what he was contemplating was dangerous and that if he went forward with his plan she would no longer be able to represent him.

         On May 9, 2017 Dobson arranged to talk via telephone to defendant Patricia Munley, an investigator with the Commonwealth. Munley asked Dobson if he would meet with detectives, and Dobson agreed to do so. A few days later, Dobson met with three detectives, including defendant Sgt. Detective Derek M. Reed, who worked for the Virginia Beach Police Department. Dobson told them that Marie believed that a man named Winston who lived in Maryland was setting up a plan for someone to commit the murders. The detectives wanted proof of the allegations, and Dobson agreed to correspond with Marie via email and to give copies of the emails to the detectives. The detectives also told Dobson that they wanted Reed to pretend to be the hitman and they discussed Reed playing the role "as if Winston didn't know he was really a cop[J which would have kept [Dobson's] name out of it." ECF No. 1 at 15.

         Dobson had a number of concerns. He did not want to be identified as having gone to the police with information and did not want to be connected to a case against Marie or Marquel. Both Marquel and his brother were associated with the "Bloods" gang and Dobson feared reprisal, both for himself, his father, his former wife, and his children. Dobson wanted assurance that he and his family would be kept safe. He also wanted the Commonwealth to assist him with his request for a pardon, because the attorney he hired would no longer represent him.

         Defendant Munley was vague about how the Commonwealth would protect Dobson and his family, but urged him to trust them because they had experience in similar situations. Dobson did not see how the Commonwealth could use the "Winston plan" without Marie knowing that Dobson was involved, and he asked the Commonwealth to wait until he and his family could be placed in a witness protection plan. Munley told Dobson that they could not do that, but reassured him that his name would be kept out of the matter. Dobson was doubtful and asked Munley and Reed not to proceed until he could consult with his ex-wife. Munley told him they would be able to proceed with the investigation another way. Conversations between Dobson, Munley, arid Reed, and Dobson and his family, continued for several days.

         On May 25, 2017, defendant Reed sent Dobson the following email:

Hey Mike,
Yo I understand how you feel and we doing all we can. We not new to dealing with situations like this. We contacted the people we need to get your stuff rolling, and they working on that. I just need you to meet me halfway. So send me that number so we can get this thing done, and Commonwealth can do what they need to ASAP.
Talk to you later.

ECF No. 48 at 6.

         On May 26, 2017, Reed emailed Dobson again, to discuss helping pay for calls to Marie and to Reed. He also asked for die phone number to Marie's "burner" cell phone she was using to set up the murder-for-hire.

And Mike, I've tried to get things done with this and you not answering my question. I will try to send after I send this email. Yo I need that number because if not they are trying to do this some other way. I'll get that offender connect done now.

ECF No. 48 at 8. Dobson understood the language "if not, they are trying to do this some other way" as a threat that they were going to make him turn over the number.

         It is unclear whether Dobson provided the number to Reed. But the next day, while Dobson believed that he was still in negotiations with the Commonwealth, he talked to Marie, who told him mat "Winston" had called and was in Virginia Beach getting a motel room.

         Dobson was fearful and told Marie to stay home. He called Munley and told her that he did not want them to proceed until some arrangement was made to protect his family. A short time later, prison authorities summoned Dobson and defendant White told him that he was being placed in the "hole"[2] for a "time out." Dobson was in the hole for four hours, and when he got out, he tried to call Marie, Munley, and Reed, but received no answer.

         Two days later Dobson learned from Marie's mother that Marie had been arrested and was in jail. Dobson believed that his name had been kept out of the operation, but neither Reed nor Munley would return his calls. Approximately two months later, he learned from Marie's mother that it was known that he had assisted the police in arresting Marie because the information leading up to her arrest had been given to Marie's lawyer. When Dobson finally spoke to Munley, she told him that he should have known how the matter would end.

         On August 4, 2017, Dobson received a letter sent from the Commonwealth, signed by defendant Lang, an Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney, and directed "To whom it may concern:" The letter stated that Dobson had helped the Commonwealth arrest Marie and charge her with five counts of solicitation of murder. The letter continued that Dobson helped save several lives and put his own life and that of his loved ones in danger, as follows:

As a result of trial discovery obligations, Marie Leary is very much aware of the role Mr. Dobson played in her eventual arrest. As a result many of his personal relationships have been forever ruined. More importantly, he has now angered Marie Leary and her two currently incarcerated sons who have been convicted of numerous violent felonies and who have friends that reach far beyond the jail and prison walls.
Mr. Dobson stepped forward and did the right thing and his direct actions resulted in the saving of lives. It is asked that he be given appropriate consideration in light of his heroic conduct.

ECF No. 1-1 at 33.

         Dobson maintains that he did not give the Commonwealth permission to use his name and that Munley, Reed, and defendant Lang lied to him about keeping his identity secret and have since failed to protect him or his family. In addition, they told him they would help him try to secure a pardon and have not done so. He asserts that defendant Stolle, the Commonwealth's Attorney, either knew about or oversaw the sting operation and did nothing to stop it. ECF No. 48 at 2.

         With the help of a prison staff member, Dobson filed an application for a pardon on his own behalf in December 2017. In support of his application, Dobson obtained letters from various members of the prison staff, including an intelligence officer, the principal of the education division, a member of the mental health department, a member of the correctional staff, a case management counselor, and the chairperson of the Whittley Art Gallery in Richmond, Virginia. All praise Dobson for his artistic talent and for his willingness to take on and complete tasks at BCC, such as painting murals, designing the BCC logo, teaching art to other inmates as part of a therapy group, illustrating a Relapse Prevention Plan workbook, and assisting the investigation office with various cases. It also was noted that Dobson read all the books in the prison library and started a literacy and reading program for his fellow offenders. Adjectives used to describe Dobson in the letters include "trustworthy," "mature," "enthusiastic," "confident," "passionate," "intelligent," "caring," "polite," "amiable," and "articulate." See letters, ECF No. 1-1 at 1-9.

         After submitting his request for a pardon, Dobson was sure that he no longer was safe in general population. In January 2018 he asked to be placed in segregation and his request was granted. ECF No. 48-1 at 8-9. In March 2018 Dobson was told that he was going to be placed back in general population and he objected, arguing that to do so would be putting his life in danger. ECF No. 48-1 at 9. He also wanted assurance that the Learys were on a list of inmates who were to be kept separate from him. Dobson was allowed to stay in segregation.

         At another hearing held on April 3, 2018, prison officials told Dobson that he was being put in for a transfer. He wanted to stay at BCC in segregation so that he could complete additional work on his request for a pardon. He did not want to go into protective custody because he believed that it was too easy for someone to attack him in protective custody. He also did not think it ...

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