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Tanksley v. Bruce Rose

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

January 7, 2020

MAYOR C. BRUCE ROSE, et al, Defendants.



         This matter is currently before the Court on several motions filed by Defendants. Karl A. Tanksley ("Plaintiff), who proceeds pro se, filed this suit against fifteen defendants on April 2, 2019 (Compl., ECF No. I).[1] On May 15, 2019, Defendants City of Emporia, Emporia Police Department, and Officer Jerry L. Wright (collectively, the "Emporia Defendants") filed their Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (ECF No. 10). Shortly thereafter, on May 16, 2019, Defendant Magistrate Thweatte G. Ozlin filed his Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 12). Finally, Defendants Special Agent Justin Godwin, Donna Lamm, and Caroline Quinn filed an Omnibus Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim on June 4, 2019 (ECF No. 32), and Defendant Wilson County Jail filed its Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim on June 7, 2019 (ECF No. 36). The Court will address all of Defendants' Motions in this Memorandum Opinion.

         All parties have filed memoranda supporting their respective positions. (ECF Nos. 11, 13, 33, 37.) The Court will dispense with oral argument because the facts and legal contentions are adequately presented in the materials before it, and oral argument would not aid in the decisional process. See E.D. Va. Local Civ. R. 7(J). This Memorandum Opinion incorporates the facts set out in the Court's December 9, 2019 Opinion (ECF No. 56)[2]

         In this lawsuit, Plaintiff brings claims against Defendants for false arrest, negligence, assault and battery, breach of duty, conspiracy against rights, perjury, violations of 18 U.S.C. § 242, and violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants now seek to dismiss these claims. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendants' Motions to Dismiss.[3]


         A motion made pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) challenges the court's exercise of personal jurisdiction over a defendant. "When a court's personal jurisdiction is properly challenged ... the jurisdictional question thereby raised is one for the judge, with the burden on the plaintiff ultimately to prove grounds for jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence." Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Akzo, N.V., 2 F.3d 56, 60 (4th Cir. 1993) (citations omitted). "If the existence of jurisdiction turns on disputed factual questions the court may resolve the challenge on the basis of a separate evidentiary hearing." Combs v. Batter, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989). When, as here, the court is asked to decide personal jurisdiction without an evidentiary hearing, it may do so based solely on the motion papers, supporting legal memoranda, and the relevant allegations of the complaint. Mylan Labs, 2 F.3d at 60. If the court proceeds in this fashion, "the plaintiff need prove only a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction," with the court drawing "all reasonable inferences arising from the proof, and resolv[ing] all factual disputes, in the plaintiffs favor." Id. (internal citations omitted).[4]

         If the plaintiff makes the requisite showing, the defendant then bears the burden of presenting a "compelling case" that, for other reasons, the exercise of jurisdiction would be so unfair as to violate due process. Burger King v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 477-78 (1985).[5] Thus, "for a district court to assert personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant, two conditions must be satisfied: (1) the exercise of jurisdiction must be authorized under the state's long-arm statute; and (2) the exercise of jurisdiction must comport with the due process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment." Careflrst of Md, Inc. v. CarefirstPregnancy Ctrs., Inc., 334 F.3d 390, 396 (4th Cir. 2003).

         The Supreme Court of Virginia has interpreted Virginia's long-arm statute, Va. Code § 8.01-328.1(A), to confer jurisdiction "over nonresidents who engage in some purposeful activity in Virginia, to the extent permissible under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution of the United States." Nan Ya Plastics Corp. U.S.A. v. DeSantis, 111 S.E.2d 388, 391 (Va. 1989). Thus, according to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the statutory and constitutional inquiries merge, and the reviewing court is not required "to go through the normal two-step formula for determining the existence of personal jurisdiction." Owens-Illinois, Inc. v. Rapid Am. Corp. (In re Celotex Corp.), 124 F.3d 619, 627-28 (4th Cir. 1997).

         "A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint; importantly, it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) (citation omitted). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "require[] only 4a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" BellAtl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A complaint need not assert "detailed factual allegations" but must contain "more than labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Id. (citations omitted). Thus, the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level," to one that is "plausible on its face," rather than merely "conceivable." Id. (citations omitted). In considering such a motion, a plaintiffs well-pleaded allegations are taken as true, and the complaint is viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. T.G. Slater & Son v. Donald P. & Patricia A. Brennan LLC, 385 F.3d 836, 841 (4th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). Legal conclusions enjoy no such deference. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         The Court also acknowledges ihdXpro se complaints are afforded a liberal construction. Laber v. Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 413 n.3 (4th Cir. 2006). The Court, however, need not attempt "to discern the unexpressed intent of the plaintiff." Id. Nor does the requirement of liberal construction excuse a clear failure in the pleading to allege a federally cognizable claim. See Weller v. Dep 't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 390-91 (4th Cir. 1990). As the Fourth Circuit articulated in Beaudett v. City of Hampton, "[p]rinciples requiring generous construction of pro se complaints are not... without limits." 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985). "Though [pro se] litigants cannot, of course, be expected to frame legal issues with the clarity and precision ideally evident in the work of those trained in law, neither can district courts be required to conjure up and decide issues never fairly presented to them." Id. at 1276.


         A. Defendant Magistrate Ozlin is Entitled to Absolute Judicial Immunity

         Defendant Magistrate Ozlin, a state Magistrate for District 6, serves as a judicial officer in the Commonwealth Virginia. As a result, he is entitled to immunity for actions taken within his jurisdiction. See Stump v. Sparkman, 98 S.Ct. 1099, 1105 (1978) (quoting Bradley v. Fisher, 80 U.S. 335, 351 (1871)) ("A judge will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess . of his authority; rather, he will be subject to liability only when he has acted in the 'clear absence of all jurisdiction.'"); see also Va. Code § 19.2-119 (defining "judicial officer" to include magistrate); Bellamy v. Gates, 200 S.E.2d 533, 535 (Va. 1973) ("[J]udicial officers, acting within their jurisdiction, [are] exempt from liability in civil actions for their official acts."). This principle applies where money damages are sought. Livingston v. Guice, No. 94-1915, 1995 WL 610355, at *3 (4th Cir. 1995) (quoting Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554 (1967)) ("[T]he common law has long recognized the 'immunity of judges from liability for damages for acts committed within their judicial jurisdiction.'").

         In this case, Plaintiff brings claims against Defendant Magistrate Ozlin for false arrest, negligence, and breach of duty. These claims arise out of Plaintiff s allegations that he was falsely arrested in Greensville County, Virginia. (Compl. ¶ 19.) It is patently clear that, even if these alleged actions occurred, Defendant Magistrate Ozlin was acting within his authority as a Magistrate when he issued the arrest warrant for Plaintiff. See Va. Code §§ 19.2-45, 19.2-72. As a result, Defendant Magistrate Ozlin was acting in his judicial capacity when the alleged acts giving rise to Plaintiffs claims occurred and is, thus, entitled to judicial immunity from civil liability because Plaintiff seeks only monetary relief. Therefore, to the extent Plaintiffs claims in Counts I, III, and VI are brought against Defendant Magistrate Ozlin, they will be dismissed.

         B. Defendant Wilson County Jail is an Improper Party

         Defendant Wilson County Jail is an improper party in this action, as it is not an entity capable of being sued. State law determines whether a governmental body has the capacity to be sued in federal court. Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(b)(2). The Wilson County Jail was organized under the laws ...

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