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Scott v. Rhodes

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga

January 25, 2017

QUINCY D. SCOTT., SR., Plaintiff,
JOSH RHODES, McMinn County Sheriff's Office Detective, et al., Defendants.



         This matter comes before the Court on Magistrate Judge Christopher B. Steger's December 13, 2016 Report & Recommendation, issued pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b). [Doc. 8]. For the reasons set forth herein, the Court will: (1) ACCEPT and ADOPT Magistrate Judge Steger's findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendations; (2) GRANT Plaintiff's Motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis [Doc. 3]; (3) DENY Plaintiff's Motions to Amend [Docs. 5, 7, 9]; and (4) DISMISS this action for failure to state a claim, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915(A).

         I. Background

         On September 12, 2016, Plaintiff Quincy D. Scott, Sr., a pro se prisoner, filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 [Doc. 1] and, shortly thereafter, he filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis [Doc. 3].

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff names as defendants McMinn County Sheriff's detectives Josh Rhodes and Jim Shaw, Athens Police Department detective Freddie Shultz, Assistant District Attorneys Dorothy Cherry and Emily Petro, and two employees of a Check Into Cash store in Etowah Tennessee, Felicia Branam and Lisa Raby. [Doc. 1 at 7]. Plaintiff alleges that, on July 10, 2014, Rhodes unlawfully stopped him and his friend, Larry Moore, while the two were riding in Moore's truck; Rhodes searched the truck, allegedly for evidence related to a robbery, but ultimately let the men go. [Id. at 4]. The next day, however, Rhodes again stopped Moore and again searched his truck. [Id.]. Plaintiff contends that Rhodes fabricated evidence related to the robbery and said that the evidence was found in the truck. [Id. at 4-5]. Rhodes and a federal agent came to arrest Plaintiff, and later told him in custody that if he “did not tell them that [Moore] robbed a bank, they would give [him] 1, 001 months in federal prison”; Plaintiff, however, maintained that he did not know about a robbery. [Id. at 5].

         It appears that Plaintiff went to trial on charges related to these events. [See Id. at 5-6]. Although the physical evidence allegedly collected from the truck did not test positive for Plaintiff's DNA or fingerprints, it was nonetheless admitted into evidence at trial. Additionally, the trial court judge permitted pictures of evidence that had gone missing prior to trial to be admitted into evidence. None of the witnesses identified Plaintiff or testified that he matched the description of the robber. According to Plaintiff, the prosecutor stated to the jury that the evidence presented did not establish proof of Plaintiff's guilt but that he should be convicted regardless, and that the judge instructed the jury that they could convict if they were convinced of his guilt by a “moral certainty.” [Id.].

         Plaintiff's Complaint asserts causes of action for “false imprisonment, obtaining grand jury indictment under false pretenses, unlawful stop and search and seizure, malicious prosecution, fabricating evidence, due process violation, judicial misconduct, prosecutorial manipulation, bad faith of the court, and chain of custody violation, ” related to the numerous violations of his civil rights that allegedly occurred with respect to his arrest, prosecution, and conviction. [Id. at 6-7]. He requests the reversal of his conviction and one million dollars in punitive damages. [Id. at 8].

         In November 2016, Plaintiff filed two motions to amend his complaint. [Docs. 5, 7]. In his first motion to amend, Plaintiff argues that the prosecutors and judge continued to violate his constitutional rights as recently as November 2, 2016, when he was sentenced - despite his protests - for the offense of aggravated robbery despite the fact that the jury convicted him of aggravated burglary. [Doc. 5]. In his second motion to amend, he seeks to name his attorney, assistant public defender Donald Leon Shahan, Jr., as a defendant to this action, arguing that his attorney failed to file a motion to suppress evidence and generally failed to represent Plaintiff “in the manner requested by Plaintiff.” [Doc. 7].

         On December 13, 2016, United States Magistrate Judge Christopher B. Steger entered a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) in this action. [Doc. 8]. In it, Judge Steger recommended that Plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis be granted, as he lacked sufficient resources to pay the $350.00 filing fee for his action. [Id. at 1]. However, Judge Steger recommended that Plaintiff's Complaint be dismissed for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). [Id]. Specifically, Judge Steger concluded that Plaintiff's claims were barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994), as his success on those claims would necessarily imply the invalidity of his underlying conviction. [Id. at 2-3]. Judge Steger finally recommended that Plaintiff's Motions to Amend be denied as futile, as those amendments sought to raise claims challenging “the fact or duration of [his] confinement, ” and as such, are not cognizable under § 1983. [Id. at 3]. Plaintiff was advised that he had fourteen days in which to file any objections to the R&R, and that “failure to file objections within the time specified constitutes a waiver of his right to appeal….” [Id. at 5 n.1].

         The next day, the Court received a third Motion to Amend from Plaintiff, which had been signed and dated on December 12, 2016, prior to the entry of the R&R. [Doc. 9]. In this Motion, Plaintiff seeks to add McMinn County, Tennessee as a Defendant to this action and to increase the total amount of damages sought. [Id.].

         Although more than 40 days have now passed since the entry of the magistrate judge's R&R, Plaintiff has not filed any written objections thereto, nor has he made any additional filings or communications with the Court.[1]

         II. Analysis

         The Court agrees with Magistrate Judge Steger's conclusion that Plaintiff's in forma pauperis application and accompanying documents demonstrate that he lacks sufficient financial resources to pay the $350.00 filing fee. Accordingly, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, Plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis [Doc. 3] will be GRANTED. However, for the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motions to Amend his Complaint [Docs. 5, 7, 9] will be DENIED AS FUTILE, no process shall issue, and this action will be DISMISSED for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under § 1983.

         Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), district courts must screen prisoner complaints and shall, at any time, sua sponte dismiss any claims that are frivolous or malicious, fail to state a claim for relief, or are against a defendant who is immune. See, e.g., 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915(A); Benson v. O'Brian, 179 F.3d 1014 (6th Cir. 1999). Courts must liberally construe pro se pleadings filed in civil rights cases and hold them to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. See, e.g., Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). Nonetheless, the dismissal standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554 (2007), “governs dismissals for failure state a claim under [28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A] because the relevant statutory language tracks the language in [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure] 12(b)(6).” Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. ...

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