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Singer v. Price

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

January 31, 2017

LEONARD SINGER, No. 224775, Plaintiff,
AARON PRICE, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff, an inmate of the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, brings this pro se, in forma pauperis action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against fourteen named Defendants as well as John and Jane Does, alleging violations of his federal civil rights. (Doc. No. 1).

         The complaint is before the Court for an initial review pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A.

         I. PLRA Screening Standard

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), the court must dismiss any portion of a civil complaint filed in forma pauperis that fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, is frivolous, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Section 1915A similarly requires initial review of any “complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity, ” id. § 1915A(a), and summary dismissal of the complaint on the same grounds as those articulated in § 1915(e)(2)(B). Id. § 1915A(b).

         The Sixth Circuit has confirmed that 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. 544 (2007), “governs dismissals for failure to state a claim under those statutes because the relevant statutory language tracks the language in Rule 12(b)(6).” Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). Thus, to survive scrutiny on initial review, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[A] district court must (1) view the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and (2) take all well-pleaded factual allegations as true.” Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Gunasekera v. Irwin, 551 F.3d 461, 466 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted)).

         Although pro se pleadings are to be held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Jourdan v. Jabe, 951 F.2d 108, 110 (6th Cir. 1991), the courts' “duty to be ‘less stringent' with pro se complaints does not require us to conjure up [unpleaded] allegations.” McDonald v. Hall, 610 F.2d 16, 19 (1st Cir. 1979) (citation omitted).

         II. Section 1983 Standard

         Plaintiff brings his federal claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 creates a cause of action against any person who, acting under color of state law, abridges “rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws . . . .” To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege and show two elements: (1) that he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and (2) that the deprivation was caused by a person acting under color of state law. Tahfs v. Proctor, 316 F.3d 584, 590 (6th Cir. 2003); 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         III. Alleged Facts

         The pro se complaint consists of 163 handwritten pages and 44 pages of attachments. The Court will recount only the general allegations pertinent to the Court's required PLRA screening.

         The complaint alleges that, on October 27, 2015, Defendant Murfreesboro Police Department Officers Price, Gibbs, and Gorham conducted an unlawful traffic stop of Plaintiff during which Price used excessive force against Plaintiff, “strangulating [sic] Singer by applying a carotid-artery or bare arm hold against Singers [sic] throat impeding normal breathing and circulation of air and blood flow.” (Doc. No. 1 at pp. 40-41). According to the complaint, Price believed that Plaintiff had swallowed a marijuana joint as Price approached Plaintiff's car during the traffic stop. When Plaintiff told Price that he could not breath, Price allegedly told Plaintiff to “spit it out” and maintained pressure to Plaintiff's throat. (Id.) Price continued the application of force until Plaintiff became unconscious and hit his head on the door frame and floor board of his vehicle, sustaining injuries for which he was taken the hospital by Price. (Id. at p. 42). When Plaintiff regained consciousness, he spit out medical gauze and plastic from an earlier dental procedure. (Id.) According to the complaint, on the way to the hospital and at the hospital, Officer Gibbs threatened the Plaintiff in an attempt to coerce a confession from him, such as telling the Plaintiff that his stomach would be pumped if he did not confess. (Id. at pp. 44-46).

         Next, the complaint alleges that Plaintiff was not provided with effective representation by his public defender Ray White during his preliminary hearing. The complaint further alleges that various state procedures and safeguards were not followed during his preliminary hearing, including that Plaintiff's indictment was improperly altered or falsified by a number of Defendants. The complaint also alleges that Plaintiff was not provided with effective representation by his second public defender, Billie Zimmerman, during Plaintiff's suppression hearing.

         Additionally, the complaint alleges that Circuit Court Judge David M. Braggs and General Sessions Judge Rhonda Campbell acted outside of their jurisdiction and abused their discretion throughout the Plaintiff's state proceedings to date. The complaint alleges that Defendants Aneta Flaggs, both judges, the state prosecutors, the public defenders, and other Murfreesboro police officers were engaged in a civil conspiracy to wrongly incarcerate the Plaintiff. The complaint finally alleges that the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center library is constitutionally inadequate, depriving the Plaintiff of access to the courts.

         IV. Analysis

         A. False arrest and false imprisonment claims

         False arrest claims can be brought pursuant to federal or state law. Voyticky v. Village of Timberlake, Ohio, 412 F.3d 669, 677 (6th Cir. 2005). “A false arrest claim under federal law requires a plaintiff to prove that the arresting officer lacked probable cause to arrest the plaintiff.” Id. When a plaintiff is arrested pursuant to a warrant, the plaintiff must show “that in order to procure the warrant, [the officer] knowingly and deliberately, or with reckless disregard for the truth, made false statements or omissions that created a falsehood and such statements or omissions were material, or necessary, to the finding of probable cause.” Sykes v. Anderson, 625 F.3d 294, 305 (6th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted)).

         Claims of false arrest and false imprisonment under federal law are typically analyzed in identical fashion. See Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 388, 127 S.Ct. 1091, 166 L.Ed.2d 973 (2016)(“False arrest and false imprisonment overlap; the former is a species of the latter.”); Gumble v. Waterford Township, 171 Fed. App'x 502, 507 (6th Cir. 2006)(false arrest and false imprisonment claims are functionally the same and the court applies the same analysis to both claims). A facially valid warrant is not always sufficient to merit dismissal of a false arrest/false imprisonment claim brought pursuant to § 1983 when evidence exists that a defendant intentionally misled or intentionally omitted information at a probable cause hearing for an arrest or search warrant if the misleading or omitted information is critical to the finding of probable cause. See Mays v. City of Deyton, 134 F.3d 809, 816 (6th Cir. 1998); United States v. Atkin, 107 F.3d 1213, 1217 (6th Cir. 1997).

         Here, the complaint alleges that, at or near the time of the Plaintiff's traffic stop, Plaintiff spoke with officers Price, Gibbs, and Gorham and explained his version of the events, and the officers thereafter knowingly arrested Plaintiff without probable cause. Further, Plaintiff alleges these officers subsequently provided false information in court regarding the incident. The Court therefore finds, for purposes of the initial review, that Plaintiff has stated colorable claims under § 1983 against Defendants Price, Gibbs, and Gorham in their individual capacities. The Court cautions that these are preliminary findings only. The Plaintiff's allegations may also state federal due process claims with regard to these Defendants, but the Court will leave these potential claims for the Magistrate Judge to sort out after the Defendants respond to the complaint.

         B. ...

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