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Lewis v. Walker

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

August 22, 2017

PAUL WILLIAM LEWIS, Plaintiff,
v.
DARLENE M. WALKER, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THOMAS A. VARLAN, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This civil action is before the Court on the following motions: (1) plaintiff's Motions for Entry of Judgment by Default [Docs. 20, 21]; (2) defendant Kris Lewallen's (“Lewallen”) Motion for Extension of Time To Answer or Otherwise Plead [Doc. 25]; (3) defendant Darlene Walker's (“Walker”) Motion To Dismiss [Doc. 27]; (4) defendant Thomas Barclay's (“Barclay”) Motion To Dismiss [Doc. 36]; (5) defendants Bill Miller (“Miller”) and Blake Murphy's (“Murphy”) Motion To Dismiss [Doc. 41]; (6) defendant Lewallen's Motion To Dismiss [Doc. 43]; (7) plaintiff's Proposed Motion To Supplement and or Amend Complaint [Doc. 74]; and (8) plaintiff's Objection to United States Magistrate Judge Order Entered 06/16/17 Granting Defendants Second Motion To Stay Discovery [Doc. 92]. The parties filed responses and replies to the pending motions [Docs. 26, 30, 35, 38, 47-49, 51, 54, 59, 69, 75-78, 86, 93-96].

         For the reasons that follow, the Court will: (1) deny plaintiff's Motions for Entry of Judgment by Default; (2) grant defendant Lewallen's Motion for Extension of Time To Answer or Otherwise Plead; (3) grant defendant Walker's Motion To Dismiss; (4) grant defendant Barclay's Motion To Dismiss; (5) grant defendants Miller and Murphy's Motion To Dismiss; (6) grant defendant Lewallen's Motion To Dismiss; (7) deny plaintiff's Proposed Motion To Supplement and or Amend Complaint; and (8) deny as moot plaintiff's Objection to United States Magistrate Judge Order.

         I. Background[1]

         On March 7, 2014, plaintiff alleges that he was drugged by his live-in girlfriend, Angeletta Crowley, and her son, Corbin Crowley, by mixing Xanax with plaintiff's food [Doc. 1 p. 3]. As a result, plaintiff passed out [Id. at 4]. Angeletta and Corbin Crowley then robbed plaintiff of his prescription medication, which included 90 Morphine Sulfate 60 milligram (“MG”) tablets and 120 Oxycodone 15 MG tablets [Id. at 4]. The next day, plaintiff filed a police report, and defendant Miller, an Oneida City Police Officer, was assigned to investigate plaintiff's complaint [Id.]. During investigation, Corbin Crowley admitted to Miller that Angeletta Crowley took plaintiff's medication [Id.]. Angeletta Crowley was not, however, arrested or charged with the crime [Id.].

         One month later, plaintiff was arrested and charged with the felony offense of sale of a schedule II narcotic, based on information provided by a confidential informant [Id.]. At plaintiff's arraignment, the state court appointed defendant Walker to represent plaintiff [Id.]. Plaintiff informed Walker that he had never sold drugs [Id.]. Walker later presented plaintiff with a plea bargain offer from the state, which he accepted after learning that Walker did not file any discovery motions or further research plaintiff's claims regarding Corbin and Angeletta Crowley, as he had requested [Id.].

         Corbin and Angeletta Crowley signed affidavits stating facts concerning plaintiff's arrest that he claims would have exonerated him if presented to a jury [Id. at 5]. After sending copies of these affidavits to Walker, plaintiff requested that Walker move to withdraw his guilty plea [Id.]. Corbin Crowley informed plaintiff that Barclay from the District Attorney's Office called him questioning him about the affidavits [Id.]. Barclay told Corbin that he does not have to stick to his statements that he made in the affidavit [Id.]. Following the phone call, Angeletta and Corbin Crowley allegedly began receiving daily calls from defendant Murphy, a drug agent for the Oneida City Police Department, threatening to arrest them for signing the affidavits [Id.]. Because of the pressure from Murphy and Barclay, Angeletta and Corbin Crowley changed their stories and recanted the statements in their affidavits [Id.].

         A confidential informant met with drug agents Lewallen and Murphy and stated that he could go to plaintiff's residence and purchase Oxycodone pills from plaintiff for $20.00 each [Id. at 6]. Murphy searched the confidential informant's vehicle, and Lewallen searched the informant's person [Id.]. Neither search revealed narcotics or money [Id.]. Lewallen then gave the informant $40.00 in cash, along with a recording device, and the informant went to plaintiff's house to exchange the money for the oxycodone [Id.].

         Following the confidential informant's purchase of the two Oxycodone pills, plaintiff was arrested for a second time on August 4, 2014, and charged with two counts of sale of a schedule II narcotic and one count of coercion [Id. at 5]. Despite an objection by Barclay, the state court again appointed Walker to represent plaintiff with regard to these new charges [Id.]. Although plaintiff originally intended to take the matter to trial, he chose to accept the guilty plea offered to him [Id. at 8]. Pursuant to the guilty plea, plaintiff was sentenced to a total of five years' unsupervised probation and a fine of $6, 000.00 [Id.].

         On December 15, 2014, plaintiff filed a pro se Rule 28 post-conviction motion for relief from judgment and sentence, along with a motion for appointment of counsel and for a full evidentiary hearing [Id.]. In plaintiff's Rule 28 motion, he presented five grounds that he argued warranted the dismissal of charges for which he was convicted: (1) the unlawful obtainment of plaintiff's conviction and sentence; (2) the failure of due process of law because the prosecution withheld evidence that favored plaintiff; (3) the violation of plaintiff's right to a fair trial by impartial jury, confrontation, cross-examination, and to not be a witness against himself; (4) plaintiff's counsel actively representing conflicting interests, thereby providing plaintiff with ineffective assistance of counsel; and (5) plaintiff's plea of guilty being based on coercion, manipulation, inducements, incomprehension, terror, ignorance, and threats [Id. at 9].

         In his Complaint before this Court, plaintiff now claims that Walker, Barclay, Murphy, Lewallen, and Miller committed the tortious acts of fraud upon the Court and malicious prosecution, which in turn deprived plaintiff of life, liberty, and property without due process of law, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1983 [Id. at 6, 12].

         The Court will address the following pending motions in turn: (1) plaintiff's motions for default judgment, (2) plaintiff's motion to amend his complaint, (3) defendants' motions to dismiss, and (4) plaintiff's motion for reconsideration of Magistrate Judge Guyton's order.

         II. Motions for Default Judgment

         In his first Motion for Default Judgment, plaintiff asks the Court to enter default judgment against defendant Lewallen because Lewallen failed to respond within twenty-one days following service of the summons, which typically entitles a plaintiff to judgment by default [Doc. 20 pp. 1-2]. In his second Motion for Default Judgment, plaintiff asks the Court to enter default judgment against defendant Barclay [Doc. 21 p. 1], similarly because Barclay failed to respond with an answer or a motion as required by Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure [Id. at 2].

         A. Legal Standard

         Entry of default is appropriate only where a party “has failed to plead or otherwise defend.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). Default judgment is an “extreme sanction” and should not be imposed absent “a clear record of delay or contumacious conduct” by the offending party and when “no alternate sanction would protect the integrity of the pre-trial proceedings.” Davis v. City of Dearborn, No. 2:09-CV-14892, 2011 WL 1060744, at *1- 2 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 23, 2011) (internal citations omitted).

         A court should consider four specific factors when determining whether to impose default judgment: “(1) whether the disobedient party acted in willful bad faith; (2) whether the opposing party suffered prejudice; (3) whether the court warned the disobedient party that failure to cooperate could result in a default judgment; and (4) whether less drastic sanctions were imposed or considered.” Grange Mut. Cas. Co. v. Mack, 270 F. App'x 372, 376 (6th Cir. 2008).

         B. Analysis

         With regard to plaintiff's motion for default judgment against defendant Lewallen [Doc. 20], it appears to the Court that plaintiff served Pam Lawson, rather than Lewallen [Doc. 26 p. 1]. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(e), service may be made upon an individual by: (1) following state law for serving a summons; (2) delivering a copy of the summons and complaint to the individual personally; (3) leaving a copy of the summons and complaint at the individual's dwelling or place of abode with someone of suitable age and discretion who resides there; or (4) delivering a copy of each to an agent authorized by appointment to receive service of process. Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(e). Thus, plaintiff's service upon Pam Lawson did not properly effect service upon Lewallen because plaintiff has offered no evidence that Pam Lawson is Lewallen's authorized agent by appointment or operation of law, or that Lewallen evaded or attempted to evade service [Id. at 2]. See Tenn. R. Civ. P. 4.04 (stating that service upon an individual shall be executed by “delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to the individual personally, or if he or she evades or attempts to evade service, by leaving copies thereof . . . with some person of suitable age and discretion [residing at the individual's abode]”).

         Thus, because plaintiff did not properly serve Lewallen initially, the Court finds that an entry of default judgment against Lewallen would be inappropriate. Furthermore, plaintiff has not provided the Court with evidence that Lewallen acted in willful bad faith or that plaintiff has suffered prejudice due to the minor delay. Grange Mut. Cas. Co., 270 F. App'x at 376. Indeed, Lewallen filed his motion for an extension of time to answer [Doc. 25] on October 26, 2016, approximately one month after plaintiff attempted to serve him [Doc. 6]. Consequently, the Court will deny plaintiff's motion for default judgment against defendant Lewallen.

         As to plaintiff's motion for default judgment against defendant Barclay [Doc. 21], the Court notes that Barclay's counsel entered a notice of appearance [Doc. 8] and filed a motion for an extension of time to respond to plaintiff's complaint [Doc. 16] within twenty-one days of service upon Barclay. Thus, the Court finds that Barclay did not fail to plead or otherwise defend, and default judgment is not, therefore, warranted as to defendant Barclay. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 55. Consequently, the Court will also deny plaintiff's motion for default judgment against Barclay.

         III. Motion To Amend Complaint[2]

         Plaintiff also moves the Court to grant him permission to supplement and/or amend his complaint, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 [Doc. 74 p. 1]. Plaintiff seeks this permission for a number of reasons, including that he made a mistake as to the identity of the parties, and the original complaint should have been brought against the following additional defendants: the Honorable E. Shayne Sexton (“Judge Sexton”), David Pollard (“Pollard”), and Jeffrey C. Coller (“Coller”) [Id. at 2].[3]

         Defendants Walker and Lewallen submit that plaintiff's motion to amend is deficient because it does not set forth which allegations in the proposed amended complaint are new, modified, or have been removed from the original complaint [Doc. 75 p. 1; Doc. 76 p. 1]. However, pro se litigants, such as plaintiff, are held to “less stringent” standards than lawyers. See Jourdan v. Jabe, 951 F.2d 108, 110 (6th Cir. 1991). Consequently, the Court will decline to deny plaintiff's motion to amend on this ground.

         Defendants also claim that the Court should deny plaintiff's motion because the proposed amendments are futile [Doc. 75 p. 2; Doc. 76 p. 2; Doc. 78 p. 1]. Specifically, defendant Barclay argues that the new claims in the proposed amended complaint would be futile due to the defense of absolute immunity [Doc. 77 p. 1]. He also argues that the proposed amended complaint violates Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8.01 ...


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