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Clifton v. Patrick

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

March 12, 2018

TERRY LEE CLIFTON, Plaintiff,
v.
BETTYE PATRICK, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER DISMISSING JOHN DOE DEFENDANTS

          S. THOMAS ANDERSON, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On December 4, 2017, the Court ordered Plaintiff to show cause why the claims against John Does 1 - 10 should not be dismissed for failure to prosecute because the Doe Defendants have not been identified or served with process. (ECF No. 66.) After receiving an extension of time, Plaintiff (now pro se) filed his response on February 5, 2018. (ECF No. 72.)

         As an initial matter, the Court notes that Plaintiff has requested that his former counsel “be allowed to continue on his case.” (Id. at p. 3.) The Court previously found good cause to grant counsel's motion to withdraw because Plaintiff had filed a complaint with the Board of Professional Responsibility against his attorneys. (ECF No. 65.) Plaintiff has presented no facts or arguments to convince the Court that the decision granting the motion was in error.

         Plaintiff contends that his attorneys knew the names of the John Does at the time that the complaint was filed but failed to name them as defendants. Contradictorily, he also contends that his attorneys should have obtained the names during discovery. Absent extraordinary circumstances, which are not present in this case, attorney error is not a sufficient basis for “prolonging litigation against the original adversary.” See e.g., U.S. v. 8135 Dobson Street, Chicago, Ill., 125 F.3d 1076, 1084 (7th Cir. 1997) (“Malpractice, gross or otherwise, may be a good reason to recover from the lawyer but does not justify prolonging litigation against the original adversary.”) Nor, generally, is it a sufficient basis for the equitable tolling of the statute of limitations. See, e.g., Jurado v. Burt, 337 F.3d 638, 644 (6th Cir. 2003) (“Generally, a lawyer's mistake is not a valid basis for equitable tolling.”).

         In the present case, it does not matter whether Plaintiff's counsel knew the John Doe names when the complaint was filed or failed to learn the names through discovery because, as this Court previously ruled, the statute of limitations had already run on Plaintiff's claims that his due process rights were violated before and during his March 31, 2011, parole violation hearing when he filed his complaint in this Court. (Order, p. 10, ECF No. 46.) (“Therefore, the statute of limitations for the present action began to run in July 2011, when Plaintiff exhausted his administrative remedies, and this action is barred by the statute of limitations.”) Accordingly, to the extent that Plaintiff alleges that the John Doe Defendants violated his civil rights prior to March 6, 2016 (one year before the complaint was filed), those claims are now barred.

         In his response to the order to show cause, Plaintiff names the State of Tennessee, the Department of Correction, City Court Judge Blake Anderson, Assistant District Attorney Jody Pickens, Jackson Police Department Detective Tyreece Miller, Public Defender April Knight, [1]and Board of Parole members who are in charge of the warrant division and the handling of parole records as the Doe Defendants. Plaintiff contends that these defendants violated his rights by issuing the parole warrant, intentionally filing a false report, and intentionally destroying his parole file. The issuing of the parole warrant and the alleged filing of a false report all occurred before March 6, 2016. These actions were allegedly taken by City Court Judge Anderson, Assistant District Attorney Pickens, Detective Miller, Public Defender Knight, and Board of Parole members who are in charge of the warrant division. Thus, any claims against these individuals are barred by the statute of limitations.

         The claims against the State of Tennessee and the Tennessee Department of Correction are also barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity. “The ultimate guarantee of the Eleventh Amendment is that nonconsenting States may not be sued by private individuals in federal court.” Bd. of Trustees of Univ. of Alabama v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 363 (2001). Eleventh Amendment immunity is a jurisdictional bar, and, unless that immunity is expressly waived, a state and its agencies may not be sued for damages and injunctive relief in federal court. See Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984). Tennessee has not waived immunity in this action and thus is not subject to suit. For the same reason, any suit against the Tennessee Department of Correction is also barred.

         Even if the claims against City Court Judge Anderson were not barred by the statute of limitations, he is entitled to absolute judicial immunity which protects judges from claims based on “judicial act[s] taken within [the] court's jurisdiction.” Cleavinger v. Saxner, 474 U.S. 193, 199 (1985). In this case, the signing of a warrant was a judicial function.

         Likewise, Assistant District Attorney Pickens is immune from suit, even if the claims against him were not time-barred. Claims against a district attorney general in his individual capacity for actions taken in his role as prosecutor fail because he is entitled to prosecutorial immunity. Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478, 486 (1991)

         As for the parole board members/employees who facilitated the warrant for Plaintiff's parole revocation, this Court has determined that

[a]bsolute immunity also extends “to certain others who perform functions closely associated with the judicial process, ” which is generally referred to as quasi-judicial immunity. Quasi-judicial “immunity extends to state parole officers performing functions that are judicial in nature.” Jenkins v. Michigan Department of Corrections, 2015 WL 5244420 at *3 (E.D. Mich., Sept. 8, 2015). “[A] parole board is entitled to absolute immunity for activities related to ‘the execution of parole revocation procedures.'” Wright v. McClain, 626 F.Supp. 1073, 1073 (W.D. Tenn. 1986) (citation omitted).

         (Order, p. 3 (footnote and some citations omitted), ECF No. 46.) Thus, claims against these individuals are barred by both the statute of limitations and quasi-judicial immunity.

         Finally, the Court must consider whether Plaintiff's claims that Board of Parole members allegedly destroyed files and records prior to the second parole hearing on July 6, 2016, are barred. Plaintiff has not advised the Court of these individuals' names. As previously noted, the complaint was filed on March 6, 2017. If these individuals had been named in the complaint, the claims against them would not have been time-barred for actions occurring after March 6, 2016. However, at this juncture, the alleged events occurred more than twenty months ago, and the issue is whether Plaintiff should be permitted to add still unnamed individuals to his complaint.

         The naming of a John Doe defendant in a complaint does not stop the statute of limitations from running or toll the limitations period as to that defendant. Cross v. City ofDetroit, 2008 WL 2858407 at *1 (E.D. Mich. July 23, 2008) (citing Garvin v. City ofPhiladelphia, 354 F.3d 215, 220 (3rd Cir. 2003) (dismissing the civil rights claim against a police officer who the plaintiff had named as John Doe because the plaintiff “did not seek leave to amend the Complaint to name the John Doe defendant prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations”); see also Smith v. City of Akron, 476 Fed.Appx. 67, 69 (6th Cir. 2012) (holding that Rule 15(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure offers no remedy when a plaintiff ‚Äúsimply did not know whom to sue or opted not to find out within the limitations ...


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