United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
JOHN E. CARTER, # 97766, Plaintiff,
HERBERT SLATERY, III, Defendant.
A. Trauger United States District Judge
Carter, an inmate of the SPR-Northeast Correctional Complex
in Mountain City, Tennessee, filed this pro se
action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Herbert Slatery, III in
his official capacity as Attorney General of the State of
Tennessee, seeking only a declaratory judgment that the Due
Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires Tennessee
state courts to reevaluate Carter's convictions for
Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-2402 under a
post-State v. Brown, 836 S.W.2d 530 (Tenn. 1992),
interpretation of the elements of premeditation and
deliberation. (Docket No. 1).
plaintiff's complaint is before the court for an initial
review pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act
(“PLRA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.
PLRA Screening Standard
28 U.S.C. § 1915A, even if the prisoner paid the civil
filing fee (such as in this action), a district court must
review any “complaint in a civil action in which a
prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer
or employee of a governmental entity” and shall dismiss
any claims that are frivolous, malicious, or fail to state
claims upon which relief may be granted. Id.
court must construe a pro se complaint liberally,
United States v. Smotherman, 838 F.3d 736, 739
(6th Cir. 2016)(citing Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)), and accept the
plaintiff's factual allegations as true unless they are
entirely without credibility. See Thomas v. Eby, 481
F.3d 434, 437 (6th Cir. 2007)(citing Denton v.
Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992)). 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).
Section 1983 Standard
plaintiff brings his complaint 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. Dominguez v. Corr. Med. Servs., 555 F.3d
543, 549 (6th Cir. 2009)(quoting Sigley v.
City of Panama Heights, 437 F.3d 527, 533
(6th Cir. 2006)); 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
1982, Carter was convicted of the first-degree murder of his
grandparents under Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-2402,
Tennessee's first-degree murder statute in effect at the
time of the murders. Carter admits that he took the lives of
his grandparents, but he maintains that he did not act with
premeditation or deliberation to warrant a conviction for
first-degree murder. Carter was sentenced to two consecutive
terms of life imprisonment in 1983. Carter's convictions
and sentence were upheld on direct appeal. See State v.
Carter, 1985 Tenn. Crim. App. LEXIS 3028 (Tenn. Crim.
App. Feb. 20, 1985), perm. app. denied (Tenn. July
filed a petition for post-conviction relief, which was denied
after an evidentiary hearing, and dismissal was affirmed on
appeal. See Carter v. State, No. 89-27-III, 1990 WL
9892 (Tenn. Crim. App. Feb. 9, 1990), perm. app.
denied (Tenn. July 2, 1990).
1992, in State v. Brown, 836 S.W.2d 530, 543
(Tenn.1992), the Tennessee Supreme Court examined the
first-degree murder statute and clarified the concepts of
premeditation and deliberation. Thereafter, Carter instituted
numerous proceedings in which he argued that he was entitled
to relief based on Brown. See Carter v.
Carlton, No. E2000-00406-CCA-R3-PC, 2001 WL 170878, at
*3 (Tenn. Crim. App. Feb. 22, 2001) (affirming dismissal of
his petition for habeas corpus relief, “we do not
conclude that an individual convicted of first-degree murder
pre-Brown is laboring under a void
conviction”), perm. app. denied (Tenn. July 2,
2001), reh'g denied (Tenn. Sept. 17, 2001)
cert. denied (U.S. Nov. 13, 2001); Carter v.
State, No. M2003-00750-CCA-R28-CO (Tenn. Crim. App. Jun.
9, 2003) (affirming dismissal of his fourth motion to reopen
his petition for post-conviction relief, in which he claimed
innocence based on Brown because the claim was not
the type that could be raised in a motion to reopen),
perm. app. denied (Tenn. Oct. 27, 2003); Carter
v. State, No. E2005-01296-CCA-R3-HC, 2005 WL 2487977
(Tenn. Crim. App. Oct. 7, 2005) (construing his untitled
pleading as one for habeas corpus relief and concluding that
his claim of improper interpretation of law did not present a
cognizable claim for habeas corpus relief), perm. app.
denied (Tenn. Jan. 30, 2006), cert. denied
(U.S. June 26, 2006); Carter v. State, No.
M2004-03073-CCA-R3-CO, 2006 WL 119673 (Tenn. Crim. App. Jan.
17, 2006) (affirming summary dismissal of his three petitions
for writ of error coram nobis as untimely and because the
Brown issue was previously addressed in his
post-conviction proceeding), perm. app. denied
(Tenn. May 30, 2006), cert. denied (U.S. Oct. 2,
2006); Carter v. Taylor, No. E2014-01065-CCA-R3-HC,
2015 WL 2448029 (Tenn. Crim. App. May 22, 2015) (affirming
dismissal of his petition for writ of habeas corpus for
procedural deficiencies and because it failed to state a
cognizable claim for habeas corpus relief), perm. app.
denied (Tenn. Oct. 15, 2015). Indeed, as of 2005, the
Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals noted that Carter had
“unsuccessfully challenged his convictions in ‘at
least eleven (11) separate proceedings' through the
filings of petitions for habeas corpus, coram nobis, and/or
post-conviction relief, including multiple motions to reopen
his post-conviction petition, all raising variations of the
claims he raises here.” Carter, 2005 WL
2487977, at *1.
also sought federal habeas corpus relief, contending that he
was denied the effective assistance of counsel, his
confession to the murders was admitted into evidence in
violation of his constitutional rights, and insufficient
evidence existed that he was sane. Carter v. Rone,
No. 93-5499, 1993 WL 498200 (6th Cir. Dec. 2,
1993). The district court denied relief, and the Sixth
Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. Id. In 2005,
Carter filed a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2244 in
the Sixth Circuit, seeking authorization for the district
court to consider a second petition for habeas corpus relief
under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. See In re John E.
Carter, No. 05-5315 (6th Cir. Oct. 26, 2005).
In his motion, Carter asserted that his convictions were
based on prior erroneous interpretations of state law by the
Tennessee Supreme Court. He asserted that, in light of
Brown, his convictions now violate the Due Process
Clause. Id. at *1. The Sixth Circuit denied
Carter's motion, holding that “Carter's request
fails to satisfy the requirements of the statute.”
Id. at *2.
to bringing the instant action, the plaintiff has filed two
previous actions in this court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
In the first action, John E. Carter v. Leon C. Burns,
Jr., et al., 3:07-cv-00597 (M.D. Tenn.), the plaintiff
alleged that had been denied access to the courts because
“Tennessee law closes all opportunity to judicial
review and redress, ” his “continued
incarceration as a factually innocent prisoner is not
consistent with the prohibition against cruel and unusual
punishment, ” and his convictions violate the Due
Process Clause “because [his] conduct did not violate
an element of § 39-2402 as properly interpreted.”
(00597, Docket No. 1). Carter argued that “the face of
the record require[d] reversal of [his] convictions” in
light of Brown because there is no evidence of the
“deliberation” required to support his
first-degree murder convictions. (Id.)
challenged the constitutionality of Tennessee Code Annotated
§§ 21-21-107, 40-26-105, 40-30-107, and 40-30-117,
which govern collateral review of criminal convictions, and
alleged that such statutes denied him “all opportunity
for judicial review and redress of his later arising fully
cognizable Brown based federal constitutional
claims.” (Id.) Carter sought only declaratory
relief in the form of “a declaratory order that the
State of Tennessee is constitutionally mandated to provide
[him] an adequate corrective process for the hearing and the
determination of” his constitutional claim based upon
the Brown decision. (Id.)
court dismissed Carter's complaint upon initial screening
for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon
which relief may be granted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1915A(b) and subsequently denied reconsideration. (00597,
Docket No. 3). On March 18, 2008, the Sixth Circuit Court of
Appeals affirmed the district court's order in part,
vacated the order in part, and remanded the case for further
proceedings. (00597, Docket No. 12). Upon remand, a
magistrate judge filed a report recommending the dismissal of
Carter's complaint pursuant to the provisions of 28
U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A(b)(1) “for
lack of standing/want of jurisdiction, and as both malicious
and frivolous.” (00597, Docket No. ...