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Cox v. Burnette

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

July 11, 2019




         This pro se prisoner's complaint for violation of 42 U.S.C. 1983 is before the Court for screening pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act [Docs. 2 & 3].


         Under the Prisoner 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 1915A; Benson v. O'Brian, 179 F.3d 1014 (6th Cir. 1999). The dismissal standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) and in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (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 Rule 12(b)(6).” Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). Thus, to survive an initial review under the PLRA, 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). Courts liberally construe pro se pleadings filed in civil rights cases and hold them to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).

         In order to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must establish that he was deprived of a federal right by a person acting under color of state law. Braley v. City of Pontiac, 906 F.2d 220, 223 (6th Cir. 1990) (stating that “Section 1983 . . . creates a right of action for the vindication of constitutional guarantees found elsewhere”).


         Plaintiff alleges that in May 2016, his estranged wife, Cynthia Cox, called the Marion County Sheriff's Department claiming she was in danger at 221 Cox Road, Sequatchie, Tennessee, which is Plaintiff's home address [Doc. 2 at 4]. Plaintiff states that neither he nor his wife were at his residence at the time, and that Ms. Cox made the call only to allow Marion County Deputy Justin Graham an opportunity to make a warrantless, unlawful seizure of Plaintiff's Dodge Durango and deliver it to Ms. Cox [Id. at 4-5]. When Plaintiff arrived home the following day to find his vehicle missing, he called his wife, who told him about the seizure of the vehicle and delivery to her [Id. at 5]. Thereafter, Plaintiff made formal complaints with Marion County Sheriff Bo Burnette and County Attorney Bill Galagher, neither of whom took any action to correct the theft [Id.].

         Plaintiff alleges that on September 26, 2017, Marion County Deputies Tim Prince, Chris Masterson, and John Doe No. One again responded to a disturbance call at Plaintiff's address on the basis of a complaint by Ms. Cox [Id]. He asserts that neither he nor Ms. Cox were at the home when the deputies arrived, and that the deputies conducted a warrantless search of his home and 1998 Ford Explorer [Id. at 5-6]. Plaintiff claims that Deputies Masterson and John Doe No. One used tools to destroy the ignition switch, the anti-theft unit, the kickplate, and the driver's side air bag and wiring, while Deputy Tim Prince, who was familiar with Ms. Cox and her false claims, did nothing to intervene [Id.].

         Plaintiff contends that while the search of his home and property was ongoing, he was walking home after having survived a hit-and-run orchestrated by Ms. Cox on a rural backroad [Id. at 6]. He states that he arrived home to find his door open and house in disarray, so he walked to a neighbor's house to call his sister for help [Id.]. Plaintiff maintains that on his way back to his residence, a neighbor informed him that he had witnessed several deputies on Plaintiff's property and in his home [Id. at 7].

         The next morning, Plaintiff made numerous unsuccessful attempts to telephone Sheriff Burnette [Id.]. Plaintiff spoke with Sheriff's Burnette's assistant, who, after speaking to the Sheriff, advised Plaintiff that the Sheriff stated that Plaintiff needed to make a report with Chief Bill Powell [Id.]. Plaintiff, believing Chief Powell to be untrustworthy, first contacted County Attorney Bill Galagher and explained what happened at his home and Sheriff Burnette's refusal to take corrective action [Id. at 8]. Plaintiff claims that Attorney Galagher stated that he would discuss the matter with Sheriff Burnette and call Plaintiff back, but that he failed to do so and refused to answer Plaintiff's subsequent calls [Id. at 8].

         Plaintiff contends when he arrived home on September 27, 2017, he was aggressively approached by Deputies Corey Beasley and John Doe No. Two, who advised Plaintiff they were there to get Ms. Cox's belongings from his home [Id. at 9]. Plaintiff claims he then witnessed Ms. Cox exit a vehicle parked behind the police cruiser, at which point he advised the deputies that while Ms. Cox had been an occasional overnight guest at his home, she had not lived at the residence since May 2016 and had no belongings in the home [Id.]. Plaintiff asserts that Deputy Beasley became angry and threatened Plaintiff with arrest if he continued to refuse them entry into the home, but that Plaintiff's steadfast refusal eventually caused the deputies to relent and advise Ms. Cox to return with a recovery warrant [Id. at 9-10].

         Thereafter, Plaintiff met with Chief Powell and informed him what had transpired in May 2016 and on September 26-27, 2017 [Id. at 11]. Plaintiff states that Chief Powell advised him that a full investigation would be mounted and resolved by the following Tuesday [Id.]. Plaintiff maintains that when he called Chief Powell the following Tuesday, however, Chief Powell advised him to seek redress in court, as the Sheriff's Department would not repair his vehicle or reimburse him [Id.].

         Plaintiff states that he made his Ford Explorer operational again, only to total it on October 16, 2017, when the steering locked, and he crashed into an outer guardrail system on a mountain [Id. at 12]. He claims that this happened because of the vandalism to his steering column, and that his injuries were worsened by the disabled airbag system [Id.].

         Plaintiff maintains that he somehow made it home and accepted some vodka to calm his nerves, and that he thereafter awakened to paramedics and Trooper Terry Gann at his bed side [Id. at 13]. After Plaintiff refused transport to the hospital, Trooper Gann, without a warrant, placed Plaintiff under arrest for a DUI offense [Id.]. Trooper Gann transported Plaintiff to an emergency room, and shortly thereafter, Plaintiff felt an excruciating pain in his torso that Trooper Gann did not relay to medical staff [Id. at 14]. Plaintiff claims that medical personnel, apparently frustrated by Plaintiff's election to refuse to provide a blood sample, discharged him without any pain medication ...

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