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Conley v. Schmitz

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division

February 27, 2018

JOE BEN CONLEY, #226 003, Plaintiff,
FORMER MAYOR MIKE SCHMITZ, et al., Defendants.



         This cause of action is before the court on a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 amended complaint filed by Joe Conley, a state inmate, on August 24, 2017.[1] The named defendants are former Mayor Mike Schmitz, City Manager Mike West, Lieutenant Ray Mock, Investigator William Traynham, and Chief of Police Steve Parrish. Conley alleges that these defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection by breaching a “verbal contract/agreement” and through misrepresentations. Conley requests damages from the named defendants for failing to execute their oath of office faithfully leading to violations of his constitutional rights and later to his incarceration. Conley requests trial by jury. Doc. 9. Upon review, the court concludes that Conley's complaint is due to be dismissed prior to service of process under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). [2]

         I. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)

         Because Conley is proceeding in forma pauperis, the court reviews his amended complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), which requires the dismissal of any action is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant immune from such relief. A claim is frivolous when it “has little or no chance of success, ” that is, when it appears “from the face of the complaint that the factual allegations are clearly baseless or that the legal theories are indisputably meritless.”[3] Carroll v. Gross, 984 F.2d 392, 393 (11th Cir. 1993). A claim is frivolous if it “lacks an arguable basis in law or fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). A claim is frivolous as a matter of law where, among other things, the defendants are immune from suit, id. at 327, the claim seeks to enforce a right that clearly does not exist, id., or there is an affirmative defense that would defeat the claim, such as the statute of limitations. Clark v. Ga. Pardons & Paroles Bd., 915 F.2d 636, 640 n.2 (11th Cir. 1990). Courts are accorded “not only the authority to dismiss [as frivolous] a claim based on indisputably meritless legal theory, but also the unusual power to pierce the veil of the complaint's factual allegations and dismiss those claims whose factual contentions are clearly baseless.” Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. A complaint may be dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted “only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations.” Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)); see Mitchell v. Farcass, 112 F.3d 1483, 1490 (11th Cir. 1997) (noting that § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii)'s language tracks the language of Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)).

         B. The Challenged Conviction

         Conley alleges that, on May 29, 2016, he and Defendant Traynham, an investigator with the Dothan Police Department, made an agreement that Conley would not be charged with a drug offense if Conley provided Traynham with credible information regarding the names of drug dealers. Conley maintains that he provided the requested information and was released without being charged for drug possession. Six months later, on November 30, 2016, Traynham breached the agreement by issuing a warrant for Conley's arrest on a drug possession charge. Conley contends that Traynham's actions violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection and resulted in a “subsequent loss of [his] liberty.” Doc. 9 at 3 & 5.

         Conley's request for damages in this § 1983 action is due to be dismissed. The Supreme Court's decision in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), bars Conley's Fourteenth Amendment claims to the extent he contends that he is wrongfully imprisoned on the challenged drug offense. Among other offenses, Conley is incarcerated on a conviction for possession of a controlled substance entered against him by the District Court for Houston County for which he was sentenced on November 8, 2017 to a concurrent term of 90 months. [4] Without an invalidation of this conviction, Conley s claims provide no basis for relief. Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641, 646 (1997); Heck, 512 U.S. 477; Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973).

         Applicable federal law establishes that “habeas corpus is the exclusive remedy for a state prisoner who challenges the fact or duration of his confinement and seeks an immediate or speedier release, even though such a claim may come within the literal terms of § 1983.” Heck, 512 U.S. at 481 (citing Preiser, 411 U.S. at 488-90). The decision in Heck expounded on Preiser in holding that claims for damages challenging the legality of a prisoner's conviction or confinement, even where the prisoner has exhausted available remedies, are not cognizable in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action “unless and until the conviction or sentence is reversed [by a state court], expunged [by executive order], invalidated, or impugned by the grant of a writ of habeas corpus” and complaints containing such claims must therefore be dismissed. Heck, 512 U.S. at 489. The relevant inquiry is “whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence.” Id. at 487.

         In Balisok, the Court further concluded that an inmate's “claim[s] for declaratory [and injunctive] relief and money damages, . . . that necessarily imply the invalidity of the punishment imposed, is not cognizable under § 1983” unless the inmate can demonstrate the challenged action has been invalidated. Balisok, 520 U.S. at 648. The Supreme Court determined that this is true not only when a prisoner challenges the judgment as a substantive matter but also when “the nature of the challenge to the procedures could be such as necessarily to imply the invalidity of the judgment.” Id. at 645. When a prisoner challenges the legality or duration of his custody, or raises a constitutional challenge that could entitle him to an immediate or earlier release, his sole federal remedy is a writ of habeas corpus. Id. at 648; see also Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 78 (2005); Preiser, 411 U.S. at 489. The court “reemphasize[d] that . . . a claim either is cognizable under § 1983 and should immediately go forward, or is not cognizable and should be dismissed.” Balisok, 520 U.S. at 649; see also Okoro v. Callaghan, 324 F.3d 488, 490 (7th Cir. 2003) (citing Balisok, 520 U.S. at 646-48, and holding that “[i]t is irrelevant that [the plaintiff] disclaims any intention of challenging his conviction; if he makes allegations that are inconsistent with the conviction's having been valid, Heck kicks in and bars his civil suit”); Miller v. Indiana Dept. of Corrs., 75 F.3d 330, 331 (7th Cir. 1996) (holding that, under Heck, “[t]he [determinative] issue . . . is not the relief sought, but the ground of the challenge”).

         Conley's claims concern matters related to the validity and the legality of his confinement. It is clear from the amended complaint that Conley's the drug possession conviction has not been invalidated in an appropriate proceeding. Consequently, the instant collateral attack on this conviction is prohibited because habeas corpus is the exclusive remedy for a state prisoner who challenges the validity or duration of his confinement. Balisok, 520 U.S. at 645-46; Heck, 512 U.S. at 487; Preiser, 411 U.S. at 488-90; Eutzy v. Tesar, 880 F.2d 1010, 1011 (8th Cir. 1989). These claims, therefore, are subject to summary dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

         C. Respondeat Superior

         Conley complains that Defendants Schmitz, West, Parrish, and Mock-as executive officers, judicial superiors, and supervisors-failed to implement policies and procedures designed to protect confidential informants from violations of their constitutional rights. To the extent Conley seeks to hold Defendants Schmitz, West, Parrish, and Mock liable on the basis of respondeat superior, this claim entitles him to no relief.

         In a § 1983 action, liability against a supervisor cannot be based on a subordinate's or an employee's actions. See Monell v. Dept. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691-92 (1978) (holding that the doctrine of respondeat superior is inapplicable to § 1983 actions); Belcher v. City of Foley, 30 F.3d 1390, 1396 (11th Cir. 1994) (holding that 42 U.S.C. § 1983 does not allow a plaintiff to hold supervisory officials liable for the actions of their subordinates under a theory of respondeat superior or vicarious liability). That Defendants Schmitz, West, Parrish, and Mock hold supervisory positions is insufficient to establish liability. Instead, the language of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 requires proof of an affirmative causal connection between the actions taken by a defendant and the alleged constitutional deprivation. Swint v. City of Wadley, Ala., 51 F.3d 988, 999 (11th Cir. 1995); Jones v. Preuit & Mauldin, 851 F.2d 1321 (11th Cir. 1988); see also Cottone v. Jenne, 326 F.3d 1352, 1360 (11th Cir. 2003) (holding that a supervisory official is liable only if he “personally participate[d] in the alleged unconstitutional conduct or [if] there is a causal connection between [his] actions . . . and the alleged constitutional deprivation”). The law of the Eleventh Circuit directs “that the inquiry into causation must be a directed one, focusing on the duties and responsibilities of each of the individual defendants whose acts or omissions are alleged to have resulted in a constitutional deprivation.” Williams v. Bennett, 689 F.2d 1370, 1381 (11th Cir. 1982). Absent some allegation that Defendants Schmitz, West, Parrish, or Mock knew of, sanctioned, participated in, or ...

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