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Burton v. Crow

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

July 16, 2018

MORGAN BURTON, JR., #185 425, Plaintiff,
v.
WARDEN JOHN CROW, et al, Defendants.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          Susan Russ Walker United States Magistrate Judge.;

         Plaintiff, an inmate incarcerated at the Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore, Alabama, filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on February 6, 2018. He alleges that rights, privileges, or immunities afforded him under the Constitution or laws of the United States were abridged by the conduct and actions of Defendants regarding his state criminal court proceedings before the Circuit Court for Lee County, Alabama in October of 2012. Plaintiff names as defendants Warden John Crow; the Honorable Jacob Walker, III; former District Attorney Robert Treese; Assistant District Attorney Jessica Venitere; Lauryn Lauderdale, Esq.; Toney Amerson, and Richard Converse. Plaintiff requests injunctive relief. Upon review, the court concludes that dismissal of this case prior to service of process is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).[1]

         I. DISCUSSION

         A. Claims Barred by the Statute of Limitations

         According to the complaint, the date on which the violations about which Plaintiff complains occurred between October 23 and 24, 2012. Doc. 1 at 2. While the allegations asserted by Plaintiff are generalized and conclusory, to the extent he seeks to challenge the legality of his 2012 criminal trial proceedings before the Circuit Court for Lee County, the court takes judicial notice of his criminal case's consolidated case action summary on the Alabama Trial Court System (hosted at www.alacourt.com), which reflects that a jury convicted Plaintiff of second degree rape on October 24, 2012. See Keith v. DeKalb Cnty., 749 F.3d 1034, 1041 n. 18 (11th Cir. 2014) ("We take judicial notice of [the state's] Online Judicial System.") (citing Fed.R.Evid. 201). On December 11, 2012, the trial court sentenced Plaintiff, as an habitual offender, to 21 years' imprisonment. Based on the foregoing, Plaintiffs complaint is filed outside the statute of limitations applicable to actions filed by an inmate under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Federal courts must look to state law to determine, first, what statute of limitations is applicable, and second, whether that limitations period is tolled. Whitson v. Baker, 755 F.2d 1406, 1409 (11th Cir. 1985). Selection of a limitations period for § 1983 actions changed several times [between 1985 and 1989]. Alabama law, however, provides that the applicable limitations period is the one in effect when the claim is filed, not when the cause of action arose. Tyson v. Johns Manville Sales Corp., 399 So.2d263, 269-70 (Ala. 1981). It is undisputed that § 1983 claims were subject to a two year limitations period at that time. See Jones v. Preuit & Mauldin, 876 F.2d 1480, 1483-84 (11th Cir. 1989) (Jones II).

Dukes v. Smitherman, 32 F.3d 535, 537 (11th Cir. 1994). When Plaintiff filed this suit, the statute of limitations for actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 was two years. Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 249-250 (1989) (the proper statute of limitations for § 1983 actions is the forum state's general or residual statute of limitations for personal injury actions); see also Lufkin v. McCallum, 956 F.2d 1104, 1105 (11th Cir. 1992). In Alabama, the general statute of limitations for personal injury actions is two years. Ala. Code § 6-2-38(1).

         Although the state statute of limitations applies, the time of accrual is a federal question. See Cox v. Stanton, 529 F.2d 47, 49-50 (4th Cir. 1975). The running of the statute of limitations begins when Plaintiff knows or has reason to know of her injury. Id.

         Here, Plaintiff should have known of his injury by October 24, 2012, when a jury convicted him for second degree rape. Because Plaintiff failed to file this action until over two years after this time, the statute of limitations now bars consideration of his claims. Plaintiffs complaint against the named defendants is, therefore, subject to dismissal as frivolous under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i). See Clark v. Georgia Pardons and Parole Board, 915 F.2d 636, 640 n.2 (11th Cir. 1990) (in an action proceeding under § 1983, the court may consider, sua sponte, affirmative defenses apparent from the face of the complaint); see also Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319 (1989).

         B. The Challenge to Plaintiff's Conviction

         If Plaintiff seeks to challenge the validity of his second degree rape conviction and/or the sentence imposed upon him by the Circuit Court for Lee County, Alabama, such claims go to the fundamental legality of his confinement and provide no basis for relief at this time. Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641, 646 (1997); Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994); Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973). In Heck, the Supreme Court held that a claim for damages challenging the legality of a prisoner's conviction or confinement is not cognizable in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action "unless and until the [order requiring such confinement] is reversed, expunged, invalidated, or impugned by the grant of a writ of habeas corpus" and complaints containing such claims must therefore be dismissed. 512 U.S. at 483-489. The Court emphasized that "habeas corpus is the exclusive remedy for a [confined individual] who challenges the fact or duration of his confinement and seeks immediate or speedier release, even though such a claim may come within the literal terms of § 1983" and concluded that Heck's complaint was due to be dismissed as no cause of action existed under section 1983. Id. at 481. The Court rejected the lower court's reasoning that a section 1983 action should be construed as a habeas corpus action.

         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 that the challenged action has previously been invalidated. 520 U.S. at 648. The Court determined 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. The Court reiterated the position taken in Heck that the "sole remedy in federal court" for a prisoner challenging the constitutionality of her confinement is a petition for writ of habeas corpus. Id. 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." Id. at 649.

         Under the circumstances of this case, Heck and its progeny bar Plaintiffs use of any federal civil action, other than a petition for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, to mount a collateral attack on the validity of his state court criminal conviction and sentence. 512 U.S. at 489 ("We do not engraft an exhaustion requirement upon § 1983, but rather deny the existence of a cause of action. Even a prisoner who has fully exhausted [all] available state remedies has no cause of action under § 1983 unless and until the conviction or sentence is reversed, expunged, invalidated, or impugned by the grant of a writ of habeas corpus."); Abella v. Rubino, 63 F.3d 1063, 1066 n.4 (11th Cir. 1995) ("Heck clarifies that Preiser is a rule of cognizability, not exhaustion."). Consequently, to the extent the claims presented by Plaintiff seek to challenge the constitutionality of his state court conviction and/or sentence, such claims are not cognizable in this cause of action at this time and are, therefore, subject to summary dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

         II. ...


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