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Elliott v. Valeska

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

April 8, 2019

GENE CHANDLER ELLIOTT, JR., 267038, Plaintiff,




         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is pending before the court on a complaint filed by Gene Chandler Elliott, Jr., an indigent state inmate currently serving a fifteen year sentence for trafficking in methamphetamine imposed upon him on July 6, 2009 by the Circuit Court of Houston County, Alabama.[1] In this complaint, Elliott challenges the constitutionality of a search that occurred on November 6, 2018 at “the old fire station” in Madrid, Alabama and other actions that transpired on November 12, 2008, which culminated in his arrests for receiving stolen property and trafficking in methamphetamine on November 17, 2008 and November 18, 2008. Doc. 1 at 2-3. Elliott also presents claims attacking the constitutionality of the criminal proceedings related to his 2009 convictions. Doc. 1 at 4.[2]Specifically, Elliott alleges that the trial judge improperly denied his motion to suppress the evidence obtained during the challenged search. Doc. 1 at 4 (“[P]lease help the plaintiff with the suppression hearing ruled on by Judge Brad Mendheim who ignored state and federal laws in order to cover up the illegal prosecution of the plaintiff[.]”).

         Elliott names Douglas A. Valeska, the District Attorney for Houston County at the time of his convictions, Nereida Bundy, an assistant district attorney, Andy Hughes, the Sheriff of Houston County during the time relevant to the complaint, and Donovan Arias, Jackie Smith and Bill Rafferty, officers with the Houston County Sheriff's Department, as defendants. He seeks a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief for the alleged violations of his constitutional rights. Doc. 1 at 4.

         Upon a thorough review of the complaint, the undersigned concludes that this case is due to be dismissed prior to service of process in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and (ii).[3]


         A. Search and Arrests

         Elliott challenges the constitutionality of a search and his resulting arrests, the last such event occurring on November 18, 2008. Any claims related to the search and Elliott's arrests are barred by the statute of limitations applicable to a federal civil action filed by an inmate under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

All constitutional claims brought under § 1983 are tort actions, subject to the statute of limitations governing personal injury actions in the state where the § 1983 action has been brought. Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 275-76, 105 S.Ct. 1938, 1946-47, 85 L.Ed.2d 254 (1985). [The plaintiff's] claim was brought in Alabama where the governing limitations period is two years. Ala. Code § 6-2-38; Jones v. Preuit & Mauldin, 876 F.2d 1480, 1483 (11th Cir. 1989) (en banc). Therefore, in order to have his claim heard, [the plaintiff is] required to bring it within two years from the date the limitations period began to run.

McNair v. Allen, 515 F.3d 1168, 1173 (11th Cir. 2008).

         The last of the actions about which Elliott complains regarding the search and arrests occurred on November 18, 2008. By its express terms, the tolling provision of Ala. Code § 6-2-8(a) affords no relief to Elliott from application of the time bar.[4] The statute of limitations applicable to Elliott's illegal search and arrest claims therefore began to run, at the latest, on November 19, 2008.[5] The limitations period ran uninterrupted until its expiration on November 19, 2010. Elliott filed the instant complaint on April 2, 2019. Thus, the filing of this civil action occurred several years after expiration of the applicable two-year period of limitations.

         Unquestionably, the statute of limitations is usually a matter which is raised as an affirmative defense. The court notes, however, that when a plaintiff proceeds in forma pauperis in a civil action it may sua sponte consider affirmative defenses that are apparent from the face of the complaint. Clark v. Ga. Pardons and Parole Bd., 915 F.2d 636, 640 n.2 (11th Cir. 1990); see also Ali v. Higgs, 892 F.2d 438 (5th Cir. 1990). “[I]f the district court sees that an affirmative defense would defeat the action, a section 1915[(e)(2)(B)(i)] dismissal is allowed.” Clark, 915 F.2d at 640. “The expiration of the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense the existence of which warrants dismissal as frivolous.” Id. at n.2 (citing Franklin v. State of Oregon, 563 F.Supp. 1310, 1330, 1332 (D. Or. 1983).

         In analyzing § 1983 cases, “the court is authorized to test the proceeding for frivolousness or maliciousness even before service of process or before the filing of the answer.” Ali, 892 F.2d at 440. “It necessarily follows that in the absence of the defendant or defendants, the district court must evaluate the merit of the claim sua sponte.” Id.

An early determination of the merits of an IFP proceeding provides a significant benefit to courts (because it will allow them to use their scarce resources effectively and efficiently), to state officials (because it will free them from the burdens of frivolous and harassing litigation), and to prisoners (because courts will have the time, energy and inclination to give meritorious claims the attention they need and deserve). “We must take ...

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