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Owens v. Hill

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

September 24, 2019

ZACHARY G. OWENS, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES HILL, et al., Defendants.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          CHARLES S. COODY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is pending before the court on a complaint filed by Zachary G. Owens, an indigent inmate incarcerated at the Geneva County Jail on pending state criminal charges.[1] In the complaint, Owens alleges that the defendants have fabricated evidence against him and slandered/defamed his character by providing alleged false information to the news media. Doc. 1 at 3. Owens requests that the defendants be required “to openly admit their wrong doings[, ]” publicly apologize “for the false information that was projected on the media” and be “held accountable for their criminal offenses.” Doc. 1 at 4.

         Upon thorough review of the complaint and under applicable federal law, the undersigned finds 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).[2]

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Fabrication of Evidence

         Owens alleges that the defendants have fabricated evidence against him to support the criminal charges pending against him before the state courts of Geneva County, Alabama. A ruling in favor of Owens on the admissibility of this evidence could adversely impact the State's criminal prosecution of Owens.

         In Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), the Supreme Court held that federal courts should abstain from entertaining civil actions by individuals seeking to enjoin or hinder a criminal prosecution against them in state court. 401 U.S. at 44-45. “Attentive to the principles of equity, comity, and federalism, the Supreme Court has recognized that federal courts should abstain from exercising jurisdiction in suits aimed at restraining pending state criminal prosecutions.” Jackson v. Georgia, 273 Fed. App'x 812, 813 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Younger, 401 U.S. at 37). Younger therefore directs federal courts to abstain from granting injunctive or declaratory relief that would interfere with ongoing state criminal proceedings except under very limited circumstances. 401 U.S. at 43-45. “In order to decide whether the federal proceeding would interfere with the state proceeding, [the court] look[s] to the relief requested and the effect it would have on the state proceedings. The relief sought need not directly interfere with an ongoing proceeding or terminate an ongoing proceeding in order for Younger abstention to be required.” 31 Foster Children v. Bush, 329 F.3d 1255, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted). Abstention is required under Younger when state judicial proceedings are pending, the proceedings implicate important state interests and the state proceedings provide an adequate opportunity to raise constitutional challenges. Middlesex County Ethics Committee v. Garden State Bar Association, 457 U.S. 423, 431 (1982); 31 Foster Children, 329 F.3d at 1274.

         Each of the requisite elements for Younger abstention are present in this case. First, Owens is awaiting trial on criminal charges before a state court. Secondly, enforcement of the law is an important state interest. Finally, Owens may raise his challenge to the validity of the evidence in the pending state court proceedings and, if unsuccessful before the trial court and upon conviction, on direct appeal before the state appellate courts. However, exceptions to Younger abstention include situations where (1) irreparable injury as a result of the prosecution is both “great and immediate”; (2) the state law at issue flagrantly and patently violates the federal constitution; (3) there is a showing of bad faith or harassment; or (4) other unusual circumstances exist that require equitable relief. Mitchum v. Foster, 407 U.S. 225, 230 (1972) (citing Younger).

         In this case, Owens has failed to allege any facts which warrant application of the exceptions to Younger abstention as his claims challenging the validity of the evidence do not assert the type of bad faith or harassment that would justify the relief attendant to this claim - exclusion of the challenged evidence from his pending state criminal cases. Additionally, the mere fact that Owens must defend himself in state criminal proceedings fails to demonstrate irreparable harm. Younger, 401 U.S. at 46 (“[T]he cost, anxiety, and inconvenience of having to defend against . . . criminal prosecution, [is not] considered ‘irreparable' in the special legal sense of that term.”). Consequently, Owens' challenge to the veracity of evidence in his pending criminal cases is due to be summarily dismissed since equity, comity and federalism concerns require the court to abstain from considering such claim.

         B. Slander and Defamation

         Owens alleges the defendants released information to the media which constituted “slander and defamation of [his] character” because it “destroyed his reputation[.]” Doc. 1 at 3. This claim provides no basis for relief in this cause of action.

In order to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the complained of “conduct deprived a person of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.” Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535, 101 S.Ct. 1908, 1913, 68 L.Ed.2d 420 (1981), overruled on other grounds by Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 330-31 (1986). A person's reputation by itself, however, is not a “liberty” or “property” interest that is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment and its due process principles. Moncrieffe v. Broward Cnty. State Attorney's Office, 516 Fed.Appx. 806, 807 (11th Cir. 2013) (unpublished). “[N]o constitutional doctrine [exists] converting every defamation by a public official into a deprivation of liberty within the meaning of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth or Fourteenth Amendment.” Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 702, 96 S.Ct. 1155, 1161, 47 L.Ed.2d 405 (1976). That is, ”[a]n alleged act of defamation of character or injury to reputation is not cognizable in a complaint filed under § 1983.” Padgett v. Mosley, CA No. 2:05-CV-0608-MEF, 2007 WL 2409464, at *7 (M.D. Ala. Aug. 20, 2007) (unpublished).
“Defamation, by itself, is a tort actionable under the laws of most States, but not a constitutional deprivation.” Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 233, 11 ...

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