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Bennett v. State

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

September 26, 2018

PEDRO G. BENNETT, Plaintiff,
THE STATE OF ALABAMA, et al., Defendants.




         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is before the court on a complaint filed by Pedro G. Bennett, an indigent inmate confined at the Elmore County Jail on pending state criminal charges for first degree robbery, first degree assault and first degree burglary. Doc. 1 at 1. “[A] 70 year old woman was shot in these alleged offenses.” Doc. 1 at 1. In this complaint, Bennett alleges that Randall V. Houston, the District Attorney for the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit of Alabama, committed “libel of defamation” during a television interview addressing these criminal charges. Doc. 1 at 1.

         Upon a thorough review of the complaint, the court concludes that this case is due to be dismissed prior to service of process in accordance with the directives of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i).[1]


         A. The State Alabama

         Bennett names the State of Alabama as a defendant. The law is well-settled that the State of Alabama is absolutely immune from suit. Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265 (1986) (Unless the State of Alabama consents to suit or Congress rescinds its immunity, a plaintiff cannot proceed against the State as the action is proscribed by the Eleventh Amendment and “[t]his bar exists whether the relief sought is legal or equitable.”).

“[T]he Eleventh Amendment prohibits federal courts from entertaining suits by private parties against States and their agencies [or employees].” Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 781, 98 S.Ct. 3057, 57 L.Ed.2d 1114 (1978). There are two exceptions to this prohibition: where the state has waived its immunity or where Congress has abrogated that immunity. Virginia Office for Prot. & Advocacy v. Stewart, 563 U.S. 247, 131 S.Ct. 1632, 1637-38, 179 L.Ed.2d 675 (2011). “A State's consent to suit must be ‘unequivocally expressed' in the text of [a] relevant statute.” Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277, 131 S.Ct. 1651, 1658, 179 L.Ed.2d 700 (2011) (quoting Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98, 104 S.Ct. 900, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984)). “Waiver may not be implied.” Id. Likewise, “Congress' intent to abrogate the States' immunity from suit must be obvious from ‘a clear legislative statement.'” Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 55, 116 S.Ct. 1114, 134 L.Ed.2d 252 (1996) (quoting Blatchford v. Native Vill. of Noatak, 501 U.S. 775, 786, 111 S.Ct. 2578, 115 L.Ed.2d 686 (1991)).

Selensky v. Alabama, 619 Fed.Appx. 846, 848-49 (11th Cir. 2015). Thus, the State of Alabama may not be sued unless the State has waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity, see Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984), or Congress has abrogated the State's immunity, see Seminole Tribe v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 59 (1996).

Neither waiver nor abrogation applies here. The Alabama Constitution states that “the State of Alabama shall never be made a defendant in any court of law or equity.” Ala. Const. art. I, § 14. The Supreme Court has recognized that this prohibits Alabama from waiving its immunity from suit. Pugh, 438 U.S. at 782, 98 S.Ct. 3057 (citing Ala. Const. art. I, § 14.)

Selensky, 619 Fed.Appx. at 849. “Alabama has not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity in § 1983 cases, nor has Congress abated it.” Holmes v. Hale, 701 Fed.Appx. 751, 753 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing Carr v. City of Florence, Ala., 916 F.2d 1521, 1525 (11th Cir. 1990)). Consequently, any claims lodged against the State of Alabama are frivolous as these claims are “based on an indisputably meritless legal theory[, ]” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989), and are therefore due to be dismissed with prejudice pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i).

         B. The Libel/Defamation Claim

         Bennett bases his complaint on a claim of libel/defamation. This claim provides no basis for relief.

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, ...

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