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Berry v. Napoleon

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

July 3, 2018

BENNY NAPOLEON, et al., Defendants.




         This is a pro se civil rights case brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Michigan pre-trial detainee Duane Letroy Berry (“Plaintiff”), currently confined at the Midland County Jail, asserts that he was illegally removed from federal custody and placed into state custody to face state criminal charges in 2017. Plaintiff names Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Dana Hathaway, and Wayne County District Court Judges Sean Kavanagh and Lydia Adams as the defendants in this action. Plaintiff does not indicate the capacity in which he is suing the defendants, but he seeks monetary damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief. Plaintiff paid the filing and administrative fees for this case.

         Plaintiff is being held as a pretrial detainee in People v. Berry, Wayne Co. Cir. Ct. No. 17-005237-01-FH, in which he is charged with malicious destruction of a building in violation of Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.3803. Prior to his current incarceration, Plaintiff was in federal custody pending competency proceedings in United States v. Berry, E.D. Mich. No. 2:15-CR-20743, in which he is charged with perpetrating false information and hoaxes in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1038(a). On August 25, 2016, the federal district court conducted a competency hearing and found Petitioner incompetent to stand trial in his federal criminal case. On August 30, 2016, the court ordered his civil commitment and hospitalization. United States v. Berry, E.D. Mich. No. 2:15-CR-20743. On June 1, 2017, the court conducted a second competency hearing to determine whether Petitioner's competency could be restored with medication and took the matter under advisement. On August 31, 2017, the court ordered the administration of medication with certain conditions. Id. The federal case remains pending.

         In the midst of his ongoing federal proceedings, on or about April 28, 2017, Petitioner was transferred to state custody pursuant to a detainer.[1] After a preliminary examination, Petitioner was bound over for trial. On July 19, 2017, the state trial court ordered that Petitioner be evaluated to determine his competency for trial and for criminal responsibility. The state court conducted a competency hearing on January 25, 2018 and set review dates for April 26, 2018, then May 31, 2018, and now August 31, 2018. People v. Berry, Wayne Co. Cir. Ct. No. 17-005237-01-FH.


         Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 (“PLRA”), the Court is required to sua sponte dismiss a complaint seeking redress against government entities, officers, and employees which it finds to be frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. A complaint is frivolous if it lacks an arguable basis in law or in fact. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that a complaint set forth “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” as well as “a demand for the relief sought.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), (3). The purpose of this rule is to “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). While such notice pleading does not require detailed factual allegations, it does require more than the bare assertion of legal conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Rule 8 “demands more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that (1) he was deprived of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the federal Constitution or laws of the United States; and (2) the deprivation was caused by a person acting under color of state law. Flagg Bros. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 155-57 (1978); Harris v. Circleville, 583 F.3d 356, 364 (6th Cir. 2009). A pro se civil rights complaint is to be construed liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972). Despite the liberal pleading standard accorded pro se plaintiffs, the Court finds that Plaintiff's complaint is subject to summary dismissal.

         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         In his pleadings, Plaintiff challenges the validity of the state court decisions requiring him to appear in state court and face state criminal charges. The Court, however, lacks the authority to review any such claims under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923); District of Columbia Ct. of App. v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983), which “holds that lower federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction to engage in appellate review of state court proceedings or to adjudicate claims ‘inextricably intertwined' with issues decided in state court proceedings.” Peterson Novelties, Inc. v. City of Berkley, 305 F.3d 386, 390 (6th Cir. 2002); see also Hutcherson v. Lauderdale Co., Tenn., 326 F.3d 747, 755 (6th Cir. 2003). “The Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents the lower federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over cases brought by ‘state-court losers' challenging ‘state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced.'” Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 460 (2006) (per curiam) (quoting Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005)). The Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies “when a plaintiff complains of injury from the state court judgment itself.” Coles v. Granville, 448 F.3d 853, 858 (6th Cir. 2006). “In determining the applicability of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, federal courts . . . must pay close attention to the relief sought by the federal-court plaintiff.” Hood v. Keller, 341 F.3d 593, 597 (6th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation omitted). “If the source of the injury is that state court decision, then the Rooker-Feldman doctrine would prevent the district court from asserting jurisdiction. If there is some other source of injury, such as a third party's actions, then the plaintiff asserts an independent claim.” McCormick v. Braverman, 451 F.3d 382, 393 (6th Cir. 2006). The doctrine applies to attempts to relitigate state court judgments entered before the federal suit is filed; it does not abrogate concurrent jurisdiction in federal and state courts, nor is it analogous to a preclusion doctrine. Exxon Mobil, 544 U.S. at 292.

         “The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is a rule of federal jurisdiction.” Frederickson v. City of Lockport, 384 F.3d 437, 438 (7th Cir. 2004). Consequently, it may be raised sua sponte. Saker v. National City Corp., 90 Fed.Appx. 816, 818 n.1 (6th Cir. 2004). When a claim is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a court must dismiss the claim for lack of jurisdiction. Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Environment, 523 U.S. 83, 94 (1998).

         Applying the foregoing principles to the present complaint, the Court finds that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear Plaintiff's challenges to the state court rulings requiring him to appear in state court and face criminal charges pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Plaintiff challenges the application of state court rules to his case, asserting that the state court orders are procedurally and/or constitutionally unsound and essentially asking the Court to overrule or vacate them. That is exactly the sort of appellate review of state court judgments that federal courts are barred from engaging in under Rooker-Feldman. The complained of-injuries are directly and solely traceable to the state court rulings. In other words, Plaintiff is turning to federal court to undo the state court orders, Exxon Mobil, 544 U.S. at 293, and his claims are based upon the premise that the state court decisions are invalid. The Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over any such claims based upon the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

         B. Failure ...

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