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Spencer v. City of Grand Rapids

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

August 30, 2019

JAMES MARQUIS SPENCER, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF GRAND RAPIDS et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          PAUL L. MALONEY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996) (PLRA), the Court is required to dismiss any prisoner action brought under federal law if the complaint is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A; 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). The Court must read Plaintiff's pro se complaint indulgently, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), and accept Plaintiff's allegations as true, unless they are clearly irrational or wholly incredible. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992). Applying these standards, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim.[1]

         Discussion

         I. Factual allegations

         Plaintiff is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Oaks Correctional Facility (ECF) in Manistee, Manistee County, Michigan. The actions about which he complains, however, have to do with the search and arrest warrants issued on October 22, 2010, related to the convictions on which he presently is incarcerated. Plaintiff sues the City of Grand Rapids, Kent County, Grand Rapids Police Detective Daniel Adams, Police Officer Gretchen Galloway, District Court Judge Jeanine N. LaVille, Kent County Prosecutor William A. Forsyth, and Assistant Prosecutor Helen Brinkman.

         In a felony complaint signed by Judge LaVille on October 22, 2010 (ECF No. 3-1, PageID.32), Plaintiff was charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC I), Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.520b(1)(d) (involving accomplices). Following a bench trial, Plaintiff was convicted. On July 17, 2012, the court sentenced Plaintiff as a second-offense habitual offender, Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.10, to a prison term of 9 to 25 years.

         Plaintiff complains that the arrest and search warrants and the felony complaint signed by Judge LaVille on October 22, 2010, were false and illegal under Michigan and federal law. He bases his argument on correspondence he received in 2018 from a Kent County criminal scheduling clerk, in response to his inquiry. Plaintiff asked for a copy of the court records for October 22, 2010. The clerk responded that no court proceedings were conducted by Judge LaVille on that date. (See Correspondence, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.11.) Because no court proceedings took place on that date, Plaintiff concludes that the judge falsified the warrants and complaint by signing them and that the police officers lied in their police reports when they referred to the warrant both being issued and entered into the LEIN[2] system on that date. He also contends that the prosecutors pursued his conviction based on an illegal arrest and falsified complaint. As a result, he contends, he was denied due process in the proceedings leading to his being taken into custody, and he argues that his conviction and deprivation of liberty were illegal. Plaintiff also argues that Defendants' false representations amounted to libel and slander.

         Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief from his conviction, together with compensatory damages.

         II. Failure to state a claim

         A complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it fails “‘to give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's allegations must include more than labels and conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”). The court must determine whether the complaint contains “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Although the plausibility standard is not equivalent to a “‘probability requirement,' . . . it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)); see also Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010) (holding that the Twombly/Iqbal plausibility standard applies to dismissals of prisoner cases on initial review under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b)(1) and 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)).

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the federal Constitution or laws and must show that the deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Street v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 102 F.3d 810, 814 (6th Cir. 1996). Because § 1983 is a method for vindicating federal rights, not a source of substantive rights itself, the first step in an action under § 1983 is to identify the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994).

         Plaintiff's due process claims challenge the validity of his incarceration by the State of Michigan. A challenge to the fact or duration of confinement should be brought as a petition for habeas corpus and is not the proper subject of a civil rights action brought pursuant to § 1983. See Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 484 (1973) (the essence of habeas corpus is an attack by a person in custody upon the legality of that custody and the traditional function of the writ is to secure release from illegal custody). Therefore, to the extent that Plaintiff's complaint challenges the fact or duration of his incarceration, it must be dismissed. See Adams v. Morris, 90 Fed.Appx. 856, 858 (6th Cir. 2004) (dismissal is appropriate where § 1983 action seeks equitable relief and challenges fact or duration of confinement); see also Moore v. Pemberton, 110 F.3d 22, 23-24 (7th Cir. 1997) (reasons for not construing a § 1983 action as one seeking habeas relief include (1) potential application of Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), (2) differing defendants, (3) differing standards of § 1915(a)(3) and § 2253(c), (4) differing fee requirements, (5) potential application of second or successive petition doctrine or three-strikes rules of § 1915(g)).

         To the extent Plaintiff seeks injunctive, declaratory and monetary relief for alleged violations of Constitutional rights, his claim is barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994), which held that “in order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been [overturned].” See Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641, 646 (1997) (emphasis in original). In Heck, the Supreme Court held that a state prisoner cannot make a cognizable claim under § 1983 for an allegedly unconstitutional conviction or for “harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid” unless a prisoner shows that the conviction or sentence has been “reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus.” Id. at 486-87 (footnote omitted). The holding in Heck has been extended to actions seeking injunctive or declaratory relief. See Edwards, 520 U.S. at 646-48 (declaratory relief); Clarke v. Stalder, 154 F.3d 186, 189-90 (5th Cir. 1998) (claim for injunctive relief intertwined with request for damages); Wilson v. Kinkela, No. 97-4035, 1998 WL 246401, at *1 (6th Cir. May 5, 1998) (injunctive relief). Plaintiff's allegations clearly call into question the validity of his conviction. Therefore, his action is barred under Heck unless and until his criminal conviction has been invalidated.

         A court's dismissal of a claim on the basis that it is barred by Heck v. Humphrey is properly considered a dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) because it fails to state a claim on which relief can be granted. See Hunt v. Michigan, 482 Fed.Appx. 20, 22 (6th Cir. 2012) (a claim barred by Heck is properly dismissed for failure to state a claim); Morris v. Cason, 102 Fed.Appx. 902, 903 (6th Cir. 2004) (same). However, such a dismissal should be without prejudice. Samp ...


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