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Pledger v. Ziegler

United States District Court, D. Kansas

June 1, 2017

TAMIKA J. PLEDGER, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
TERRY ZIEGLER, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JULIE A. ROBINSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter arises out of an incident that occurred on or about October 29, 2015, involving a vehicle operated by Plaintiff Tamika J. Pledger, who is now a party to criminal and civil actions pending in the District Court of Wyandotte County, Kansas.[1] Plaintiff and her daughter, Ta'Mya Coulter, allege in their pro se Amended Complaint that Kansas City, Kansas Police Chief Terry Zeigler and other law enforcement defendants are withholding exculpatory evidence in violation of Pledger's due process rights in the criminal proceedings pending against her in Wyandotte County. On December 19, 2016, Pledger filed a Notice of Removal[2] in the civil proceedings, of her pending criminal case, No. 15-CR-0102. In a Report and Recommendation filed on January 20, 2017 (Doc. 11), Magistrate Judge Theresa J. James recommended that the case be dismissed. This matter is currently before the Court upon Plaintiff's filing of Objections to the Report and Recommendation and Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint (Docs. 13, 14). As will be discussed more fully below, the Court adopts the Report and Recommendation, denies leave to amend, and dismisses the civil case. Further, the Court summarily remands the criminal proceeding to state court.

         I. Legal Standard

         The standard the Court must employ when reviewing objections to a report and recommendation can be found in 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), which provides:

A judge of the court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made. A judge of the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. The judge may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.[3]

         The Tenth Circuit requires that objections to a magistrate judge's recommended disposition “be both timely and specific to preserve an issue for de novo review by the district court.”[4] An objection is timely if it is made within fourteen days after service of a copy of the recommended disposition.[5] An objection is sufficiently specific if it “focus[es] the district court's attention on the factual and legal issues that are truly in dispute.”[6] If a party fails to make a proper objection, the court has considerable discretion to review the recommendation under any standard that it finds appropriate.[7]

         In her objection, Pledger seeks leave to amend her complaint for a second time to drop her daughter as a party and add claims for violations of her Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights, false imprisonment, spoliation of evidence, and criminal defamation of character, with a prayer for sanctions and damages in the amount of $66 million. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2) states that courts should “freely give leave when justice so requires.” The decision whether to grant leave to amend is within the court's discretion.[8] “Refusing leave to amend is generally only justified upon a showing of undue delay, undue prejudice to the opposing party, bad faith or dilatory motive, failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, or futility of amendment.”[9] “A proposed amendment is futile if the complaint, as amended, would be subject to dismissal for any reason. . . .”[10]

         Finally, because Plaintiffs proceed pro se, the Court construes their pleadings liberally.[11]However, the Court does not assume the role of advocate.[12] Also, Plaintiffs' pro se status does not excuse them from “the burden of alleging sufficient facts on which a recognized legal claim could be based.”[13] Plaintiff is not relieved from complying with the rules of the court or facing the consequences of noncompliance.[14]

         II. Discussion

         Plaintiffs assert a claim against Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of their constitutional rights. Plaintiffs filed a Notice of Removal of the pending state criminal case on December 19, 2016. An Amended Complaint was filed on January 6, 2016, alleging that Defendants are withholding exculpatory evidence in violation of Pledger's due process rights in the criminal proceedings in Wyandotte County. Plaintiffs ask this Court to dismiss the pending state court cases, file criminal charges against certain individuals, and award sanctions and monetary damages.

         Judge James recommended dismissal on two grounds: (1) the Amended Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; and (2) the Court lacks jurisdiction under the Younger abstention doctrine. The Court agrees with Judge James that both grounds warrant dismissal of the Amended Complaint.

         First, Plaintiffs fail to state a claim under § 1983, under which “a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law.”[15] As Judge James explained, Plaintiffs' assertion of a Brady v. Maryland[16] violation does not state a claim under § 1983, as such a challenge may only be made in connection with the criminal trial in which the prosecution allegedly withheld the evidence.[17] Second, this Court agrees with Judge James that the abstention doctrine described by the Supreme Court in Younger v. Harris applies to prevent this Court from exercising jurisdiction over the claims in the Amended Complaint, as Pledger has the opportunity to raise her Brady claim in the pending state court criminal proceedings.[18]

         This Court further concludes that Pledger's request for leave to file a second amended complaint is denied as futile. Pledger seeks leave to amend to include claims for damages based on unlawful search, illegal arrest, spoliation of evidence, and false imprisonment stemming from the forty-eight hours she spent in custody in January 2015. In Heck v. Humphrey, [19] the Supreme Court held:

[W]hen a state prisoner seeks damages in a § 1983 suit, the district court must consider whether a judgment in favor or the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence; if it would, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated.[20]

         Under the Heck rule, the accrual of a cause of action is deferred until the conviction or sentence has been invalidated.[21]Heck does not ...


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