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Zudell v. Horn

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

May 16, 2018

FORREST L. ZUDELL, Plaintiff,
v.
ARCHIE VAN HORN, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Ronald A. White United Stales District Judge Eastern District of Oklahoma

         Plaintiff, a pro se state prisoner who is incarcerated at Clara Waters Community Corrections Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He is seeking relief for alleged constitutional violations related to his arrest and criminal prosecution in Pontotoc County, Oklahoma. The defendants are Archie Van Horn, the victim of Plaintiff's crime; Jason Christopher, Adam Banner, and Ryan Coventon, Plaintiff's defense attorneys; Chris Crow (aka Cris Crow), Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Officer; Matthew Welde (aka Matthew Weide), former Pontotoc County Assistant District Attorney; and the Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Department in Ada, Oklahoma. Defendants Christopher, Crow, Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Department, Welde, Banner, and Coventon have filed motions to dismiss (Dkts. 28, 30, 31, 33, 56), and Plaintiff has filed responses to the motions by Defendants Christopher, Banner, and Coventon (Dkts. 36, 47).

         Screening/Dismissal Standards

         When a prisoner files a civil rights complaint seeking relief from a governmental entity or an officer of employee of a governmental entity:

[T]he court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint--
(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or

         (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (a)-(b). See also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) (dismissal standards for prisoners proceeding in forma pauperis).

         The pleading standard for all civil actions was articulated in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009). To avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must present factual allegations, assumed to be true, that “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The complaint must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. A court must accept all the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true, even if doubtful in fact, and must construe the allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Id. at 555-56. “So, when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief, ” the cause of action should be dismissed. Id. at 558. The Court applies the same standard of review for dismissals under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) that is employed for Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Kay v. Bemis, 500 F.3d 1214, 1217-18 (10th Cir. 2007).

         A pro se plaintiff's complaint must be broadly construed under this standard. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). The generous construction to be given to the pro se litigant's allegations, however, “does not relieve the plaintiff of the burden of alleging sufficient facts on which a recognized legal claim could be based.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). Notwithstanding a pro se plaintiff's various mistakes or misunderstandings of legal doctrines or procedural requirements, “if a court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so . . . .” Id. A reviewing court need not accept “mere conclusions characterizing pleaded facts.” Bryson v. City of Edmond, 905 F.2d 1386, 1390 (10th Cir. 1990). “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quotations and citations omitted). The Court “will not supply additional factual allegations to round out a plaintiff's complaint or construct a legal theory on a plaintiff's behalf.” Whitney v. New Mexico, 113 F.3d 1170, 1173-74 (10th Cir. 1997).

         Defendant Archie Van Horn[1]

         Plaintiff alleges that in October 2012, he was arrested in Ada, Oklahoma, by Defendant Chris Crow of the Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Department (“the Department”). Upon learning of Plaintiff's arrest, Defendant Archie Van Horn reported to the Department that on April 18, 2012, Van Horn had entered into an agreement with Plaintiff to install a storm shelter at Van Horn's house. Van Horn claimed he paid Plaintiff $2, 000 in cash, approximately half of the total cost of the shelter, but no work was done and Plaintiff only gave excuses for his failure to perform the work.

         Plaintiff maintains Van Horn actually entered into an agreement with Plaintiff's employee, Robert Morgan, and Morgan received the cash from Van Horn. Plaintiff further asserts Officer Crow wrote a “bogus” police report based on Van Horn's allegations, instead of investigating the case. As a result of Van Horn's complaint, Plaintiff was arrested for Obtaining Money or Merchandise under False Pretenses. (Dkt. 1 at 5, 10, 12-13, 15).

         “Section 1983 provides a federal civil remedy for the ‘deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution' by any person acting under color of state law.” McCarty v. Gilchrist, 646 F.3d 1281, 1285 (10th Cir. 2011) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983). Defendant Van Horn, however, is a private individual, and Plaintiff has not pleaded sufficient facts to allow the Court to reasonably infer that Van Horn was acting under color of state law during the incident at issue. See Pino v. Higgs, 75 F.3d 1461, 1465 (10th Cir. 1996) (“In order to hold a private individual liable under § 1983, it must be shown that the private person was jointly engaged with state officials in the challenged action, or has obtained significant aid from state officials, or that the private individual's conduct is in some other way chargeable to the State.”) (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted). The Court, therefore, finds Plaintiff has failed to state a claim against Defendant Van Horn.

         Defendants Jason Christopher, Adam ...


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