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Ellis v. Harris

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

June 17, 2019

TIMOTHY SHANE ELLIS, Plaintiff,
v.
TIM HARRIS, former Tulsa County District Attorney; STEVEN KUNZWEILER, Tulsa County District Attorney; JANE and JOHN DOE prosecutors, Tulsa County District Attorney's Office, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CLAIRE V. EAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Timothy Shane Ellis, a pretrial detainee incarcerated at the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center, located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, commenced this action on April 25, 2019, by filing two pro se pleadings: a “request for emergency injunction” (Dkt. # 1) and a “motion and affidavit for leave to proceed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915” (Dkt. # 2). By order filed May 1, 2019 (Dkt. # 3), the Court denied both motions and directed plaintiff to file amended pleadings. Before the Court are plaintiff's amended motion to proceed in forma pauperis (Dkt. # 9), filed May 20, 2019, and plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights complaint (Dkt. # 13), filed May 23, 2019. For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis and dismisses the complaint, under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B), for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Because the Court finds any further attempts to amend would be futile, the dismissal shall be with prejudice.

         A. Plaintiff shall be authorized to proceed in forma pauperis

         After reviewing plaintiff's amended motion to proceed in forma pauperis (Dkt. # 9), the Court finds that plaintiff is without funds sufficient to prepay the $350 filing fee required to commence this action. Accordingly, the Court finds plaintiff is entitled to proceed without prepayment of the filing fee, and his motion to proceed in forma pauperis shall be granted. Because plaintiff's amended motion and supporting documents indicate he also lacks sufficient funds to make an initial partial payment, the Court waives the initial partial filing fee. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4).[1]However, plaintiff remains obligated to pay the full $350 filing fee when he is able to do so.

         B. The complaint shall be dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         When, as here, a plaintiff is permitted to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court shall dismiss “at any time” all or any part of the complaint if the Court determines plaintiff's action “(i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); see also id. § 1915A(b)(1) (providing same grounds for dismissal on preliminary screening of prisoner complaints). In assessing whether a complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a claim, the court must accept all the well-pleaded factual allegations of the complaint as true, even if doubtful in fact, and determine whether the complaint contains “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007). Additionally, in assessing the sufficiency of a complaint filed by a pro se plaintiff, the court must liberally construe the complaint without acting as the plaintiff's advocate. Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). Thus, a pro se plaintiff bears “the burden of alleging sufficient facts on which a recognized legal claim could be based.” Id. Dismissal is appropriate “when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a [plausible] claim of entitlement to relief.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 558; see also Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110 (noting that “conclusory allegations without supporting factual averments are insufficient to state a claim on which relief can be based”).

         1. Plaintiff's allegations and claims

         Plaintiff purports to sue (1) former Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris, (2) Tulsa County District Attorney Steven Kunzweiler, and (3) Jane and/or John Doe prosecutors from the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office. Dkt. # 13, at 1-2, 8-9. Plaintiff describes the nature of his case arising from “[t]he illegal refiling of Tulsa County District Court No. CF-2017-4964 and the subsequent bench warrant and illegal extradition.” Id. at 3.

         Plaintiff identifies four claims. He claims that Harris, Kunzweiler and Jane or John Doe prosecutors violated his constitutional rights to due process (count I) and equal protection of the law (count II) through the “refiling of charges without new evidence or just cause to justify prosecution.” Dkt. # 13, at 3-4, 13-14. He further claims that Harris, Kunzweiler and Jane or John Doe prosecutors caused his “false/unconstitutional arrest” (count III) and “illegal/unconstitutional confinement” (count IV) through the “refiling of charges without new evidence or just cause to support prosecution.” Id. at 4-5, 14-15.

         In support of these claims, plaintiff alleges that he “was arrested on a criminal complaint in Tulsa County, No. CF-2017-4964” in August 2017 and the “case was dismissed at preliminary hearing for insufficient evidence to support probable cause.” Dkt. # 13, at 10. According to plaintiff, the case was “refiled” three days later “without any new evidence or other good cause to justify a subsequent prosecution.” Id. In November 2018, “the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office requested that a bench warrant be issued for the plaintiff in this action for his arrest” and the “bench warrant was in fact issued.” Id. Unaware of the warrant, plaintiff and his fiancee (the alleged victim in No. CF-2017-4964) moved to Denver, Colorado in February 2019. Id. at 10-11. Denver police officers arrested plaintiff on March 30, 2019, pursuant to the Tulsa County bench warrant. Id. at 11. He was then extradited to Tulsa, Oklahoma on April 12, 2019. Id. According to plaintiff, No. CF-2017-4964 was dismissed on May 10, 2019. Id. at 12.

         As relief for the alleged violations of his constitutional rights, plaintiff seeks the following injunctive relief: (1) “court costs and filing fees, ” (2) an order requiring defendants “to have him safely transported back to Denver, Colorado, ” and (3) an order directing defendants to “find[] and secur[e]” his vehicle, tools and personal property that he was forced to abandon upon his “illegal” arrest. Dkt. # 13, at 21. In addition, plaintiff seeks $44, 000 in compensatory damages ($1, 100 for each of the 40 days he was confined), and $500, 000 in punitive damages. Id. at 22. Plaintiff also requests a federal investigation of the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office, “for the purpose of bringing forth criminal charges upon the defendants” and/or seeking “disbarment proceedings” against them. Id. at 23.[2]

         2. Plaintiff fails to state any claims upon which relief may be granted.

         A plaintiff seeking relief under § 1983 must show that a person acting under color of state law deprived the plaintiff of a federally protected right. Schaffer v. Salt Lake City, Corp., 814 F.3d 1151, 1155 (10th Cir. 2016). Here, Plaintiff seeks to impose “personal liability” against all defendants and “supervisory liability” against Harris and Kunzweiler, and seeks monetary damages as compensation for, the alleged constitutional violations arising from decisions made by Harris, Kunzweiler or other prosecutors to refile criminal charges against him and request a bench warrant for his arrest based on those charges. Dkt. # 13, at 3-5, 8-9. For two reasons, plaintiff's claims shall be dismissed.

         First, he seeks monetary damages from defendants who are absolutely immune. See Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 431 (1976) (holding that “in initiating a prosecution . . . the prosecutor is immune from a civil suit for damages under § 1983”); Warnick v. Cooley, 895 F.3d 746, 751 (10th Cir. 2018) (“[P]rosecutors are entitled to absolute immunity from liability for their decision to file charges.”); Snell v. Tunnell, 920 F.2d 673, 693 (10th Cir. 1990) (noting that prosecutors enjoy absolute immunity from liability for “functions within the continuum of initiating and presenting a criminal case, such as filing charges [and] seeking an arrest warrant”). This immunity extends to any actions Harris and Kunzweiler may have taken in their supervisory roles regarding the decisions to refile charges and request a bench warrant. See Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, 555 U.S. 335, 345-46 (2009) (stating that “[d]ecisions ...


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