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White v. Newberry

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

December 20, 2019

DON NEWBERRY, Court Clerk of Tulsa County; ALLISON HIGGINS, Deputy Court Clerk in Tulsa County; ALISA SCRAPER, Deputy Court Clerk in Tulsa County; JASON ADAMS, supervisor of the Tulsa County Court Clerk's Criminal and Traffic Division, Defendants.



         This is a civil action. Plaintiff Marquise Leland White, a state inmate, appears pro se and in forma pauperis. This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's amended complaint (Dkt. 9), filed November 4, 2019. For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that the amended complaint is subject to being dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Plaintiff may file a second amended complaint, within 30 days from the entry of this order, should he be able to cure the deficiencies identified in this order.

         I. Screening/dismissal standards

         Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), federal courts must engage in a preliminary screening of cases in which prisoners seek redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The PLRA's screening provision requires the court to identify any cognizable claim and dismiss any claim which is frivolous, 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(b). Similarly, when a court permits a litigant to proceed with a civil action in forma pauperis, “the court shall dismiss the case at any time” for these same reasons. Id. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         In determining whether dismissal is appropriate, the court must accept as true all the well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint and construe the complaint in plaintiff's favor. United States v. Supreme Court of N.M., 839 F.3d 888, 899 (10th Cir. 2016); Kay v. Bemis, 500 F.3d 1214, 1217 (10th Cir. 2007). In addition, the court must liberally construe a complaint filed by a pro se plaintiff. Kay, 500 F.3d at 1218. This simply means the court should overlook basic drafting errors and, “if [the] court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). But the rule of liberal construction “does not relieve the plaintiff of the burden of alleging sufficient facts on which a recognized legal claim could be based.” Id.

         Applying these standards, the court ultimately must decide 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, 570 (2007). “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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). But “when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a [plausible] claim of entitlement to relief, ” the complaint should be dismissed. Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 558.

         II. Plaintiff's allegations and claims in the amended complaint[1]

         Plaintiff brings this action against four defendants, all of whom are associated with the District Court of Tulsa County: (1) Don Newberry, the Court Clerk, (2) Allison Higgins, a Deputy Court Clerk, (3) Alisa Scraper, a Deputy Court Clerk, and (4) Jason Adams, a supervisor in the criminal and traffic division of the Court Clerk's office. Dkt. 9, at 1. Plaintiff claims all four defendants violated his First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights to access the courts, to equal protection of the law, and to due process of law. Dkt. 9, at 2. He alleges (1) that Higgins and Scraper made errors in March and May 2017 when they docketed his application for postconviction relief, and (2) that Newberry and Adams, in their roles as supervisors, failed to acknowledge and correct those errors. Dkt. 9, at 2-7. The following facts are drawn from the amended complaint.

         In March 2017, Plaintiff was incarcerated at the Lawton Correctional Facility (LCF). Dkt. 9, at 3. Under Oklahoma law, an application for postconviction relief must be submitted on Form 13.11 and must be “authenticated” or “verified.” Id. at 2-3 (citing Okla. Stat. tit. 22, §§ 1080, 1081 and Rule 5.6, Rules of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, Title 22, Ch. 18, App. (2019)). Pro se inmates may obtain a blank Form 13.11 from the LCF's law library. Id. at 2 n.1. On March 22, 2017, Eden Clark, a notary public employed by the LCF, witnessed Plaintiff sign six documents: one “Affidavit for Post [C]onviction relief” (Form 13.11), one “Pauperis Affidavit” (Form 13.3), and four affidavits containing Plaintiff's sworn statements. Dkt. 9, at 3. Plaintiff “included [these] six documents in a large box container filled with nearly a thousand pages of other documents comprising the Plaintiff's Post Conviction Pleadings and prepared the documents to be submitted to the Tulsa County Court Clerk by mail.” Id. Prison officials submitted Plaintiff's box container to the United States Postal Service (USPS) on March 22, 2017, with the required $20.35 postage affixed, and Plaintiff obtained a postal tracking number. Id.; Dkt. 1, at 29. Records Plaintiff obtained from the USPS show that the box container was delivered to the Tulsa County Courthouse on March 24, 2017, at 8:39 a.m. Dkt. 9, at 3; Dkt. 1, at 32-33.

         On March 22, 2017, Plaintiff also submitted a second package to prison officials for mailing to the Tulsa County Courthouse. Dkt. 9, at 4. The second package was an envelope containing “a complete unnotarized ‘copy set' of each original pleading that [was] included in the Plaintiff's box container.” Id. In the same envelope, Plaintiff enclosed a letter requesting a file-stamped copy of each pleading he submitted in the box container. Id. Prison officials submitted the second package to the USPS on March 22, 2017, with the requisite $6.77 postage affixed. Id. Plaintiff did not receive a tracking number for the second package and could not obtain information from the USPS regarding when it was delivered to the courthouse. Id. Based on “[o]ther documents docketed by the court clerk on 3/28/17, as well as outgoing mail logs from the [LCF], ” Plaintiff believes that the second package was delivered to the Tulsa County Courthouse on the same day as the box container, March 24, 2017. Id.

         On March 24, 2017, Plaintiff gave two envelopes to prison officials for mailing to the Tulsa County Courthouse. Dkt. 9, at 5; Dkt. 1, at 52. One envelope contained a personal letter to the judge; the other envelope contained a written request for a file-stamped copy of Plaintiff's motion under seal. Dkt. 9, at 5-6 & n.6; Dkt. 1, at 52.

         On March 28, 2017, in State v. White, Tulsa County No. CF-2006-240, Defendant Allison Higgins docketed (1) Plaintiff's application for postconviction relief, (2) Plaintiff's pauperis affidavit, (3) Plaintiff's motion under seal, and (4) Plaintiff's motion for evidentiary hearing. Dkt. 9, at 4 n.4; see also Dkt. 1, at 47 (copy of state court docket sheet). Plaintiff alleges Higgins erred in docketing (1) his application for postconviction relief, which was approximately 30 pages, and (2) his motion under seal, which was five pages, because for each pleading Higgins docketed only one page-the first “cover” page of each pleading. Dkt. 9, at 4-6, 9; Dkt. 1, at 44, 46. After noticing these docketing errors, Plaintiff, through his counselor at the LCF, contacted the Tulsa County Clerk's office by phone. Dkt. 1, at 51. Plaintiff spoke with Samantha, a clerk for Tulsa County District Judge Sharon Holmes. Id. Samantha told Plaintiff that “she had the box.” Id.

         On May 18, 2017, Defendant Alisa Scraper “finally acknowledged reception of the Plaintiff's box container.” Dkt. 9, at 6. Scraper docketed the pleadings from the box container, in five separate volumes, as “Brief of Petitioner in Support of his Petition for Post-Conviction Relief.” Dkt. 9, at 6; Dkt. 1, at 44, 47-48. When Plaintiff “saw the pleadings from the box container online, ” Dkt. 1, at 51, he noticed that “several original documents comprising the various styled pleadings of the Plaintiff's petition for post conviction relief . . . [were] missing, altered, or defective, ” Dkt. 9, at 6. In addition, Plaintiff observed that Scraper filed, in volume 2 of 5, some documents that he did not include in the box container-specifically, “two, four-page affidavits and attached photographs executed by Takisha White-Quitto before Notary Public Cathy Foster on 4/11/17.” Dkt. 9, at 6-7. According to Plaintiff, Myechia Love hand-delivered the White-Quitto affidavits and photographs to the Tulsa County Courthouse and gave them to Samantha sometime in May 2017. Id. at 7; Dkt. 1, at 71. Plaintiff alleges that, sometime after Love delivered the White-Quitto affidavits, the notary seals on the affidavits were removed. Dkt. 9, at 7. Plaintiff further alleges that Scraper denied receiving any hand-delivered documents in support of Plaintiff's application for postconviction relief. Id.

         In June 2018, Plaintiff wrote a letter to Defendant Don Newberry informing Newberry that the single page Higgins docketed, on March 28, 2017, as Plaintiff's application for postconviction relief “should be considered an inauthentic or unverified application.” Dkt. 9, at 7. Plaintiff received a response, dated June 14, 2018 and signed by a deputy clerk, stating that “the original document of the Application for Post-Conviction Relief filed stamped March 28, 2017” was “only one page long and there are not any holes in it that we would find if it had been stapled to any other pages, ” and that “none of the other document[s] [Plaintiff] filed with [the office] on March 28, 2017 where [sic] 30 pages long.” Dkt. 1, at 46; Dkt. 9, at 7-8. After receiving this letter, Plaintiff wrote a second letter to Newberry, explaining that he sent a single page of the application as a “cover page” to be file-stamped and returned to him while he sent his complete, verified application for filing by including it in the box container. Dkt. 1, at 87-89.[2] According to Plaintiff, “[b]etween 3/24/17, and 5/17/17, [t]hough the Court Clerk had possession of Plaintiff's [box container], [t]he Tulsa County Court Clerk refused to offer any information acknowledging reception of [the box container] or any explanation regarding the filing status of the Plaintiff's pleadings other than ‘pending.'” Dkt. 9, at 5-6.

         Sometime before September 14, 2018, Plaintiff presented his concerns about Defendants' alleged docketing errors to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA). Dkt. 9, at 7. On September 14, 2018, the OCCA “remanded [the] matter to Tulsa Count[y] District Court Judge James Caputo” with directions to address Plaintiff's “complaints regarding the preparation of the Post Conviction appeal record in the Plaintiff's felony case as well as documents included in the pagination of the certified record which the Plaintiff maintains are altered, missing, and defective.” Dkt. 9, at 7. Judge Caputo conducted an evidentiary hearing on September 27, 2018, and heard testimony from Defendant Jason Adams and District Attorney James Dunn. Id. at 8. Plaintiff filed three motions in state district court on October 10, 2018, seeking relief relating to the alleged docketing errors. Id. On October 11, 2018, Judge Caputo “entered an order allegedly addressing the Plaintiff's concerns regarding the missing, and defective documents in support of [his] petition for post conviction relief.” Id. Plaintiff alleges Judge Caputo “did not take into account any of [his] factual evidence or exhibits” before entering the order. Id. Plaintiff subsequently filed several motions with the OCCA, raising concerns about the adequacy of the state district court's order. Id. Plaintiff alleges that the OCCA, like the state district court, failed to adequately consider his exhibits “before declaring the pagination of the record in the Plaintiff's criminal matter complete.” Id.

         Based on these factual allegations, Plaintiff asserts that the Defendants' actions “whether by neglect, omission, or mistake violated [his] rights” to due process, to equal protection and to access the courts and caused him “emotional pain, suffering and distress.” Dkt. 9, at 10-11. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, [3] compensatory damages in the amount of $500 from “each defendant jointly and severally, ” punitive damages in the amount of $1, 250, 000 from each defendant, and the costs of this action. Dkt. 9, at 11-12. Plaintiff demands a jury trial and asserts he “ha[s] been and will continue to be irreparably injured by the conduct of the defendants unless this [C]ourt grants the declaratory and injunctive relief which [Plaintiff] seeks.” Id. at 11.

         III. ...

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