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Steele v. Topeka

Feb 25, 2021
CASE NO. 20-3244-SAC (D. Kan. Feb. 25, 2021)


CASE NO. 20-3244-SAC


LAMAR R. STEELE, JR., Plaintiff, v. TOPEKA, KANSAS, City of, et. al, Defendants.


Plaintiff Lamar R. Steele, Jr., is hereby required to show good cause, in writing, to the Honorable Sam A. Crow, United States District Judge, why this action should not be dismissed due to the deficiencies in Plaintiff's Complaint that are discussed herein. Plaintiff is also given an opportunity to file a proper amended complaint to cure the deficiencies.

I. Nature of the Matter before the Court

Plaintiff brings this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. At the time of filing Plaintiff was housed at the CoreCivic Detention Center in Leavenworth, Kansas.

Plaintiff alleges unlawful search and seizure and unlawful arrest in connection with an incident on September 29, 2018, which resulted in charges in his federal criminal case. Plaintiff names the City of Topeka, Kansas, and four Topeka Police Officers as defendants. Plaintiff alleges that he suffered the loss of income and career opportunities, humiliation, indignities, and embarrassment that follow from his conviction and incarceration.

II. Statutory Screening of Prisoner Complaints

The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or an employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if a plaintiff has raised claims that are legally frivolous or malicious, that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1)-(2).

"To state a claim under § 1983, 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 color of state law." West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988) (citations omitted); Northington v. Jackson, 973 F.2d 1518, 1523 (10th Cir. 1992). A court liberally construes a pro se complaint and applies "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). In addition, the court accepts all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true. Anderson v. Blake, 469 F.3d 910, 913 (10th Cir. 2006). On the other hand, "when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief," dismissal is appropriate. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 558 (2007).

A pro se litigant's "conclusory allegations without supporting factual averments are insufficient to state a claim upon which relief can be based." Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). "[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." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted). The complaint's "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level" and "to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 555, 570.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has explained "that, to state a claim in federal court, a complaint must explain what each defendant did to [the pro se plaintiff]; when the defendant did it; how the defendant's action harmed [the plaintiff]; and, what specific legal right the plaintiff believes the defendant violated." Nasious v. Two Unknown B.I.C.E. Agents, 492 F.3d 1158, 1163 (10th Cir. 2007). 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) (citation omitted).

The Tenth Circuit has pointed out that the Supreme Court's decisions in Twombly and Erickson gave rise to a new standard of review for § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) dismissals. See Kay v. Bemis, 500 F.3d 1214, 1218 (10th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted); see also Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1098 (10th Cir. 2009). As a result, courts "look to the specific allegations in the complaint to determine whether they plausibly support a legal claim for relief." Kay, 500 F.3d at 1218 (citation omitted). Under this new standard, "a plaintiff must 'nudge his claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.'" Smith, 561 F.3d at 1098 (citation omitted). "Plausible" in this context does not mean "likely to be true," but rather refers "to the scope of the allegations in a complaint: if they are so general that they encompass a wide swath of conduct, much of it innocent," then the plaintiff has not "nudged [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible." Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008) (citing Twombly, 127 S. Ct. at 1974).


To the extent Plaintiff challenges the validity of his sentence in his criminal case, his federal claim must be presented in habeas corpus. "[A] § 1983 action is a proper remedy for a state prisoner who is making a constitutional challenge to the conditions of his prison life, but not to the fact or length of his custody." Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 499 (1973) (emphasis added). When the legality of a confinement is challenged so that the remedy would be release or a speedier release, the case must be filed as a habeas corpus proceeding rather than under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the plaintiff must comply with the exhaustion of state court remedies requirement. Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 482 (1994); see also Montez v. McKinna, 208 F.3d 862, 866 (10th Cir. 2000). Therefore, any claim challenging his sentence is not cognizable in a § 1983 action.

Likewise, before Plaintiff may proceed in a federal civil action for monetary damages based upon an invalid conviction or sentence, he must show that his conviction or sentence has been overturned, reversed, or otherwise called into question. Heck, 512 U.S. 477. If Plaintiff has been convicted and a judgment on Plaintiff's claim in this case would necessarily imply the invalidity of that conviction, the claim may be barred by Heck. In Heck, the United States Supreme Court held that when a state prisoner seeks damages in a § 1983 action, the district court must consider the following:

whether a judgment in favor of 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.
Id. at 487. In Heck, the Supreme Court held that a § 1983 damages claim that necessarily implicates the validity of the plaintiff's conviction or sentence is not cognizable unless and until the conviction or sentence is overturned, either on appeal, in a collateral proceeding, or by executive order. Id. at 486-87; see also Alvarez v. Gonzales, 155 F. App'x 393, 398 (10th Cir. 2005) (unpublished) (applying Heck in a federal prisoner's Bivens action); Hererra-Zamora v. Crosby, 2018 WL 10561432, at *3 (D. Colo. Oct. 19, 2018) ("As a federal prisoner apparently serving a federal sentence, Plaintiff may not recover money damages under the rule set forth in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994).").

Plaintiff submits his motion to suppress in his federal criminal case as support for his allegations that he was subjected to an illegal search and seizure and unlawful arrest. Plaintiff's motion to suppress was not ruled on in his criminal case because Plaintiff entered a guilty plea to Count 1 of the Superseding Indictment charging a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. See United States v. Steele, Case No. 18-cr-40088-HLT-1 (D. Kan.) (Docs. 61, 63).

The Plea Agreement provides that the maximum sentence which may be imposed is not more than ten (10) years of imprisonment, a $250,000.00 fine, and not more than three years of supervised release. Id. at Doc. 63. The parties proposed a controlling term of imprisonment of time-served, a one-year term of supervised release and a $100.00 mandatory special assessment. Id. at p. 3. In return for Plaintiff's guilty plea, the United States agreed to not file any additional charges against Plaintiff arising out of the facts forming the basis of the present Indictment and Superseding Indictment; to agree to Plaintiff's release to a residential re-entry center at the time of the plea hearing; and, at the time of sentencing, to dismiss the pending petition seeking revocation of the Plaintiff's supervised release in the case of United States v. Lamar Ray Steele, United States District Court for the District of Kansas Case No. 5:14cr40071-0l-DDC. Id. at 4-5. The Plea Agreement also provides that Plaintiff "knowingly and voluntarily waives any right to appeal or collaterally attack any matter in connection with this prosecution, the defendant's conviction, or the components of the sentence to be imposed herein including the length and conditions of supervised release." Id. at 6-7. On July 2, 2019, Plaintiff was sentenced to time served and one year of supervised release. See United States v. Steele, Case No. 18-cr-40088-HLT-1 (D. Kan.) (Doc. 72). Plaintiff's supervised release was subsequently revoked. See id. at Docs. 77-106.

This situation is distinguishable from a case where the charges were dismissed and plaintiff entered a plea agreement on unrelated charges. Cf. Butler v. Compton, 482 F.3d 1277, 1281 (10th Cir. 2007) ("Mr. Butler's conviction on unrelated charges may not form the basis for the application of Heck where there is no challenge to that conviction in Mr. Butler's § 1983 action."). Plaintiff in this case is seeking damages for the time he was detained and incarcerated. However, Plaintiff was detained based on the incident for which he was ultimately convicted. See Wilkins v. City of Tempe, No. CV 09-00752-PHX-MHM, 2010 WL 94116, at *3 (D. Ariz. Jan. 6, 2010) (distinguishing Butler and finding that "[t]he fact that the crimes which Plaintiff ultimately plead guilty to were not the ones with which he was originally charged is irrelevant; his conviction, unlike the one in Butler, arises out of the same incident that led to the original charges"). If this Court were to find that Plaintiff was entitled to damages for being detained and incarcerated, the invalidity of his criminal convictions would be necessarily implicated. See Wingo v. Mullins, No. 09-CV-445-GKF-TLW, 2009 WL 4404278, at *2 (N.D. Okla. Nov. 25, 2009) ("To the extent Plaintiff claims that the conduct of Defendants . . . destroyed his business, the Court concludes that any damage to Plaintiff's business which arose prior to his convictions is 'inextricably intertwined' with the allegations resulting in his conviction.") (citation omitted). "The Court finds Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that he suffered an actual compensable injury unrelated to his conviction and imprisonment which would survive the holding of Heck." Id. Plaintiff is directed to show cause why this matter should not be dismissed as barred by Heck.

IV. Motions for Issuance

Plaintiff has filed two motions seeking issuance of summonses upon Defendants. Because Plaintiff's Complaint has not survived screening, such a request is premature. Therefore, the Court denies the motions without prejudice.

V. Response and/or Amended Complaint Required

Plaintiff is required to show good cause why his Complaint should not be dismissed for the reasons stated herein. Plaintiff is also given the opportunity to file a complete and proper amended complaint upon court-approved forms that cures all the deficiencies discussed herein. Plaintiff is given time to file a complete and proper amended complaint in which he (1) raises only properly joined claims and defendants; (2) alleges sufficient facts to state a claim for a federal constitutional violation and show a cause of action in federal court; and (3) alleges sufficient facts to show personal participation by each named defendant.

To add claims, significant factual allegations, or change defendants, a plaintiff must submit a complete amended complaint. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15. An amended complaint is not simply an addendum to the original complaint, and instead completely supersedes it. Therefore, any claims or allegations not included in the amended complaint are no longer before the court. It follows that a plaintiff may not simply refer to an earlier pleading, and the amended complaint must contain all allegations and claims that a plaintiff intends to pursue in the action, including those to be retained from the original complaint. Plaintiff must write the number of this case (20-3244-SAC) at the top of the first page of his amended complaint and he must name every defendant in the caption of the amended complaint. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(a). Plaintiff should also refer to each defendant again in the body of the amended complaint, where he must allege facts describing the unconstitutional acts taken by each defendant including dates, locations, and circumstances. Plaintiff must allege sufficient additional facts to show a federal constitutional violation. --------

If Plaintiff does not file an amended complaint within the prescribed time that cures all the deficiencies discussed herein, this matter will be decided based upon the current deficient Complaint and may be dismissed without further notice for failure to state a claim.

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED THAT Plaintiff's motions for issuance of summons (Docs. 4 and 6) are denied without prejudice.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff is granted until March 24, 2021, in which to show good cause, in writing, to the Honorable Sam A. Crow, United States District Judge, why Plaintiff's Complaint should not be dismissed for the reasons stated herein.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff is also granted until March 24, 2021, in which to file a complete and proper amended complaint to cure all the deficiencies discussed herein.

The clerk is directed to send § 1983 forms and instructions to Plaintiff.


Dated February 25, 2021, in Topeka, Kansas.

s/ Sam A. Crow

Sam A. Crow

U.S. Senior District Judge

Summaries of

Steele v. Topeka

Feb 25, 2021
CASE NO. 20-3244-SAC (D. Kan. Feb. 25, 2021)
Case details for

Steele v. Topeka

Case Details

Full title:LAMAR R. STEELE, JR., Plaintiff, v. TOPEKA, KANSAS, City of, et. al…


Date published: Feb 25, 2021


CASE NO. 20-3244-SAC (D. Kan. Feb. 25, 2021)