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Shakleford v. Hensley

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

September 24, 2013

DELBERT SHAKLEFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES EARL HENSLEY, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

GREGORY F. VAN TATENHOVE, District Judge.

Delbert Shakleford claims that when State Trooper James Earl Hensley searched his home without probable cause or a valid search warrant, he violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Shakleford seeks vindication of these rights by asserting the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for illegal search and seizure and malicious prosecution. [R. 1]. Trooper Hensley has countered with the motion to dismiss presently pending before the Court, wherein he argues that the statute of limitations has run on Shakleford's illegal search and seizure claims and that his malicious prosecution claim fails on the merits. [R. 4]. Trooper Hensley's motion, having being fully briefed by the parties and considered by the Court, shall be GRANTED and Shakleford's claims DISMISSED.

I

The relevant facts at issue in this motion are largely undisputed. On August 6, 2007, the Kentucky State Police Dispatch received a report of a stolen television and VCR that was believed to be at the home of Delbert Shakleford, who bought these items from the individual who stole them. Trooper Hensley approached Shakleford who acknowledged that he had the television and VCR, and he took Trooper Hensley to the rental home where the objects were located. According to Shakleford, he voluntarily turned over the stolen merchandise, but refused to allow Trooper Hensley to search the rental home. In response, Trooper Hensley obtained search warrants for the rental home and Shakleford's residence, and his subsequent search uncovered a Brolin shotgun that had previously been reported stolen. The same day Shakleford was arrested and charged with several offenses, though none of which were in relation to the Brolin shotgun. All of these charges were later dismissed.

On December 7, 2009, Trooper Hensley testified about the Brolin shotgun before the Harlan County Grand Jury, which issued an indictment against Shakleford for receiving a stolen firearm. A week later, Shakleford was arrested and several bond conditions were set concerning his pretrial release. However, before the case could proceed to trial, the Harlan Circuit Court suppressed the search that uncovered the shotgun. According to the court, the search warrant simply described the property to be seized as "Property being involved in Kentucky State Police Case Number XX-XX-XXXX." Citing Groh v. Ramirez, 540 U.S. 551, 557 (2004), the court found that because the warrant did not sufficiently describe the items to be seized, it was invalid. As a result of this suppression, on October 3, 2011, the Harlan Circuit Court dismissed the case against Shakleford. Though the claims against him were dismissed, Shakleford says that he incurred $10, 000 in attorney fees over the course of the prosecution.

Shakleford initiated this action on September 11, 2012. In his complaint, Shakleford raises three claims under the Fourth Amendment and Section 1983 related to Trooper Hensley's illegal search of his home on August 6, 2007. Shakleford also claims that Trooper Hensley engaged in malicious prosecution based on illegally obtained evidence in violation of the Fourth Amendment and Section 1983. Trooper Hensley responds that because these claims are time barred and lack merit the Court should grant his motion to dismiss this action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

II

A

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the Plaintiff's complaint. In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court "construe[s] the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept[s] its allegations as true, and draw[s] all inferences in favor of the plaintiff." DirecTV, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). The Court, however, "need not accept as true legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences." Id. (quoting Gregory v. Shelby County, 220 F.3d 433, 446 (6th Cir. 2000)). Recently, the Supreme Court explained that in order "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). See also Courier v. Alcoa Wheel & Forged Products, 577 F.3d 625, 629 (6th Cir. 2009).

B

Trooper Hensley first argues that Shakleford's illegal search and seizure claims filed pursuant to Section 1983 on September 11, 2012, based on a search that occurred on August 6, 2007, are facially time barred. Section 1983 does not contain its own statute of limitations period, but it is well settled that constitutional claims asserted under Section 1983 are governed by the state personal injury statute of limitations. Fox v. DeSoto, 489 F.3d 227, 233 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 280, 105 S.Ct. 1938, 85 L.Ed.2d 254 (1985)); Collard v. Ky. Bd. of Nursing, 896 F.2d 179, 182 (6th Cir.1990)). Personal injury actions in Kentucky "shall be commenced within one (1) year after the cause of action accrued." KRS 413.140(1).

The parties agree that Shakleford's claims are governed by a one year statute of limitations, but their dispute centers on when those claims accrued. Though the applicable statute of limitations is determined by state law, the "date on which the statute of limitations begins to run in a § 1983 action is a question of federal law." Eidson v. State of Tenn. Dept. of Children's Servs., 510 F.3d 631, 635 (2007) (citing Kuhnle Bros., Inc. v. Cnty. of Geauga, 103 F.3d 516, 519 (6th Cir.1997)); see also Hornback v. Lexington-Fayette Urban Cnty. Gov't, 905 F.Supp.2d 747, 749 (E.D. Ky. 2012). According to the United States Supreme Court in Wallace v. Kato, "it is the standard rule that accrual occurs when the plaintiff has a complete and present cause of action... that is, when the plaintiff can file suit and obtain relief, " 549 U.S. 384, 388, 127 S.Ct. 1091, 1095, 166 L.Ed.2d 973 (2007) (citing Bay Area Laundry and Dry Cleaning Pension Trust Fund v. Ferbar Corp. of Cal., 522 U.S. 192, 201, 118 S.Ct. 542, 139 L.Ed.2d 553 (1997) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

Shakleford argues that the statute of limitations does not bar his claims because they did not accrue until the Harlan Circuit Court suppressed the evidence of the illegal search and dismissed the claim. In Shakleford's view, this is because prior to that time he would have had no knowledge that the warrant was invalid and the search was illegal. In support of this proposition, Shakleford cites Ruff v. Runyon, 558 F.3d 498 (6th Cir. 2001). In Ruff, the plaintiffs brought a Bivins claim based on a criminal indictment that had been issued against them on the basis of false information. Addressing the statute of limitations dispute between the parties, the Sixth Circuit stated that "[u]nder federal law the statute begins to run when plaintiffs knew or should have known of the injury which forms the basis of their claims." Ruff, 258 F.3d at 500-01 (citing Friedman v. Estate of Presser, 929 F.2d 1151, 1159 (6th Cir.1991); Sevier v. Turner, 742 F.2d 262, 273 (6th Cir.1984)). In applying that standard, the court found that "plaintiffs' claims did not accrue until the charges against plaintiffs were finally dismissed because prior to that point in time, plaintiffs did not know' of their injury for purposes of the statute of limitations." Id. at 502.

However, this holding was based on an application of the Sixth Circuit's previous decision in Shamaeizadeh v. Cunigan, 182 F.3d 391 (6th Cir. 1999). The Sixth Circuit panel in Ruff expressly stated that, "[t]he rationale for our holding [in Shamaeizadeh ] was premised upon the Supreme Court's decision in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994)." Ruff, 258 F.3d at 501. In Heck, a state prisoner attempted to challenge the constitutionality of his conviction by filing a Section 1983 suit in federal court instead of filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The Supreme Court noted that "civil tort actions are not appropriate vehicles for challenging the validity of outstanding criminal judgments, " and when a Section 1983 claims call into question the validity of the plaintiff's conviction or sentence, the claim is not cognizable under Section 1983 "unless or until the conviction or sentence is reversed, expunged, invalidated, or impugned by the grant of a writ of habeas corpus." Heck, 512 U.S. at 489. In light of this determination, the Supreme Court crafted a deferred accrual rule, that "a § 1983 cause of action for damages attributable to an unconstitutional conviction ...


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