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Barnes v. Stratton

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

March 7, 2017

OFFICER DAVID STRATTON, et al., Defendants.


          David J. Hale, Judge United States Judge.

         Plaintiff Daniel Barnes asserts several claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Kentucky law, arising out of events that occurred during a traffic stop. (Docket No. 1, PageID #3, 6) A one-year statute of limitations applies to all but one of these claims. This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs second motion to amend the filing date of his complaint. (D.N. 14) Barnes seeks to avoid the conclusion that he filed the complaint one day past the expiration of the statute of limitations. He alleges that technical difficulties thwarted his attempt to timely file the complaint. However, the Court's Local Rules, General Orders, and website discuss the options a litigant has when faced with filing difficulties. Barnes failed to follow this guidance. Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that Barnes's claims are time-barred or otherwise fail to state a claim for relief. (D.N. 18) The Court concludes that the filing was untimely, even when generously construing Barnes's motion as one for equitable tolling. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs motion will be denied and Defendants' motion to dismiss will be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On April 6, 2015, Plaintiff Daniel Barnes was pulled over in LaGrange, Kentucky, by Defendant Officers David Stratton and Kyle Taylor. (Id., PageID # 3) Barnes warned the officers that there was a firearm in the center console of his vehicle. (Id.) He claims that one of the officers grabbed his wrists through the open driver-side window while the other officer retrieved the firearm from the passenger side of the vehicle. (Id.) The officers ordered Barnes to step out of the vehicle, after which Barnes alleges that he was placed in handcuffs, pushed against the vehicle, kicked in the legs, and searched. (Id.) The officers then released Barnes and returned his firearm. (Id.) Even though Barnes claims he told the officers he had insurance, Barnes was cited for failure to maintain insurance in violation of Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 304.99-060. (Id.) Barnes later appeared in Oldham County District Court, where the charges were dismissed. (Id., PageID # 4)

         Barnes alleges that he was "deprived of substantial rights without due process of law, and suffered and continues to suffer severe physical injuries and severe emotional distress" because Defendants "had neither reasonable articulable suspicion, nor probable cause to believe that a crime had been committed when they stopped [him]." (Id.) He asserts claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for unlawful detention and confinement and refusal or neglect to prevent harm, as well as state-law claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), malicious prosecution, negligence, gross negligence, and battery. (Id., PageID # 6)

         The Court will address Barnes's motion to amend the filing date before addressing Defendants' motion to dismiss.


         Barnes filed his complaint on April 7, 2016. (D.N. 1) That same day, Barnes filed a motion to amend the filing date of the complaint. (D.N. 10) The motion asked the Court to change the filing date of the complaint from April 7, 2016, to April 6, 2016. (D.N. 10, PageID # 58) This is because a one-year statute of limitations applies to all but one of Barnes's claims. Barnes vaguely described a "technical failure" that prevented him from timely filing on April 6. (Id.) However, the motion confusingly referred to the wrong plaintiff, as well as certain "motions, proposed orders, and exhibits" instead of the complaint. (Id., PageID #58) The Court denied this motion without prejudice on May 11, 2016. (D.N. 13)

         On May 12, 2016, Barnes filed a second motion to amend the filing date using different counsel. (D.N. 14) In the motion, Barnes states that his former counsel's "law clerk" attempted to electronically file the complaint in the CM/ECF system. (Id., PageID # 67) However, this and subsequent attempts to file the complaint failed. (Id.) The error message allegedly received indicated that the documents "could not be uploaded at this time." (Id.) In response to these purported technical difficulties, "prior counsel and his clerk determined to contact this Court's Clerk's office the next day to inquire about properly filing the Complaint and about the technical issues that they had encountered." (Id.) The second motion goes on to explain the first motion's deficiencies, stating that "in the law clerk's haste, and perhaps even fear of having filed the Complaint late, the motion he filed was improper and incomprehensible." (Id., PageID # 68) The motion does not indicate what time of day counsel attempted to file the complaint. Nor does it indicate why counsel waited until the following day to contact the Clerk's Office. No documentary evidence showing the particular error message received is attached to the motion.

         Barnes argues that the Court should permit the Clerk's Office to amend the filing date of the complaint because technical difficulties prevented him from timely filing his complaint on April 6, 2016. (D.N. 14, PageID # 67-68) In this district, Local Rule 5.4 and Section 2 of General Order Number 11-02 require documents to be filed electronically. Parties may look to the Court's General Orders and the ECF User Manual for further guidance on electronic filing. Both of these resources are readily available on the Court's website. General Order Number 11- 02 contains the Amended Electronic Case Filing Administrative Policies and Procedures effective at the time the complaint was filed.[1]

         Section 1 of General Order Number 11 -02 defines a "Technical Failure" as "a failure of court owned/leased hardware, software, and/or telecommunications facility which results in the inability of a Filing User to submit a filing electronically. Technical failure does not include malfunctioning of a Filing User's equipment." Section 14 discusses Technical Failures in greater detail. A Technical Failure occurs if the CM/ECF site "is unable to accept filings continuously or intermittently for more than one (1) hour occurring after 12:00 noon Eastern Time that day." When a Technical Failure occurs, the Filing User may "submit the document to the clerk of court, provided that the document is accompanied by a certification signed by the Filing User, that the Filing User has attempted to file the document electronically at least twice, with those unsuccessful attempts occurring at least one (1) hour apart after 12:00 noon Eastern Time that day."

         Both Section 14 of General Order Number 11-02 and the ECF User Manual found on the Court's website instruct that the initial point of contact for a Filing User experiencing technical difficulties is the ECF Help Desk.[2] Both the User Manual and the Court's website provide the telephone number for the Help Desk and its operating hours.[3] The ECF Help Desk is available Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Barnes's motion only states that counsel contacted the Clerk's Office. (D.N. 14, PageID # 67) It does not specifically indicate whether counsel contacted the ECF Help Desk, whether any attempt to reach the ECF Help Desk was made, or with whom counsel spoke.

         The facts alleged in the motion do not constitute a Technical Failure as defined in General Order Number 11-02. Barnes does not claim that the Court's software or equipment failed. Nor did he comply with the procedures listed in Section 14 that must be followed in the event of a Technical Failure. Therefore, Barnes is not entitled to relief on those grounds. However, if the Filing User does not experience a Technical Failure as defined in Section 14, he still "may seek relief from the Court" if he suffers prejudice due to "unforeseen technical difficulties, such as the malfunctioning of a Filing User's equipment."

         Defendants object, arguing that the Court should deny Barnes's motion because he failed to provide any legal authority supporting his motion. (D.N. 19, PageID # 184) Citing Griffin v. Rogers, 308 F.3d 647, 653 (6th Cir. 2002), Defendants assert that Barnes bears the burden of proving he is entitled to the relief he seeks and has not met the required burden. (Id.) Griffin concerned whether a prisoner's writ of habeas corpus was entitled to equitable tolling. Griffin, 308 F.3d at 649. The court discussed two burdens in that case. First, it stated that "the party asserting statute of limitations as an affirmative defense has the burden of demonstrating that the statute has run." Id. at 653. Second, it stated that "the petitioner bears the ultimate burden of persuading the court that he or she is entitled to equitable tolling." Id.

         Barnes has not argued that he is entitled to equitable tolling, nor did his motion explicitly request such relief. Barnes asks the Court to "permit the Clerk of this Court to amend the filing date." (D.N. 14, PageID # 68) However, Section 4 of General Order Number 11-02 and Local Rule 5.6 both state that a document filed electronically is "deemed filed on the date and time stated on the Notice of Electronic Filing." Barnes has not provided any legal authority in support of his requested relief. In the absence of such authority and in light of the Local Rules, the Court will instead consider Barnes's motion in the context of equitable tolling, just as other courts have done in similar circumstances when a complaint is filed after the statute of limitations expires. See, e.g., Kellum v. Comm 'r o/Soc. Sec, 295 F.App'x 47, 48 (6th Cir. 2008); Baker v. Comm 'r o/Soc. Sec, No. 09-10507, 2010 WL 742616, at *1 (E.D. Mich. Feb. 26, 2010).

         "Federal courts sparingly bestow equitable tolling." Graham-Humphreys v. Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Inc.,209 F.3d 552, 560-61 (6th Cir. 2000). The Court must consider the following factors when determining whether equitable tolling should apply: "(1) the petitioner's lack of [actual] notice of the filing requirement; (2) the petitioner's lack of constructive knowledge of the filing requirement; (3) diligence in pursuing one's rights; (4) absence of prejudice to the respondent; and (5) the petitioner's reasonableness in remaining ignorant of the legal requirement for filing his claim." Kellum, 295 F.App'x at 49 (quoting Cook v. Comm 'r of Soc Sec,480 F.3d 432, 437 (6th Cir. 2007)). "Typically, equitable tolling applies only when a litigant's failure to meet a legally-mandated deadline unavoidably arose from circumstances beyond ...

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