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Hall v. City of Williamsburg

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

May 24, 2017



          Danny C. Reeves United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Tristan James Hall (“Hall”) alleges that the defendants violated his constitutional rights by arresting and prosecuting him on a number of charges. [Record No. 31] He also asserts state law claims arising out of the same alleged misconduct. [Id.] This matter is pending for consideration of four motions to dismiss filed by Defendants Richard Baxter (“Baxter”) [Record No. 34], Allen Trimble (“Trimble”) [Record No. 36], Jackie Steele (“Steele”) [Record No. 38], and Robert Hammons (“Hammons”) [Record No. 39]. The defendants argue that Hall's claims against them should be dismissed on grounds of statute of limitations, immunity, and Hall's failure to properly allege sufficient facts to state a plausible claim. Hall has filed a consolidated response to these motions. [Record No. 55] He has also requested that the motions be evaluated as motions for summary judgment and that he be allowed discovery to assist him in responding under this standard. [Record No. 61]

         For the reasons that follow, the defendants' motions will be granted, the claims against them will be dismissed. The plaintiff's motion for discovery will be denied.


         Hall's claims are based on a 570-day period during which he was incarcerated in some form as a result of several criminal charges. He dealt with three different prosecutors and was investigated (primarily) by two different law enforcement officers, each of whom is named as a defendant in this action. Hall was charged with six crimes during this period: solicitation of murder, intimidation of a legal participant (later re-charged as retaliation against a legal participant), hindering prosecution, contempt, harassing communications, and insurance fraud. Hall pled guilty to the hindering and contempt charges. All other charges were ultimately dismissed.

         A. The Solicitation Charge

         The Amended Complaint (“Complaint”) alleges that, in January 2013, an anonymous person using the pseudonym “Serious as a Heart Attack” posted on an internet forum (Topix) that he or she would “pay someone $5000 cash for the murder and concealment of Melissa Jones [sic] body . . . .” [Record No. 31, ¶ 17] In response to a search warrant, Topix provided law enforcement with the internet service provider and internet protocol (“IP”) address from which the post originated. [Id. at ¶ 19] Law enforcement then subpoenaed the service provider (Time Warner) which identified Hall as the subscriber to the IP address. [Id. at ¶ 21]

         The investigation of the Topix post was transferred to Defendant Baxter, a law enforcement officer, in May 2013. [Id. at ¶ 23] Baxter investigated the post and identified the target of the post as Melissa Jones. [Id. at ¶ 24] Defendant Trimble, the Commonweath Attorney for Whitley and McCreary Counties, Kentucky, instructed Baxter to obtain an arrest warrant on May 15, 2013. [Id. at ¶ 26] Thereafter, the district court then issued a criminal complaint that charged Hall with solicitation to commit murder in violation of KRS 507.020.[1][Record No. 34, Ex. 1]

         Baxter arrested Hall on the criminal complaint in May 2013 and Hall was remanded into custody. [Record No. 31, ¶ 27] The local news then reported Hall's arrest, stating that he had been charged with “murder.” [Id. at ¶ 28] Hall was arraigned on May 17, 2013. The court denied his bond request after determining that Hall was a danger to the public. [Id. at ¶ 29]

         Later, during a preliminary hearing, Baxter testified that Melissa Jones viewed the Topix post as a serious threat. [Id. at ¶ 30] However, Baxter had not personally spoken to Jones. Further, the other law enforcement officer who had investigated the case originally reported that Jones could not identify any individuals who would have created the Topix post. [Id. at ¶¶ 30, 36] Baxter also testified that Hall had a concealed carry weapons permit. [Id. at ¶ 35] The court set bail in the amount of $1, 000, 000 based, in part, on an ex parte request by Defendant Trimble. [Id. at ¶ 30]

         Hall's solicitation charge was then presented to the grand jury. [Id. at ¶ 35] Baxter testified at the hearing that Hall had a concealed carry permit. [Id.] The grand jury indicted Hall on the solicitation charge and Hall was presented with the indictment on June 17, 2013. [Id. at ¶ 31]

         By April 2015, Trimble was no longer prosecuting the charge. Defendant Steele, also a prosecutor for the Commonwealth, had been appointed to replace him. [Id. at ¶ 46] The court released Hall from home incarceration and removed all bond conditions on September 10, 2015. [Id. at ¶ 138] The court granted Steele's motion to dismiss the charge on February 11, 2016. [Id. at ¶ 48]

         B. The Intimidation/Retaliation Charges

         Prior to his arrest and indictment on the solicitation charge, Hall had been admitted to Dayton Law School (“Dayton”). [Id. at ¶ 56] He did not disclose the arrest to Dayton, and Dayton rescinded his acceptance in May 2014 after learning of the arrest. [Id. at ¶ 57] Hall suspected that Dayton rescinded his acceptance because Trimble “made contact with the law school to inform it of Hall's charges, in an effort to sabotage Hall's acceptance and thus his future career as a lawyer.” [Id. at ¶ 60] In June 2014, Hall filed a bar complaint against Trimble based on Hall's belief that Trimble had reported his arrest. [Id. at ¶ 62]

         Hall was in a relationship with Angela Reeves during much of the time period at issue in this case. Reeves contacted Trimble on several separate occasions relating to Trimble's suspected involvement with Hall's law school acceptance as well as the solicitation prosecution. [Id. at ¶¶ 58-63] On June 11, 2014, Reeves left Trimble a voice mail message stating that if he did not find Hall guilty of the solicitation charge, she would deliver Hall's “head to [his] lobby with his blood all over it.” [Id. at ¶ 61]

         Trimble “initiated” a charge for intimidation of a legal participant against Hall. Defendant Wayne Bird, a law enforcement officer, executed an arrest warrant on this charge on June 24, 2014. [Id. at ¶ 64] The warrant alleged that Hall and Reeves placed several threatening phone calls to Trimble in an effort to intimidate him. [Id. at ¶ 65] On June 25, 2014, Trimble moved the court to set aside Hall's bond on the solicitation charge due to the arrest for intimidation of a legal participant. [Id. at ¶ 72] Trimble later told the media that the calls on which the charge was based suggested actions that Hall was going to take against Trimble due to his involvement with the solicitation prosecution. [Id. at ¶ 73]

         Trimble recused from the prosecution of the intimidation charge and Defendant Steele was assigned to prosecute the matter on August 24, 2014. [Id. at ¶ 75] The Commonwealth dismissed the intimidation charge on August 29, 2015, due to failure to indict within 60 days. [Id. at ¶ 76]

         The Commonwealth later charged Hall with retaliation against a legal participant. Steele presented this charge to the grand jury on February 2, 2015. [Id. at ¶ 82] During this proceeding, Hall claims that “Trimble and/or Steele” directed the law enforcement officer who investigated the charge, Defendant Bird, to give “false and perjured testimony.” [Id.] The grand jury indicted Hall on this charge on March 2, 2015. [Id. at 83] The Commonwealth later moved to dismiss the charge on February 11, 2016. [Id. at ¶ 87]

         C. The Hindering Prosecution and Contempt Charges

         Defendant Bird executed a search warrant on Hall's residence when he arrested Hall on the intimidation charge on June 24, 2014. [Id. at ¶ 88] After arresting Hall, Bird asked whether he knew of Reeves's location. [Id. at ¶ 90] Hall did not provide her location but instead informed Bird that he and Reeves had been separated for several months. [Id. at ¶ 91] Reeves was later found hiding in a closet on the premises. [Id.]

         Based on this incident, Hall was served with an arrest warrant for hindering the prosecution or apprehension of a witness on June 25, 2014. [Id. at ¶ 92] The grand jury indicted Hall. Defendant Hammons, an attorney for the Commonwealth, was appointed to prosecute this charge. [Id. at ¶ 98]

         The court discharged Hall's bond on September 10, 2015, and Hall was no longer incarcerated in any form as of that date. [Id. at ¶ 102] In October 2016, although Hall was no longer subject to bond, the court added conditions that, among other things, prohibited Hall from contacting Hammons. [Id. at ¶ 102] Later that day, “someone posing as Hall sent an email to prosecutor Hammons . . . .” [Id. at ¶ 104] Hammons then moved to court to revoke Hall's bond and hold him in contempt for violating the bond condition prohibiting contact. [Id. at ¶ 105] Hall agreed to enter a guilty plea to the hindering and contempt charges on November 21, 2016. [Id. at ¶ 111] He has since appealed his plea and that appeal was pending at the time that he filed this action. [Id. at ¶ 116]

         C. The Harassing Communications Charge

         Reeves contacted Bird on January 19, 2015, to report that Hall had been contacting her with intent to intimidate, harass, annoy, or alarm her. [Id. at ¶ 117] Reeves then filed a complaint and Hall was charged with illegal harassing communications and arrested on this charge. [Id. at ¶ 118] The Commonwealth, through Hammons, moved to dismiss the charge after determining that Reeves's actions were “inconsistent with her allegations” against Hall. The court granted the motion on March 21, 2016. [Id. at ¶ 122]

         D. The Insurance Fraud Charge

         The insurance fraud charge was based on Hall's report to his insurance company that Reeves had lost his fur coat. [Id. at ¶ 125] Hall reported the loss in 2013 and his insurance company initiated an investigation. [Id. at ¶ 126] The Commonwealth later presented the matter to the grand jury. [Id. at ¶ 132] The Commonwealth presented a witness from the Kentucky Department of Insurance who testified, based in part on a report that one of the insurance company's employees had prepared during the investigation. [Id.] Hall was served with an indictment on this charge on March 2, 2015. [Id. at ¶ 123] The Commonwealth dismissed the charge on November 12, 2015. [Id. at ¶ 140]

         In summary, Hall argues that he is innocent of all charges and that the defendants prosecuted him without probable cause. He further contends that the defendants engaged in misconduct throughout the criminal proceedings that violated his constitutional rights and that their actions also amounted to tortious conduct under state law. He raises several federal claims under § 1983 and state tort claims against all defendants.


         The defendants have each filed motions to dismiss. Defendant Baxter has filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, a motion for summary judgment to which he has attached three exhibits. [Record No. 34] Hall has also filed 80 exhibits to accompany his consolidated response to the defendants' motions. [Record Nos. 58, 59, 60] Hall argues that the Court should treat the motions to dismiss as motions for summary judgment because the exhibits address matters outside the pleadings. He further requests discovery to allow him to properly address the motions for summary judgment. [Record No. 61]

         Where “matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion will be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56” and the “parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). However, district courts have “complete discretion to determine whether or not to accept any material beyond the pleadings that is offered in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.” Barrett v. Harrington, 130 F.3d 246, 253 (6th Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Further, “a court may consider exhibits attached to the complaint, public records, items appearing in the record of the case and exhibits attached to the defendant's motion to dismiss so long as they are referred to in the complaint and are central to the claims therein without converting the motion to one for summary judgment.” Rondigo, L.L.C. v. Twp. of Richmond, 641 F.3d 673, 680-81 (6th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         The defendants' motions will be evaluated as motions to dismiss rather than as motions for summary judgment. And as noted previously, Hall's motion for discovery will be denied. The Court has considered the criminal complaint issued on the solicitation charge (attached to Baxter's motion to dismiss) because it is a public record and is central to the plaintiff's claims. The Court will thus adopt the information contained in the criminal complaint-that Hall was arrested for solicitation of murder-rather than assuming the truth of Hall's contrary allegation that he was arrested for murder. [Record No. 31, ¶ 25; Record No. 34, Ex. 1] However, the Court will decline to consider the remaining exhibits because they address matters beyond the Complaint.

         When evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court must determine whether the complaint alleges “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The plausibility standard is met “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Although a complaint need not contain “detailed factual allegations” to survive a motion to dismiss, the “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 will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Further, in considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court need not accept as true legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations if those conclusions cannot be plausibly drawn from the facts as alleged. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (“[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.”); see also Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (noting that, in reviewing a motion to dismiss, the district court “must take all the factual allegations in the complaint as true, ” but that the court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation”). Thus, Rule 12(b)(6) essentially “allows the Court to dismiss, on the basis of a dispositive issue of law, meritless cases which would otherwise waste judicial resources and result in unnecessary discovery.” Glassman, Edwards, Wade & Wyatt, P.C. v. Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz, LLP, 601 F.Supp.2d 991, 997 (W.D. Tenn. 2009).


         Hall raises the following federal claims against all defendants: malicious prosecution, deprivation of liberty[2], behavior that shocks the conscience, a civil rights conspiracy, and abuse of process. His state law claims (again, asserted against all defendants) include: intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence, defamation, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and respondeat superior. The defendants argue that all of the claims against them should be dismissed on the basis of the applicable statute of limitations, immunity, and Hall's failure to allege sufficient factual matter to state a plausible claim to relief. The defendants' motions will be granted for the following reasons.

         A. Official Immunity

         Hall's Complaint names the defendants in their official and individual capacities. [Record No. 31] The defendants argue that the claims against them in their official capacities should be dismissed because they are entitled to sovereign immunity. Specifically, “[a] suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is not a suit against the official but rather a suit against the official's office.” Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989) (citations omitted). Accordingly, a defendant sued in his official capacity is entitled to the same immunity to which the official's office is entitled, and the claims are “barred by the Eleventh Amendment, absent a waiver.” Cady v. Arenac County, 574 F.3d 334, 344 (6th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Yanero v. Davis, 65 S.W.3d 510, 517 (Ky. 2001). Hall concedes that his claims against the defendants in their official capacities are barred by immunity and subject to dismissal.

         B. Statute of Limitations

         The defendants contend that some or all of Hall's claims are barred by the applicable statutes of limitations. The argument that a particular claim is time-barred is an affirmative defense on which the defendant bears the burden of proof. Rembisz v. Lew, 590 F.App'x 501, 503 (6th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). However, dismissing a claim pursuant to a statute of limitations defense is appropriate if “the allegations in the complaint affirmatively show that the claim is time-barred.” Cataldo v. U.S. Steel Corp., 676 F.3d 542, 547 (6th Cir. 2012).

         1. Federal Claims

         Claims asserted under § 1983 are governed by the applicable state law statute of limitations. Johnson v. Memphis Light Gas & Water Div., 777 F.3d 838, 843 (6th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted). Accordingly, Hall's § 1983 claims are subject to Kentucky's statute of limitations for personal injuries, which requires that the action be “brought within one year after the cause of action accrues.” KRS 413.140(1). Hall filed his claims on December 28, 2016. [Record No. 1] Accordingly, all claims that accrued more than one year prior to this date are barred by the statute of limitations.

         Federal law controls the determination of when the statute begins to run for a particular claim. Sevier v. Turner, 742 F.2d 262, 272 (6th Cir. 1984). Under federal law, a § 1983 action accrues “when the plaintiff knew or through the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known of the injury that forms the basis of his action.” Sharpe v. Cureton, 319 F.3d 259, 266 (6th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). The analysis of when the plaintiff should have known of his injury is an objective one based on the occurrence of the event that “should have alerted the typical lay person to protect his or her rights.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). It is thus necessary to identify the alleged injuries that should have made Hall “aware that [his] rights had been violated and therefore started the clock on [his] statute of limitations.” Printup v. Director, Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, 654 F.App'x 781, 785 (6th Cir. 2016). The accrual date of each of Hall's claims will be considered in turn.

         Hall's claim for malicious prosecution is timely. A claim for malicious prosecution does not accrue until the plaintiff knows or has reason to know that the criminal proceeding has terminated in his favor. King v. Harwood, 852 F.3d 568, 578 (6th Cir. 2017). According to the Complaint, the intimidation charge was dismissed in August 2014 [Record No. 31, ¶ 75]; the fraudulent insurance charge was dismissed in November 2015 [Id. at ¶ 140]; the retaliation charge was dismissed in February 2016 [Id. at ¶ 87]; the solicitation charge was dismissed in February 2016 [Id. at ¶ 49]; and the harassing charge was dismissed in March 2016 [Id. at ¶ 122]. Any claim for malicious prosecution on the intimidation or fraudulent insurance charge is barred by the statute of limitations because that claim accrued prior to December 2015, more than one year before Hall filed his claims in December 2016. However, his malicious prosecution claims against Defendant Steele for the retaliation charge; Defendant Hammons for the Harassing charge; and Defendants Trimble and Baxter for the solicitation charge are not time-barred because these claims were filed within a year of the date that the respective charges were dismissed.

         Hall alleges within his single claim for a deprivation of liberty that the defendants violated his Fourth Amendment right to be from unreasonable searches and seizures, his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial, and his Eight Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.[3] “[I]f a constitutional claim is covered by a specific constitutional provision . . . the claim must be analyzed under the standard appropriate to that specific provision, not under the rubric of substantive due process.” County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 843 (1998) (internal quotation ...

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