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Walden v. Pryor

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah

June 10, 2019

BENJAMIN WALDEN, PLAINTIFF
v.
LYNN PRYOR, DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge.

         This matter is before the Court upon Defendant Lynn Pryor's Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). [R. 4.] Plaintiff Benjamin Walden responded, [R. 6], and Pryor replied, [R. 9]. With the leave of the Court, Walden filed a Sur-reply. [R. 12.] Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for adjudication. For the reasons stated herein, Pryor's Motion to Dismiss, [R. 4], is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

         BACKGROUND

         The factual allegations as set out in the Complaint, [R. 1-1], and taken as true are as follows.[1] On or about February 3, 2017, Pryor commenced a criminal action as a Commonwealth Attorney in Christian County, Kentucky against Walden for the following charges: 1st degree Sodomy; 1st Degree Rape; Assault 4th Degree, Minor Injury; Promoting Prostitution; Official Misconduct, 1st Degree; Terroristic Threatening, 3rd Degree; Intimidating a Participant in a Legal Process; Retaliating Against a Participant in a Legal Process; and Tampering with a Witness. [R. 1-1 at 2-3.] Walden alleges that Pryor caused a warrant to be issued for Walden's arrest. [Id.]

         Walden claims that Pryor interviewed the alleged victims and witnesses involved in the charges, including showing an alleged victim a photo of Walden for identification purposes. [Id. at 3.] Walden also claims that Pryor presented the charges to the Christian County Grand Jury before the Kentucky State Police concluded their investigation. [Id.]

         On October 22, 2018, Walden filed a complaint in Christian Circuit Court against Pryor, in her individual and official capacity, asserting claims of malicious prosecution, “the tort of defamation and libel, ” the tort of outrage, and “for violation of 42 U.S.C. section 1983.” [R. 1-1.] On November 13, 2018, Walden's complaint was removed to federal court. [R. 1.] Currently before the Court is Pryor's Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. [R. 4.]

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). In order to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a party must “plead enough ‘factual matter' to raise a ‘plausible' inference of wrongdoing.” 16630 Southfield Ltd. P'ship v. Flagstar Bank, F.S.B., 727 F.3d 502, 504 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). A claim becomes plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court must presume all of the factual allegations in the complaint are true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Total Benefits Planning Agency, Inc., 552 F.3d at 434 (citing Great Lakes Steel, 716 F.2d at 1105). “The court need not, however, accept unwarranted factual inferences.” Id. (citing Morgan v. Church's Fried Chicken, 829 F.2d 10, 12 (6th Cir. 1987)). Should the well-pleaded facts support no “more than the mere possibility of misconduct, ” then dismissal is warranted. Iqbal, 556 U.S at 679. The Court may grant a motion to dismiss “only if, after drawing all reasonable inferences from the allegations in the complaint in favor of the plaintiff, the complaint still fails to allege a plausible theory of relief.” Garceau v. City of Flint, 572 Fed.Appx. 369, 371 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677- 79).

         DISCUSSION

         Walden asserts five claims against Pryor both in her official and individual capacities: malicious prosecution, “defamation and libel, ” tort of outrage, false imprisonment, and “violation of 42 U.S.C. section 1983.” [R. 1-1 at 2; 7.] The Court will first address Walden's official capacity claims followed by the individual capacity claims.

         I. Official Capacity

         As recited above, Walden asserts five claims against Pryor in her official capacity. In her Motion to Dismiss, Pryor argues that, as she was serving as a Commonwealth's Attorney at the time in question, she is immune from suit in her official capacity. Therefore, the claims against her in her official capacity should be dismissed under the doctrine of sovereign immunity. [R. 4-1 at 4-5.] Walden initially disputes this argument, but he appears to argue the issue of prosecutorial immunity in one's individual capacity instead of official capacity. [R. 6-1 at 3.] More explicitly, after noting that “a public officer sued in an official capacity is afforded the same immunity as the pertinent governmental entity, ” Walden goes on to explain the underlying rationale for absolute immunity in a prosecutor's individual capacity. [Id.] Although the Court will address Walden's claims in relation to Pryor's individual capacity, the Court will first address the claims against Pryor in her official capacity.

         “Official-capacity suits . . . ‘generally represent [ ] another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.'” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985) (quoting Monell v. New York City Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 n.55 (1978)). Because Pryor is an officer of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the claims brought against her in her official capacity are deemed a claim against the Commonwealth of Kentucky. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. at 166. The Eastern District of Kentucky has put it in a slightly different way: “The Commonwealth's Attorney's office, which is a constitutionally-established office of the state government, is without question an integral extension of the state such that suit against the office ‘may be legitimately classified as “brought against the Commonwealth.”'” Joseph v. Office of Perry Cty. Com. Attorney, No. CIV.A. 6:14-97-KKC, 2014 WL 2742796, at *2 (E.D. Ky. June 16, 2014). Either way, the Supreme Court of Kentucky has held that “[i]t is an inherent attribute of a sovereign state that precludes the maintaining of any suit against the state unless the state has given its consent or otherwise waived its immunity.” Yanero v. Davis, 65 S.W.3d 510, 517 (Ky. 2001). “Section 231 [of the Kentucky constitution] limits sovereign immunity to ‘suits . . . against the Commonwealth.'” Kentucky Cntr. for the Arts Corp. v. Berns, 801 S.W.2d 327, 329 (Ky. 1990). Thus, the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Attorney's Office are both shielded from suit unless the General Assembly has waived its immunity. Ky. Const. § 231. The Court is unaware of any act by the General Assembly waiving immunity in the present case, and the plaintiff has not indicated otherwise. Thus, the state law claims against Pryor in her official capacity are precluded under the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

         Walden is also precluded from bringing a § 1983 claim. Section 1983 creates no substantive rights, but merely provides remedies for deprivations of rights established elsewhere. As such, it has two basic requirements: (1) the deprivation of federal statutory or constitutional rights by (2) a person acting under color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48, (1988); Flint v. Ky. Dep't of Corr., 270 F.3d 340, 351 (6th Cir. 2001). In Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58 (1989), the Supreme Court held that “a State is not a person within the meaning of § 1983, ” Id. at 64, and applied that holding to “governmental entities that are considered ‘arms of the State.'” Id. at 70; Jordan v. Kentucky, Civil Action No. 3:09CV-424-M, 2009 WL 2163113, at *4 (W.D. Ky. July 16, 2009) (finding Commonwealth's Attorney's Office is not a “person” subject to suit under § 1983); York v. Warren County Commonwealth Attorney's Office, No. 1:08CV-P16-R, 2008 WL 339505, at *2 (W.D. Ky. Feb. 6, 2008) (“[T]he Warren County Commonwealth Attorney's Office is not a ‘person' under the Act.”). Because neither the Commonwealth of Kentucky nor the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office is a “person” subject to suit under § 1983, the § 1983 claim must be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

         Alternatively, under the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a state and its agencies may not be sued in federal court, regardless of the relief sought, unless the state has waived its immunity or Congress has overridden it. Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Auth. v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U.S. 139, 146 (1993); Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 124 (1984); Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 78l, 782 (1978). The Commonwealth of Kentucky has not waived its immunity, Adams v. Morris, 90 Fed.Appx. 856, 857 (6th Cir. 2004), and in enacting § 1983, Congress did not intend to override the traditional sovereign immunity of the states. Whittington v. Milby, 928 F.2d 188 (6th Cir. 1991) (citing Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332 (1979)). Thus, the Eleventh Amendment further bars a § 1983 action against the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office. See York, 2008 WL 339505 at *2 (“[T]he Eleventh Amendment acts as a bar to all claims for relief against the Warren County Commonwealth Attorney's Office.”); Ferritto v. Ohio Dep't of Highway Safety, No. 90-3475, 1991 WL 37824, at * 2 (6th Cir. Mar.19, 1991) (“The Eleventh Amendment prohibits actions against states and state agencies under section 1983 and section 1985.”).

         In sum, Pryor's Motion to Dismiss as it pertains to Walden's claims against Pryor in her official capacity is GRANTED.

         II. Individual Capacity

         A. Federal Claim

         Pursuant to federal law, Walden's complaint alleges a “violation of 42 U.S.C. section 1983.” While Walden does not specify what constitutional right was violated by Pryor, he asserts a claim for malicious prosecution, which the Sixth Circuit recognizes as a “separate constitutionally cognizable claim” under the Fourth Amendment that encompasses “wrongful investigation, prosecution, conviction, and incarceration.” Robertson v. Lucas, 753 F.3d 606, 616 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting Sykes v. Anderson,625 F.3d 294, 308 (6th Cir. 2010)). In support of his claim that Pryor “maliciously and with no probable cause commenced the above described criminal action against Plaintiff, ” Walden alleges two actions taken by Pryor. First, Walden claims that Pryor “acted outside the scope of her duties as a Prosecutor and acted as an investigator when she interviewed the alleged victims and witnesses, ” including “showing the alleged victim the Facebook photo of the Plaintiff for identification.” [R. 1-1 at 3.] Second, Walden alleges that Pryor “maliciously and with no probable cause presented said charges to the ...


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