United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
MICHAEL J. WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
JEFFREY LEE ASHTON, BENJAMIN DAVID BAIRD, PAMELA JO BONDI, KEVIN BOOKBINDER, MARIO CARDENAS, A. JAMES CRANER, IAN DOWNING, CAROL E. DRAPER, FELIX ECHEVARRIA, BRANDON LANE, JACQUELINE RAE LUKER, JAMES S. PURDY, MICHAEL B. STRICKLAND, ROBERT NEAL WESLEY and BRADLEY A. WHEELER, Defendants.
E. MENDOZA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
CAUSE is before the Court on Defendants Jeffrey Lee Ashton,
Benjamin Baird, Pamela Jo Bondi, Kevin Bookbinder, A. James
Craner, Carol E. Draper, Jacqueline Rae Luker, James S.
Purdy, and Robert Neal Wesley's Motion to Dismiss and to
Strike (“Judicial Process Defendants' Motion to
Dismiss, ” Doc. 78); Defendant Felix Echevarria's
Verified Motion to Set Aside Clerk's Default
(“Motion to Set Aside, ” Doc. 91);
Plaintiff's Renewed Motion for Default Judgment (Doc.
108); and Defendants Mario Cardenas, Brandon Layne, Ian
Downing, Michael Strickland, and Bradley Wheeler's Motion
to Dismiss (“Officer Defendants' Motion to Dismiss,
” Doc. 110). United States Magistrate Judge Daniel C.
Irick submitted a Report and Recommendation (“R&R,
” Doc. 133), recommending that the Court grant in part
both motions to dismiss, grant the Motion to Set Aside, and
deny the Renewed Motion for Default Judgment. Specifically,
Judge Irick concluded, inter alia, that Plaintiff
failed to state a claim against those Defendants who moved
for dismissal-all Defendants except for Defendant
Echevarria-and that Defendant Echevarria demonstrated good
cause for setting aside the Clerk's Entry of Default
(Doc. 90). (Doc. 133 at 12-21, 25-27). Plaintiff subsequently
filed a timely Objection (Doc. 136) to the R&R followed
by an untimely Memorandum of Law (Doc. 138) and Notice of
Clarification (Doc. 141). After a de novo review of
the record, and noting Plaintiff's objections, the Court
agrees entirely with the R&R.
Judicial Process Defendants' Motion to Dismiss
from reiterating the claims alleged in his Complaint,
Plaintiff argues that the Judicial Process Defendants'
Motion to Dismiss should be denied because Plaintiff is not
seeking monetary damages. (Doc. 136 at 9; Doc. 141 at 1-2).
Judge Irick recommended granting the Judicial Process
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss because the Judicial
Process Defendants-Jeffrey Lee Ashton, Benjamin Baird, Pamela
Jo Bondi, Kevin Bookbinder, A. James Craner, Carol E. Draper,
Jacqueline Rae Luker, James S. Purdy, and Robert Neal
Wesley-are all immune from liability for monetary damages
pursuant to § 1983. (See Doc. 133 at 16-21). In
response, Plaintiff contends that he is not pursuing monetary
damages but does not explain what relief he actually seeks.
Yet, in his Complaint, Plaintiff explicitly requests monetary
damages and asserts no other claims for relief with regard to
the Judicial Process Defendants. (See Compl., Doc.
1, at 28). Either way, Plaintiff fails to state a claim
against the Judicial Process Defendants.
addition, Plaintiff avers that his § 1983 claim against
Defendant Baird should not be dismissed because Defendant
Baird is not immune from liability. Specifically, Plaintiff
alleges that Defendant Baird was acting under color of state
law because he signed the Indictment in Plaintiff's state
criminal case. (Doc. 136 at 3). But as Judge Irick noted,
“prosecutors are entitled to absolute immunity from
suits under section 1983 for activities that are
‘intimately associated with the judicial phase of the
criminal process.'” Allen v. Florida, 458
F. App'x 841, 843 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting Imbler v.
Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430 (1976)). The signing of an
indictment, even a defective one, is such an activity and
does not strip a prosecutor of immunity. See Lloyd v.
Foster, 298 F. App'x 836, 839 (11th Cir. 2008);
see also Fla. Stat. § 27.181(2) (noting that
signing indictments falls within the duties assigned to
assistant state attorneys). Therefore, Plaintiff cannot state
a claim as to Defendant Baird. The Court agrees with the
analysis in the R&R, and the Judicial Process
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss will be granted with
Verified Motion to Set Aside Clerk's Default
also objects to Judge Irick's recommendation that the
Court grant Defendant Echevarria's Verified Motion to Set
Aside Clerk's Default. A court “may set aside an
entry of default for good cause.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(c).
“Good cause is a mutable standard, varying from
situation to situation.” Compania Interamericana
Exp.-Imp., S.A. v. Compania Dominicana de Aviacion, 88
F.3d 948, 951 (11th Cir. 1996) (quotation omitted). Here, the
Court agrees with Judge Irick that good cause exists.
Plaintiff's argument that Defendant Echevarria was
responsible for his own attorney's failure to appear is
unpersuasive. The record demonstrates that Defendant
Echevarria took all the necessary steps to apprise his
attorney of the suit and that the resulting oversight was not
attributable to Echevarria. As such, Defendant
Echevarria's Verified Motion to Set Aside Clerk's
Default will be granted, and Plaintiff's Renewed Motion
for Default Judgment will be denied.
State Court Conviction
appears that Plaintiff objects to the recommendation that the
Court abstain from addressing his state court conviction
because the criminal proceedings are still ongoing. In his
Objection, Plaintiff claims that his latest motion for
post-conviction relief was denied, and therefore, the
proceedings are no longer ongoing. (Doc. 136 at 2). Even if
true, the Court agrees with Judge Irick's recommendation
that it abstain from the matter. Under the Younger
abstention doctrine, a court should abstain from interfering
with a state court proceeding where: (1) the state proceeding
“constitute[s] an ongoing state judicial
proceeding”; (2) “the proceedings implicate
important state interests”; and (3) “there [is]
an adequate opportunity in the state proceedings to raise
constitutional challenges.” 31 Foster Children v.
Bush, 329 F.3d 1255, 1274 (11th Cir. 2003) (quoting
Middlesex Cty. Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar
Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982)). The first factor
is met if the “state court proceedings were pending at
the time of the filing of the federal complaint.”
Liedel v. Juvenile Court of Madison Cty., 891 F.2d
1542, 1546 n.6 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Pennzoil Co. v.
Texaco, Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 17 (1987)). Consequently, it
is of no import that Plaintiff's post-conviction motion
is no longer pending. Abstention under Younger is
appropriate where, as here, the state court proceedings were
ongoing when the federal complaint was filed. Accordingly,
the Court agrees with Judge Irick's analysis and will
abstain from addressing Plaintiff's state court
to the extent that Plaintiff asserts a § 1983 claim for
monetary damages resulting from his allegedly unlawful
conviction, his claim is barred by the Supreme Court's
decision in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994).
Under Heck, a plaintiff pursuing a § 1983 claim
regarding his conviction must “prove that [his]
conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal,
expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state
tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called
into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of
habeas corpus.” Id. at 486-87. Here, Plaintiff
fails to allege that his conviction has been reversed,
expunged, invalidated, or called into question. Thus,
Plaintiff cannot state a claim pursuant to § 1983 for
monetary damages arising from his conviction.
it is ORDERED and ADJUDGED
Report and Recommendation (Doc. 133) is
ADOPTED and CONFIRMED ...