United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
Patricia D. Barksdale, United States Magistrate Judge.
Rockwell Turner, Jr., proceeding without a lawyer and in
forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, sues Tracy
Baldwin, a deputy clerk for the Suwannee County Clerk of
Court, and Lamar Jenkins, the Suwannee County Property
Appraiser. Doc. 7. At the Court's direction, Doc. 4, Mr.
Turner filed an amended complaint. Docs. 7, 7-1.
Baldwin and Mr. Jenkins move to dismiss the amended complaint
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of
subject-matter jurisdiction. Docs. 15, 16. Ms. Baldwin
alternatively moves for a more definite statement under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e). Doc. 16.
amended complaint, Mr. Turner alleges the following facts. On
February 13, 1995, he applied for an ad valorem homestead tax
exemption for 5.45 acres of property, parcel number
32-03S-14E-0287800.3000. Doc. 7 at 1; Doc. 7-1 at 1. The
homestead exemption was “continuous and
automatic.” Doc. 7 at 1-2. On November 18, 2014, Ms.
Baldwin warned of a tax sale of the property without
mentioning its homestead status. Doc. 7 at 2. In 2015, Mr.
Jenkins removed the homestead tax exemption without a
verifiable signed complaint. Doc. 7 at 2. Ms. Baldwin's
and Mr. Jenkins's actions resulted in the property being
sold for $3, 540.45, which was less than half its assessed
value despite that Fla. Stat. § 197.502 requires a
minimum bid of half the assessed value for homesteads, and
resulted in Mr. Turner receiving no consideration from the
sale. Doc. 7 at 3.
amended complaint, Mr. Turner attaches a letter from a lawyer
with Three Rivers Legal Services, Inc., to Suwannee County
dated November 29, 2016. Doc. 7-1. In the letter, the lawyer,
referencing Florida's sunshine laws, requests documents
relating to the property, “including documents
associated with the assessment of the property prior to the
tax sale, and removal of the homestead exemption status of
the property prior to the tax sale.” Doc. 7-1 at 1. The
The County's records seem to indicate that Mr.
Turner's property was “assessed on the latest tax
roll as homestead property.” Therefore, in accordance
with F.S. 197.542(1), it would appear that the minimum-bid
amount for the tax sale of the subject property should have
been “increased to include an amount equal to one-half
of the assessed value of the homestead property as required
by s. 197.502.” I am trying to get clarification as to
why it does not appear that F.S. 197.542 was followed for the
tax sale of this property.
In my letter to Mr. Jenkins, I requested a copy of a letter
allegedly sent to Mr. Turner in January of 2015 indicating
that his “homestead exemption card” was returned
by the post office and that the Property Appraiser never
heard from him. I did not receive a copy of that letter.
Since the County's policy is that “most exemptions
are renewed automatically, ” I am also attempting to
determine why a homestead card would even be sent to Mr.
Turner absent some evidence that he moved out of his home.
So, please include with this public records request my
request to review the letter sent to Mr. Turner in January
2015. Also, please provide me with an opportunity to review
any other documentation the County has showing that Mr.
Turner's homestead exemption was removed when his
property was placed on the “lands available for taxes,
” along with any justification for removing the
homestead exemption when that happened.
Doc. 7-1 at 1-2.
42 U.S.C. § 1983, Mr. Turner demands $38, 000 for the
loss of his property and $38, 000 in punitive
damages. Doc. 7 at 3.
motion to dismiss, Mr. Jenkins attaches a final order of
dismissal in Turner v. Jenkins, No. 2017-CA-68, an
earlier action Mr. Turner had brought against Mr. Jenkins in
the Circuit Court, Third Judicial Circuit, Suwannee County,
Florida. Doc. 15-1. In the order, the state court dismisses
Mr. Turner's challenge of Mr. Jenkins's denial of a
homestead tax exemption on the property for lack of
subject-matter jurisdiction, ruling that Mr. Turner filed the
action outside the 60-day period under Fla. Stat. §
194.171(2) for challenging tax assessments and that Mr.
Turner lacked standing because he no longer owned the
property. Doc. 15-1. The court found that, for the
2016 tax year, Mr. Jenkins had certified the tax roll for
collection on October 4, 2016, making December 3, 2016, the
last day Mr. Turner could challenge the assessment and making
his complaint filed on April 10, 2017, and any complaint
about earlier tax years outside the 60-day statutory period.
Doc. 15-1 at 2-3. Mr. Turner appealed an order denying a
motion for rehearing to Florida's First District Court of
Appeal without success. See docket in Turner v.
Jenkins, No. 1D18-509 (Fla. 1st DCA). Three months after
his state-court appeal ended, Mr. Turner filed this action
here. Doc. 1.
response to the motions to dismiss, Mr. Turner states this is
not an “ad valorem tax case”; rather, this case
“involves Mr. Lamar Jenkins Suwanee County Property
Appraiser REMOVAL of my existing homestead exemption for the
2015 tax year without a verifiable signed complaint.”
Doc. 18 at 1. He adds, “I am contesting the legality of
the 2015 homestead exemption removal without a verifiable
signed complaint” and “I am contesting the loss
of my homestead property without a jury trial.” Doc. 18
at 2. He states he includes a copy of his “Homestead
Exemption Receipt” for the 2015 tax year, Doc. 18 at 2,
though he includes no receipt. He cites cases addressing
procedural due process and government takings. Doc. 18 at 2-3
(citing Truax v. Corrigan, 257 U.S. 312 (1921), and
Vanhorne's Lessee v. Dorrance, 2 U.S. 304
(C.C.D. Pa. 1795)).
must construe a pleading drafted by a pro se litigant
liberally and hold the pleading to a less stringent standard
than one drafted by a lawyer. Tannenbaum v. United
States, 148 F.3d 1262, 1263 (11th Cir. 1998). Liberal
construction does not mean serving as de facto counsel.
GJR Invs., Inc. v. County of Escambia, 132 F.3d
1359, 1369 (11th Cir. 1998), overruled on other grounds
by Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). Liberal
construction means that a federal court sometimes must
“look beyond the labels used in a pro se
party's complaint and focus on the content and substance
of the allegations” to determine if a cognizable remedy
is available. Torres v. Miami-Dade County, 734
Fed.Appx. 688, 691 (11th Cir. 2018).
1983 provides a federal cause of action against any person
who, acting under color of state law, deprives another of a
federal right. Conn v. Gabbert, 526 U.S. 286, 290
(1999). “Section 1983 is not itself a source of
substantive rights, but merely provides a method for
vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.”
Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994)
(internal quotation marks and quoted authority omitted).
“The first step in any such claim is to identify the
specific constitutional right allegedly infringed.”
Id. “The validity of the claim must then be
judged by reference to the specific constitutional standard
which governs that right[.]” Graham v. Connor,
490 U.S. 386, 394 (1989).
Mr. Turner proceeds without a lawyer, the Court liberally
construes his amended complaint as asserting a federal claim
for damages under § 1983 for violations of the
procedural due process component of the Fourteenth Amendment,
which protects against the deprivation by state actors of a
constitutionally protected interest in property without due