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Wyatt v. Matagorda County

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Galveston Division

March 7, 2017

MARC WYATT, Plaintiff,
v.
MATAGORDA COUNTY, et ah, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GEORGE C. HANKS, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         State inmate Marc Wyatt (TDCJ #01853251) has filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his civil rights. Wyatt, who proceeds pro se and in forma pauperis, alleges that law enforcement officers failed to secure his personal property following his arrest on a felony warrant, which resulted in the theft of that property. The Court initially had tremendous difficulty determining whom Wyatt was suing and under what theory. Wyatt has filed a more definite statement of his claims at the Court's request (Dkt. 18) and has responded to a show cause order issued by the Court (Dkt. 24). Having considered Wyatt's factual allegations and the applicable law, the Court will dismiss Wyatt's complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) as frivolous and for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Wyatt is serving an 80-year sentence in the Polunsky Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice ("TDCJ"). He was convicted of criminal mischief in Lee County for removing aluminum coils from air-conditioning units and sentenced as a habitual offender. See Wyatt v. State, No. 03-13-00307-CR, 2014 WL 7475488 (Tex. App.-Austin Dec. 19, 2014, pet. ref d). His claims in this case stem from his arrest for that crime. Because Wyatt's factual allegations have materially shifted over the course of his filings, the Court will summarize the facts as stated in his most recent filing, a response to this Court's show cause order.

         On May 15, 2012, Wyatt was arrested in Matagorda County on a Lee County felony warrant and taken to the Lee County Jail (Dkt. 24 at p. 1). The arrest was apparently conducted jointly by a Bay City police officer (Bay City is the county seat of Matagorda County) and a Giddings police detective (Giddings is the county seat of Lee County) (Dkt. 24 at p. 1). The Bay City officer released Wyatt's personal property-the keys to Wyatt's home and truck, Wyatt's cell phone, Wyatt's wallet, and some cash-to Wyatt's sister (Defendant Michele Wyatt-"Michele") (Dkt. 24 at p. 1). Wyatt claims that the Bay City officer (whom he has sued as a John Doe) was instructed to release the property to Michele by the Giddings detective (whom he has not sued) (Dkt. 24 at p. 1). According to Wyatt, "[t]his request by [the Giddings detective] was made to get [Michele] to enter plaintiffs house and remove what was believed to be evidence that could be used against plaintiff in his criminal mischief charge" (Dkt. 24 at p. 1). Wyatt does not provide any support for his statement of the detective's motives-he did not even mention the detective until he responded to the Court's show cause order (Dkt. 24 at p. 1). Michele and a friend of hers (Defendant Elisa Garza-"Garza") then entered Wyatt's home and removed items belonging to Wyatt (Dkt. 24 at p. 1).

         On May 16, 2012, the day after Wyatt's arrest, Garza told Wyatt by phone that she and Michele had removed items from Wyatt's residence and placed them in a storage building owned by a friend of Wyatt's (Dkt. 24 at p. 1). Wyatt did not object either to the entry of his home or to the placement of his belongings in the storage building (Dkt. 24 at p. 1). However, in July of 2012, Wyatt received a letter from a family friend informing him that Garza and Michele had in fact sold the belongings taken from his residence (Dkt. 24 at p. 1). Wyatt contacted Michele and arranged a visit with her at the Lee County Jail (Dkt. 24 at p. 1). At that visit, Michele told Wyatt "that the Bay City Police department gave her permission to enter the house and that there was nothing Wyatt could do because he would not be allowed to file a complaint [about] the [burglary]" (Dkt. 24 at p. 1).

         On October 26, 2012, Wyatt contacted the Bay City Police Department to "file a complaint of a burglary [at] his residence" (Dkt. 24 at pp. 1-2). The dispatcher told Wyatt "that the policy of the Matagorda County police department was that in order to file a [complaint] you could not be in jail" (Dkt. 24 at p. 2). Wyatt "knows that this is not a [policy]" and "believes that the Bay City police department singled him out because the burglary was [committed] with the aid of the Bay City police department in partnership with [the] Giddings police detective" (Dkt. 24 at p. 2).

         On October 3, 2013, Wyatt, who by then was in TDCJ custody, filed a complaint in this Court seeking relief under a state-law claim for conversion and naming as defendants Michele; Garza; the Bay City officer (as a John Doe); Mike Horton; Sheila Horton; and Paul Horton (Dkt. 24 at p. 2).[1] The property at issue consisted of three used cars; a flatbed trailer; a generator; "HVAC service tools and related equipment;" a laptop; a boat; and $75.00 in cash (Dkt. 24-1 at p. 2). The District Clerk's office returned the complaint to Wyatt with the following note: "If you wish to bring your complaint to the court's attention by way of a civil rights suit or a habeas corpus petition, you may request the proper forms from the clerk" (Dkt. 24-1 at p. 1). The District Clerk's office never docketed the complaint, [2] but this Court would have lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the lawsuit anyway. Even though Wyatt invoked the diversity jurisdiction statute (28 U.S.C. § 1332), he failed to meet the requirements of that statute because he affirmatively pled that all of the parties were citizens of Texas and that he sought less than $75, 000 (specifically, he sought $14, 050.00) in damages (Dkt. 24-1 at p. 2). Wyatt does not say that he ever filed his conversion lawsuit in state court, where it should have been brought.

         Wyatt then filed this lawsuit, in which he has listed eight defendants: (1) Michele; (2) Garza; (3) Matagorda County; (4) City of Bay City; (5) unknown police chief; (6) unknown sheriff; (7) unknown dispatcher; and (8) unknown police officer. The Court has twice requested clarification of Wyatt's claims. Respectfully, figuring out Wyatt's claims has not gotten much easier, which is likely attributable to the fact that Wyatt, by his own admission, is really just trying to sue for conversion:

Wyatt filed this civil [rights] complaint after what he believed to be a denial of his tort claim [for conversion].
Having followed the instructions of this court, Wyatt believed that his tort claim [for conversion] was not the avenue for relief in this cause. Not being skilled in the law, Wyatt simply followed this court's instruction and filed a civil [rights] complaint. Dkt. 24 at p. 3.

         Regrettably, it is obvious that Wyatt misunderstood the notice from the District Clerk. The notice was neither a "denial" of Wyatt's conversion claim nor an "instruction" to do anything. Wyatt simply filed his conversion claim in the wrong court.

         In this lawsuit, the Court discerns two claims: (1) that the defendants deprived Wyatt of his personal property in violation of his right to due process; and (2) that the law-enforcement defendants selectively provided police protection in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.[3]

         II. ...


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