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Williams v. Texas Board of Pardons and Parole

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

January 22, 2018

IVERY T. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
TEXAS BOARD OF PARDONS AND PAROLE and RISSIE OWENS, Defendants.

          FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          RENEE HARRIS TOLIVER MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Pursuant to District Judge Kinkeade's Order of Reference, Doc. 20, and 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(1)(B)&(C), Defendants' motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), Doc. 10 & Doc. 14, are before the Court for findings of fact and recommendations regarding the dispositions. As explained below, the motions should be GRANTED.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In June 2014, Plaintiff filed his original pro se petition in state court against Defendant Rissie Owens ("Defendant Owens") in her individual capacity as then-Chair of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles ("TBPP"). Doc. 1-5 at 2-16. After amending his complaint several times and obtaining counsel, Plaintiff filed the operative Fourth Amended Petition in June 2017, adding TBPP as a Defendant. Doc. 6-3 at 130-35. Plaintiff alleges therein that, in 1965, he received a life sentence for two felony offenses. Doc. 6-3 at 131. He subsequently was paroled, but violated his parole by committing another felony for which he received a life sentence. Doc. 6-3 at 131. The latter sentence was to be served consecutively to the first, which Plaintiff claims is unlawful. Doc. 6-3 at 131. Specifically, Plaintiff contends that he was sentenced in 1965 under then-existing law, but the law was later modified, and the application of the modified version of the law to him was both an ex post facto and double jeopardy violation. Doc. 6-3 at 131. He claims that, in effect, he ultimately served the same sentence twice and was required to serve 20 years before parole eligibility on his last felony, instead of being reviewed for parole on a yearly basis as with his first conviction. Doc. 6-3 at 131.

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants thereby violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by depriving him of his rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the constitution. Doc. 6-3 at 132-33. He also raises state law claims for false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence. Doc. 6-3 at 133-34. TBPP timely removed the case from state court to this Court, Doc. 1 at 2, and both Defendants now move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Doc. 10; Doc. 14.

         II. APPLICABLE LAW

         Rule 12(c) provides that "[a]fter the pleadings are closed - but early enough not to delay trial - a party may move for judgment on the pleadings." A Rule 12(c) motion "is designed to dispose of cases where the material facts are not in dispute and a judgment on the merits can be rendered by looking to the substance of the pleadings and any judicially noticed facts." Great Plains Trust Co. v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., 313 F.3d 305, 312 (5th Cir. 2002) (quotation omitted). "[T]he central issue is whether, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the complaint states a valid claim for relief." Id. (quotation omitted). The court must construe pleadings liberally, and judgment thereon is only appropriate if there are no disputed issues of fact and only questions of law remain. Id. In analyzing the plaintiffs complaint, the Court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Id. at 312-13. The pleading standard for a Rule 12(c) motion is the same as for a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Doe v. MySpace, Inc., 528 F.3d 413, 418 (5th Cir. 2008).

         III. ARGUMENTS AND ANALYSIS

         A. TBPP

         i. Section 1983 Claims

         TBPP moves to dismiss all of Plaintiff s claims as frivolous. Doc. 11 at 1. First, TBPP argues, Plaintiffs section 1983 claims cannot succeed because a state agency is not considered to be a "person" for purposes of section 1983 and thus is not a proper party. Doc. 11 at 2. Plaintiff responds by arguing that, in essence, the case law upon which TBPP relies was wrongly decided, and dismissing TBPP on the basis of that law would be "a dangerous conclusion" and would violate the history and spirit of section 1983. Doc. 17 at 3-7; Doc. 16 at 8.

         The case on which TBPP relies provides full support for the proposition that the section 1983 claims in this case must be dismissed as to that entity. See Will v. Mich. Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70 (1989) (holding that section 1983 could not be used to sue "[s]tates or governmental entities that are considered 'arms of the state' for Eleventh Amendment purposes."). The Court in Will concluded that "neither a State nor its officials acting in their official capacities are 'persons' under § 1983." Id. at 71. Plaintiffs section 1983 claims against TBPP should thus be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. See McConathy v. Dr. Pepper/Seven Up Corp., 131 F.3d 558, 561-62 (5th Cir. 1998) (per curiam) (noting that dismissal with prejudice is appropriate if it appears that no relief can be granted under any set of facts that could be proven consistent with the plaintiffs allegations).

         ii. Tort Claims

         Plaintiffs tort claims against TBPP fare no better. TBPP contends that Plaintiffs claims are barred because, under Texas law, a governmental unit such as TBPP is immune from tort liability unless the state has waived immunity. Doc. 11 at 2-4. Plaintiff responds that when the state removes a ...


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