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Gillaspie v. Ward

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

July 2, 2019

ZACHARY DON GILLASPIE, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT WARD, et al., Defendants.

          FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATION

          IRMA CARRILLO RAMIREZ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         By Special Order No. 3-251, this case has been automatically referred for full case management. Before the Court is the plaintiff's Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) [overall] motion, received on May 7, 2019 (doc. 46). Based on the relevant findings and applicable law, the motion should be construed as a successive habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 and TRANSFERRED to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Zachary Don Gillaspie (Plaintiff), a prisoner currently incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Stiles Unit, sued his former criminal defense attorney, the Johnson County District Attorney (DA), two of his assistant district attorneys, (ADAs), and a state district judge (Judge), under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on their roles in his 2013 conviction and sentence in Cause No. F46910 in Johnson County, Texas, for theft and tampering with physical evidence. (See doc. 3 at 3-4; doc. 7 at 1-8, 11.)[1] After twice amending his complaint, he only asserted claims against the City of Alvarado (City), two defense attorneys, and two ADAs in connection with his 2013 conviction and sentence and appeal. (See doc. 31 at 3.) He sought monetary damages. (See doc. 31 at 4.) In addition to raising civil rights claims and seeking monetary damages, Plaintiff's complaint challenged his state criminal conviction and sought to have that judgment vacated. (See doc. 31 at 4.)

         On September 11, 2018, it was recommended that the claims against the individual defendants be dismissed with prejudice as frivolous under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b) and § 1915(e)(2)(B) because the defense attorneys were not state actors and not subject to suit under § 1983, and the prosecutors were immune from suit in their official and individual capacities. (See doc. 32.) It was also recommended that the request for habeas relief be dismissed for failure to state a claim. (See id.)[2] Finally, it was recommended that the remaining claims be dismissed with prejudice as frivolous under §§ 1915A(b) and 1915(e)(2)(B) until Plaintiff satisfied the conditions in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994), because a finding in his favor on his claims for monetary damages based on alleged violations of his rights in connection with his prosecution and conviction would necessarily imply the invalidity of the conviction. (See id.) The recommendation was accepted on October 2, 2018, and judgment was entered on that date. (See docs. 34, 35.)

         On September 30, 2018, Plaintiff mailed an Objection to the recommended dismissal of his action, but it was received after the judgment was entered. (See doc. 36.) On November 1, 2018, he filed a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) that contended his objection was not considered before judgment was entered. (See doc. 37.) The Rule 59(e) motion was denied, and his objection was overruled. (See doc. 40.) Plaintiff then filed a motion under Rule 60(b) on March 21, 2019, that was construed as a successive habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 and transferred to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. (See docs. 42, 43, 45.) Citing Rule 60(b), he now claims that there was fraud in the form of a breach of a plea agreement in his state criminal case, and that there is evidence that exonerates him. (See doc. 46 at 1-2.)

         II. NATURE OF SUIT

         Plaintiff's Rule 60(b) motion again raises habeas claims, and it only seeks habeas relief. Because the motion expressly challenges his state confinement and it only seeks habeas relief, it is properly construed as a habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. See Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 487 (1973) (a prisoner seeking to challenge the fact or duration of confinement may only do so within the exclusive scope of habeas corpus).

         III. JURISDICTION

         “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial decree.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994) (citations omitted). They “must presume that a suit lies outside this limited jurisdiction, and the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction rests on the party seeking the federal forum.” Howery v. Allstate Ins. Co., 243 F.3d 912, 916 (5th Cir. 2001). They have “a continuing obligation to examine the basis for jurisdiction.” See MCG, Inc. v. Great W. Energy Corp., 896 F.2d 170, 173 (5th Cir. 1990).

         A district court cannot exercise jurisdiction over a second or successive § 2254 petition without authorization from the court of appeals. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b); Crone v. Cockrell, 324 F.3d 833, 836 (5th Cir. 2003). A petition is successive if it raises a claim that was or could have been raised in an earlier petition or otherwise constitutes an abuse of the writ. Hardemon v. Quarterman, 516 F.3d 272, 275 (5th Cir. 2008); Crone, 324 F.3d at 836-37. If it essentially represents a second attack on the same conviction raised in the earlier petition, a petition is successive. Hardemon, 516 F.3d at 275-76 (distinguishing Crone because “Crone involved multiple § 2254 petitions attacking a single judgment”).[3] A second petition is not successive if the prior petition was dismissed due to prematurity or for lack of exhaustion, however. See Slack v. McDaniel, 529U.S. 473, 487 (2000) (declining to construe an application as second or successive when it followed a previous dismissal due to a failure to exhaust state remedies); Stewart v. Martinez-Villareal, 523 U.S. 637, 643-46 (1998) (declining to construe an application as second or successive when it followed a previous dismissal due to prematurity, and noting the similarities of such dismissal to one based upon a failure to exhaust state remedies). Otherwise, “dismissal of a first habeas petition for technical procedural reasons would bar the prisoner from ever obtaining federal habeas review.” Stewart, 523 U.S. at 645.

         Here, Plaintiff, the petitioner, challenges the same conviction that he challenged in a prior federal habeas petition that was denied on the merits. Under Hardemon and Crone, he was required to present all available claims in those petitions. A claim is available when it “could have been raised had the petitioner exercised due diligence.” Leonard v. Dretke, No. 3:02-CV-0578-H, 2004 WL 741286, at *3 (N.D. Tex. Apr. 5, 2004) (recommendation of Mag. J.), adopted by 2004 WL 884578 (N.D. Tex. Apr. 20, 2004). The crucial question in determining availability is whether the petitioner knew or should have known through the exercise of due diligence the facts necessary to his current claims when he filed his prior federal petitions challenging the same convictions challenged in this case.

         The federal petition is successive within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b) because it raises claims that were or could have been raised in his initial federal petition challenging his conviction. When a petition is second or successive, the petitioner must seek an order from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that authorizes this Court to consider the petition. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(3)(A). The Fifth Circuit “may authorize the filing of a second or successive application only if it determines that the application makes a prima facie showing that the application satisfies the requirements of [§ 2244(b)].” Id. § 2244(b)(3)(C). To present a claim in a second or successive application that was not presented in a prior application, the application must show that it is based on: (1) newly discovered evidence that, if proven and viewed in light of the evidence as a whole, would be sufficient to establish by clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable factfinder would have found him guilty of the offense; or (2) a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable. Id. § 2244(b)(2).

         Because the Fifth Circuit has not issued an order authorizing the district court to consider this successive petition for habeas relief, ...


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