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West v. United States

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 2, 2015

Carl West, Plaintiff,
United States of America, et al., Defendants.


DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.

This order will address several pending motions. The motions were discussed at a hearing on January 29, 2015. The Court's reasons for some of the rulings were discussed during the hearing. A transcript of the hearing should be consulted in addition to this order.

I. Background.

On June 20, 2002, Plaintiff Carl West was arrested and charged with various crimes. Doc. 18, ¶ 10. He was convicted in February 2003 in an Arizona Superior Court of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and was sentenced to twenty years in prison. Id., ¶¶ 11, 25. Defendant Joe Gordwin, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent, was the lead investigator on Plaintiff's case and worked with Mesa Police Detective Jeffrey Jacobs as part of the FBI Gang Task Force. Id., ¶ 14. Gordwin was indicted in May 2008 for violations of federal law in connection with Plaintiff's case, including witness tampering and wire fraud. Id., ¶ 27. Plaintiff alleges that Gordwin and Jacobs committed various wrongs that resulted in his conviction and incarceration.

Plaintiff filed a petition for post-conviction relief in 2008 and was released from prison in February 2011. Id., ¶ 30. On August 22, 2013, all charges against him were dismissed with prejudice. Id., ¶ 32.

Plaintiff brought this action against the United States, the FBI, Joe Gordwin, the City of Mesa, Jeffrey Jacobs, Nathan Gray, and Brian Truchon (incorrectly identified in the Amended Complaint as Brian De Shawn), alleging a number of violations relating to Plaintiff's investigation and trial. Doc. 18. The case recently was transferred to the undersigned judge. Doc. 77.

Plaintiff previously filed a separate action in this Court against the City of Mesa and Defendant Jacobs arising from the same events and asserting many of the same claims. See West v. City of Mesa et al., No. CV-12-00657-PHX-JWS. Judge Sedwick dismissed some of Plaintiff's claims and found others premature. Doc. 30-3. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the order in part and reversed it in part. Doc. 87, Ex. 1. Plaintiff filed another case against the United States and Gordwin in this Court asserting many of the same claims. See West v. U.S.A., et al., No. CV-13-00304-PHX-GMS. Judge Snow dismissed that action, and his ruling is now on appeal.

II. Motion to Amend and To Dismiss Gray.

The Court will grant Plaintiff's motion to amend. Doc. 74. Because the proposed amendments do not alter the substance of Plaintiff's claims, the rulings in this order apply to Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint. As only the Amended Complaint is on file at this time (Doc. 18), the Court will refer to it throughout this order.

The Court will grant Plaintiff's motion to dismiss the claims against Defendant Nathan Gray. Doc. 89. Those claims will be dismissed without prejudice.

III. Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.

Defendants City of Mesa and Jeffrey Jacobs assert that the Court should grant judgment on the pleadings with respect to several counts. Doc. 30.

A. Section 1983 and Abuse of Process.

Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count 1) was found to be time-barred by Judge Sedwick, as was his claim for abuse of process (Count 6). Defendants ask that these claims be dismissed on res judicata grounds. Doc. 30 at 4-5.

1. Section 1983.

Judge Sedwick did hold that Plaintiff's § 1983 claims were time-barred, but that decision was reversed by the Ninth Circuit "insofar as [the claim is] based on West's prosecution." See Doc. 87, Ex. 1. The Ninth Circuit concluded that any § 1983 claims that attacked the validity of Plaintiff's state court conviction would have been barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), until such time as the conviction was set aside. Because Plaintiff's conviction was not set aside until 2013, his § 1983 claim based on the conviction did not accrue until that time and is not time-barred.

This rationale does not apply to a § 1983 claim that does not call into question the validity of Plaintiff's conviction. For example, Count 1 alleges claims under the Fourth Amendment. Doc. 18, ¶ 42. Heck would not have barred a Fourth Amendment claim based on Plaintiff's arrest. Such a claim therefore would have accrued at or near the time of his arrest more than ten years ago and would be time-barred. Plaintiff also lists the Eighth Amendment in Count 1. Id. Any claim based on conditions of his confinement after his conviction would not have been barred by Heck and would therefore be untimely. The Court will not attempt to identify every possible claim that is or is not barred, but will simply hold as follows: any § 1983 claims that, if successful, would have rendered Plaintiff's conviction invalid are not time-barred, and any § 1983 claims that would not render his conviction invalid are time-barred and will be dismissed.

2. Abuse of Process.

Judge Sedwick found that Plaintiff's claim for abuse of process was time-barred, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed. Doc. 87, Ex. 1. As a result, the abuse of process claim asserted against Defendants Mesa and Jacobs in this case is foreclosed by res judicata.

Plaintiff argues that the facts alleged in the Amended Complaint are different than those alleged before Judge Sedwick. This is only partially correct. The claim asserted before Judge Sedwick was based primarily on Defendant Jacobs' allegedly improper influence over witness Hrbal in Plaintiff's state-court prosecution. Those same alleged wrongs are set forth in the Amended Complaint. See Doc. 18, ¶¶ 17, 18, 21-24. Although Plaintiff alleges some additional facts in this case, those facts do not permit him to assert the claim for a second time. "A final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action." Federated Dep. Stores, Inc. v. Moitie, 452 U.S. 394, 398 (1981) (emphasis ...

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