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Barnard v. State

United States District Court, D. Maine

August 28, 2018

JEFFREY PAUL BARNARD, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF MAINE, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER REJECTING THE RECOMMENDED DECISION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          JOHN A. WOODCOCK, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         As the factual premise of the plaintiff's lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 conflicts with factual findings during the plaintiff's sentencing hearing that were essential in arriving at his sentence, the Court concludes that his lawsuit is barred under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         On June 3, 2016, Jeffrey Paul Barnard, acting pro se, filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against a number of governmental entities and employees alleging that they harassed, threatened, and shot him in May-June 2014 and thereby violated his constitutional rights. Compl. (ECF No. 1). On August 1, 2016, Mr. Barnard moved to amend his Complaint, Mot. for Leave to Amend (ECF No. 11), and on August 19, 2016, the Magistrate Judge granted his motion and ordered it be filed. Mem. of Decision Granting Mot. to Amend (ECF No. 15). Mr. Barnard filed the Amended Complaint on August 19, 2016. Am. Compl. (ECF No. 16). In a decision dated August 19, 2016, the Magistrate Judge allowed the Amended Complaint to proceed “against Defendants Bires, Duff and Tokas.” Second Recommended Decision at 4 (ECF No. 14).

         On November 27, 2017, Maine State Police Trooper Scott Duff, one of the Defendants, filed a motion to dismiss Mr. Barnard's Amended Complaint. Def. Scott Duff's Mot. to Dismiss (ECF No. 43) (Def.'s Mot.). On March 15, 2018, the Magistrate Judge issued a recommended decision in which he recommended that the Court deny Trooper Duff's motion to dismiss. Recommended Decision on Mot. to Dismiss (ECF No. 47) (Recommended Decision). On March 29, 2018, Trooper Duff objected to the recommended decision. Def. Scott Duff's Obj. to the Magistrate Judge's Decision Recommending Denial of his Mot. to Dismiss (ECF No. 49) (Def.'s Objection).

         Mr. Barnard has not participated in this lawsuit since September 18, 2017, when he filed a letter with the Clerk of Court supplying the addresses of Defendants Duff, Bires and Tokas, Letter from Jeffrey P. Barnard to Office of the Clerk (Sept. 14, 2017) (ECF No. 33), and specifically, he has not responded to Trooper Duff's motion to dismiss, to the Magistrate Judge's recommended decision, or to Trooper Duff's objection to the recommended decision.

         B. The Alleged Facts in the Amended Complaint

         In his Amended Complaint, Mr. Barnard alleges that he was “harassed, threatened with deadly and lethal force, he was then shot in the Head/Face as a result of this threat by a Maine State Trooper.” Am. Compl. ¶ 3. Mr. Barnard's Amended Complaint sets forth the backdrop for the firing of the shot that struck his head and face. Id. ¶¶ 11-24. Focusing on the lead up to the shot, Mr. Barnard recites his recollection of the events that brought about a police standoff for about twenty hours. ¶ 23. Mr. Barnard alleges that Maine State Trooper Scott Duff was the individual who fired the shot that struck Mr. Barnard's head and face. Id. ¶ 24. Mr. Barnard recalls that during the time before the shooting, law enforcement “assaulted and attacked” his wife and him while they “were in the confines of our home, without showing any provocation toward these officer[]s until after they shot into our trailer, threw rocks at trailer, tried breaking window with a robot, and finally used an armored vehicle to penetrate and push our trailer.” Id.

         Mr. Barnard states that it was “only after these attacks did plaintiff retaliate.” Id. Mr. Barnard says that he “yelled outside his window, several times during this standoff, that he did not want anyone to be harmed or hurt.” Id. ¶ 25. Mr. Barnard alleges several ways he believes this shooting could have been avoided and ends by stating that he was “shot in the head unnecessarily and unlawfully with malicious intent.” Id.

         II. THE MOTION TO DISMISS

         On November 27, 2017, claiming that Mr. Barnard's lawsuit should be dismissed for “multiple reasons, ” Trooper Duff moved to dismiss Mr. Barnard's Amended Complaint. Def.'s Mot. at 1. Trooper Duff first contended that the Court should dismiss Mr. Barnard's Amended Complaint under the seminal United States Supreme Court case of Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), which bars § 1983 lawsuits premised on the invalidity of a criminal conviction or sentence. Id. at 8-11. Next, Trooper Duff argued that the facts established during the sentencing hearing and alleged in the Amended Complaint confirm that Trooper Duff is entitled to qualified immunity. Id. at 11-18. Finally, Trooper Duff maintained that Mr. Barnard's state tort law claims should be dismissed because they depend on the viability of his excessive force claim. Id. at 18-19.

         III. THE RECOMMENDED DECISION

         On March 15, 2018, the Magistrate Judge issued a recommended decision in which he recommended that the Court deny Trooper Duff's motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint. Recommended Decision at 24. Regarding the Heck v. Humphrey issue, the Magistrate Judge concluded that the bar did not apply because “a finding in Plaintiff's favor on his § 1983 claim does not necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence.” Id. at 8. The Magistrate Judge wrote that even though the Court “found that Plaintiff possessed and raised a rifle when he exited his home, the length of the sentence was discretionary and the Court cited several factors when, in establishing the sentence, the Court determined that Plaintiff's conduct created a substantial risk to the safety of others.” Id. Thus, the Magistrate Judge concluded that the Court “conceivably could have imposed the same sentence without a finding that Plaintiff raised his rifle when he exited his home.” Id. Because “a finding in favor of Plaintiff would not implicate the validity of Plaintiff's sentence, ” the Magistrate Judge concluded that Mr. Barnard's lawsuit was not barred by Heck v. Humphrey. Id.

         Turning to qualified immunity, the Magistrate Judge engaged in a thorough and thoughtful analysis of the steps essential for a successful defense of qualified immunity. Id. at 8- 24. Again, because the Magistrate Judge concluded that “the Guideline sentencing range would likely have been the same regardless of whether the Court found that Plaintiff raised his rifle in the direction of law enforcement, and given the Court's legitimate concern about the risk posed by Defendant's conduct during the standoff, including Plaintiff's discharge of a firearm multiple times during the standoff, the finding that Plaintiff raised his rifle in the direction of law enforcement before Defendant shot Plaintiff cannot be deemed essential to the judgment for purposes of issue preclusion.” Id. at 24. Accordingly, the Magistrate Judge concluded that Mr. Barnard is “not collaterally estopped from litigating the issue in this case.” Id.

         IV. TROOPER DUFF'S OBJECTION

         On March 29, 2018, Trooper Duff objected to the Magistrate Judge's recommended decision. Def.'s Objection at 1-18. Trooper Duff contends that the Magistrate Judge “construe[d] Heck v. Humphrey too narrowly.” Id. at 2. Trooper Duff says that “[b]ecause Mr. Barnard could have invalidated his sentence by showing on direct appeal that the sentencing court committed clear error in finding that he raised his rifle toward an officer, his § 1983 action attacking that same finding is barred by Heck as necessarily implying the invalidity of his criminal sentence.” Id. Also, Trooper Duff maintains that the Magistrate Judge “err[ed], for multiple reasons, in concluding that the sentencing court's finding was not ‘essential' to the judgment for collateral estoppel purposes.” Id.

         V. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. De Novo Review

         The Court reviews any recommended decision by a magistrate judge on a dispositive matter under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), which requires the Court “make a de novo determination” of “those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” Id.; United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 673-74 (1980).

         B. Motion to Dismiss

         When evaluating a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, a court must determine “whether, construing the well-pleaded facts of the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, the complaint states a claim for which relief can be granted.” Small Justice, LLC v. Xcentric Ventures LLC, 873 F.3d 313, 321 (1st Cir. 2017) (quoting Germanowski v. Fortuño-Burset, 854 F.3d 68, 71 (1st Cir. 2017)). The Court need not assume the truth of conclusory allegations, and the complaint must state at least a “plausible claim for relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). However, “non-conclusory factual allegations in the complaint must . . . be treated as true, even if seemingly incredible.” Oscasio-Hernández v. Fortuño-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011).

         A court may not “attempt to forecast a plaintiff's likelihood of success on the merits.” Id. at 13. Furthermore, courts should be “solicitous of the obstacles that pro se litigants face, and . . . endeavor, within reasonable limits, to guard against the loss of pro se claims due to technical defects.” Dutil v. Murphy, 550 F.3d 154, 158-59 (1st Cir. 2008).

         In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court may consider any documents attached to the complaint as well as any other documents “integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint, even though not attached to the complaint.” Trans-Spec Truck Servs. v. Caterpillar, Inc., 524 F.3d 315, 321 (1st Cir. 2008) (quoting Clorox Co. v. Proctor & Gambel Comm. Co., 228 F.3d 24, 32 (1st Cir. 2000)). Under Alternative Energy, Inc. v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company, 267 F.3d 30 (1st Cir. 2001), when ruling on a motion to dismiss, a court may not ordinarily consider documents outside the complaint, but there is a narrow exception “for documents the authenticity of which are not disputed by the parties; for official public records; for documents central to plaintiffs' claim; or for documents sufficiently referred to in the complaint.” Id. at 33.

         VI. FURTHER BACKGROUND

         A. The Criminal Prosecution and Guilty Plea

          The criminal prosecution against Jeffrey Paul Barnard was begun with a complaint filed on June 19, 2014, charging him with being a felon in possession of a firearm on June 1, 2014. United States v. Barnard, Compl. (ECF No. 1), 1:14-cr-00088-JAW. On July 17, 2014, a federal grand jury indicted him for being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition on May 31 and June 1, 2014. Indictment (ECF No. 12).

         On June 7, 2016, pursuant to a plea agreement, Mr. Barnard pleaded guilty to the federal charge. Min. Entry (ECF No. 234). The prosecution version that Mr. Barnard admitted to truth of at his Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 asserted that he had been convicted of three prior felonies and on May 31 and June 1, 2018, he possessed a Marlin, Model 795, .22 caliber semi-automatic rifle and fifty-one rounds of Federal American Eagle .22 caliber ammunition. Prosecution Version of the Offense (ECF No. 232). The plea agreement contained no agreements regarding Mr. Barnard's sentencing and no appeal waivers. Agreement to Plead Guilty (ECF No. 233).

         B. The Presentence Investigation Report and Guideline Calculations

         The Probation Office prepared a presentence investigation report and recommended ...


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