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Strong v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

February 26, 2018

ANTHONY STRONG PLAINTIFF
v.
UNITED STATES, ET AL. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          SHARION AYCOCK U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the court on the pro se prisoner complaint of Anthony Strong, who challenges the conditions of his confinement under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For the purposes of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the court notes that the plaintiff was incarcerated when he filed this suit. The plaintiff has brought the instant case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides a federal cause of action against “[e]very person” who under color of state authority causes the “deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiff has made a variety of allegations:

(1) various defendants defamed him based upon sworn in-court statements by law enforcement officers during his change-of-plea and sentencing hearings;
(2) AT F agents used psychologic pressure when interviewing witnesses to elicit statements favorable to the prosecution;
(3) Agents violated the Miranda rights of Talisaha Johnson when questioning her;
(4) Agents threatened to have a state agency take Ms. Johnson's children if she did not cooperate;
(5) Agents lied during Mr. Strong's detention hearing to ensure that he remained in detention without bond;
(6) The government “misuse[d] the media” by allowing reporters to be present during the testimony at hearings in the case - and later publish news stories about the hearings;
(7) The government violated Mr. Strong's rights by waiting until an important witness in the case was incarcerated to elicit a statement from him.

         For the reasons set forth below, none of these allegations state a valid claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and this case will be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

         Defamation - State Law Claim

         Mr. Strong alleges that he suffered emotional distress and defamation of character as a result of the defendants' actions. “Section 1983 imposes liability for violations of rights protected by the Constitution, not for violations of duties of care arising out of tort law.” Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 146 (1979). Injury to reputation by false and defamatory statements is not a right protected by due process; as such, it is not cognizable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 712, 96 S.Ct. 1155, 1166, 47 L.Ed.2d 405 (1976). The plaintiff does not have a constitutional right to be free from defamation and emotional distress; as such, his claims for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 must be dismissed. Kerr v. Lyford, 171 F.3d 330, 339 (5th Cir.2003), abrogated on other grounds by Castellano v. Fragozo, 352 F.3d 939, 948-49 (5th Cir.2003) (citing Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 712, 96 S.Ct. 1155, 47 L.Ed.2d 405 (1976)). Shinn v. College Station Indep. Sch. Dist., 96 F.3d 783, 786 (5th Cir.1996) (per curiam) (there is no freestanding constitutional right to be free from emotional distress); see also Geiger v. Jowers, 404 F.3d 371 (5th Cir. 2005), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) (a pro se prisoner plaintiff in a case filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 must allege more than de minimis physical injury to state a claim for psychological or emotional damages). In addition, witnesses testifying under oath enjoy absolute immunity from civil suit based upon their testimony, Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325 (1983), and the news story upon which Mr. Strong bases his defamation claim merely recounts the testimony of the agents at the public hearing. For all of these reasons, Mr. Strong's claim for defamation will be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

         Heck

         Many of Mr. Strong's allegations in this case raise habeas corpus claims, which are generally barred in proceedings under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994), the Supreme Court clarified the relationship between actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and habeas corpus proceedings. Under Heck, a ยง 1983 damage claim that calls into question the lawfulness of conviction or confinement or otherwise demonstrates ...


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