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Hinton v. Pike County

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Western Division

March 2, 2018

HENRY HINTON, JR. PLAINTIFF
v.
PIKE COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI; SHERIFF MARK SHEPPARD; CAPTAIN GLEN GREEN; and LIEUTENANT UNKNOWN SMITH DEFENDANTS

          ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          DAVID BRAMLETTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This cause is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Michael T. Parker (docket entry 142), on the plaintiff Henry Hinton, Jr.'s Motion for Relief (docket entry 143), and on the plaintiff's Motion for Extension of Time to File Objections (docket entry 145). Having carefully considered the record in this case, the Report and Recommendation, and the plaintiff's subsequent motions, the Court finds as follows:

         This cause was originally filed by the plaintiff pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on August 19, 2015. Following an Omnibus hearing, numerous motions by plaintiff and defendants, and several rulings by Magistrate Judge Parker and this Court, an evidentiary hearing was held on January 29, 2018, and Magistrate Judge Parker entered his Report and Recommendation on February 9, 2018, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b). The Report and Recommendation advised plaintiff Hinton that he could file written objections to the Report and Recommendation within 14 days after being served a copy of same. On February 14, 2018, Hinton filed his Motion for Relief, which the Court treats as his written objections. Subsequently, on February 26, 2018, Hinton filed a Motion for Extension of Time to File Objections. Because this motion contains additional objections, the Court treats the Motion for Relief and Motion for Extension of Time collectively as Hinton's written objections. Insofar as Hinton's Motion for Extension of Time seeks additional time to file a third set of objections, it is denied.

         When a party objects to a Report and Recommendation, this Court is required to “make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). See also Longmire v. Gust, 921 F.2d 620, 623 (5th Cir. 1991)(a party is “entitled to a de novo review by an Article III Judge as to those issues to which an objection is made.”). Such review means that this Court will examine the entire record and will make an independent assessment of the law. The Court is not required, however, to reiterate the findings and conclusions of the Magistrate Judge, Koetting v. Thompson, 995 F.2d 37, 40 (5th Cir. 1993), nor need it consider objections that are frivolous, conclusive or general in nature. Battle v. United States Parole Commission, 834 F.2d 419, 421 (5th Cir. 1997). No factual objection is raised when a petitioner merely re-urges arguments contained in the original petition. Edmond v. Collins, 8 F.3d 290, 293 (5th Cir. 1993).

         The plaintiff's lawsuit arises from events which took place while he was incarcerated at the Pike County Jail. According to the plaintiff, he entered the jail on June 30, 2014, and was transferred to a Mississippi Department of Corrections facility on November 24, 2015. The plaintiff asserts three claims in this action: (1) a denial of access to court claim against defendant Sheppard; (2) a conditions of confinement claim against defendants Sheppard, Green, and Smith; and (3) a failure to protect claim against defendant Sheppard. The plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages from the defendants.

         The plaintiff alleges in his denial of access to court claim that he lost a forfeiture hearing in state court and missed his opportunity to appeal the forfeiture ruling because he did not have access to a law library or other legal assistance while housed in the Pike County Jail. At his evidentiary hearing, Hinton testified that he was arrested on June 30, 2014, and at the time of his arrest, police officers seized $7, 746.00. The plaintiff testified that the money was discovered in a backpack along with marijuana. He further testified that he was charged with intent to distribute controlled substances and the prosecution pressured him to enter a guilty plea. He also testified that he dismissed his first two public defenders because they recommended that he enter a guilty plea. On October 5, 2015, after the plaintiff was appointed a third public defender, he entered an Alford plea. At his hearing before Magistrate Judge Parker, he submitted into evidence a transcript of his plea hearing.

         Hinton testified that while he was in jail, he filed a claim in state court for the seized $7, 746.00 and, in November of 2015, attended a forfeiture hearing in state court. During the state court hearing the money was ordered forfeited. At the hearing before Magistrate Judge Parker, Hinton submitted the state court's forfeiture order into evidence and testified that, after the forfeiture order was entered, he wrote the clerk of court regarding an appeal, but by the time he received the clerk's response, his deadline to appeal the forfeiture order had passed. Hinton submitted into evidence his letter and the clerk's response.

         The plaintiff testified that the Pike County Jail did not have a law library nor any legal aid officials. He also testified that he requested that the jail administrator, defendant Glen Green, provide him a copy of the rules of civil procedure. Defendant Green testified that he did not recall Hinton ever requesting a copy of the rules of civil procedure. Defendant Green, however, testified that the jail did not have a law library. According to Green, a law library was unnecessary because each of the inmates housed in the jail was represented by an attorney. The plaintiff testified that because he did not have access to a law library or other legal assistance, he lost at the forfeiture hearing and missed his opportunity to appeal the forfeiture ruling. According to Hinton, if he had had access to a law library or legal assistance, he would have prevailed at the forfeiture hearing because the State wrongfully used his Alford plea, which was not an admission of guilt, to support the forfeiture. The plaintiff also asserted that, with access to a law library or legal assistance, he would have known how and when to appeal the forfeiture ruling.

         In his Report and Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Parker notes that “[p]risoners possess a constitutional right of access to courts, including having the ‘ability ... to prepare and transmit a necessary legal document to court.' Eason v. Thaler, 73 F.3d 1322, 1328 (5th Cir. 1996). The right of access to the courts is limited to allow prisoners opportunities to file nonfrivolous claims challenging their convictions or conditions of confinement. Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 325 (5th Cir. 1999). ‘Interference with a prisoner's right to access to the courts, such as delay, may result in a constitutional deprivation.' Chriceol v. Phillips, 169 F.3d 313, 317 (5th Cir. 1999)(citation omitted).”

         However, Magistrate Judge Parker also finds that “‘[a] denial-of-access-to-the-courts claim is not valid if a litigant's position is not prejudiced by the alleged violation.' Ruiz v. United States, 160 F.3d 273, 275 (5th Cir. 1998); Henthorn v. Swinson, 955 F.2d 351, 354 (5th Cir. 1992). It is only when a prisoner suffers some sort of actual prejudice or detriment from denial of access to the courts that the allegation becomes one of constitutional magnitude. Walker v. Navarro County Jail, 4 F.3d 410, 413 (5th Cir. 1993); Howland v. Kilquist, 833 F.2d 639, 642 (7th Cir. 1987). To prove his claim, a plaintiff must show real detriment - a true denial of access, such as the loss of a motion; the loss of a right to commence, prosecute, or appeal in a court; or substantial delay in obtaining a judicial determination in a proceeding. See Oaks v. Wainwright, 430 F.2d 241 (5th Cir. 1970).”

         Mississippi Code Annotated § 41-29-179(2) provides as follows:

If the owner of the property has filed an answer denying that the property is subject to forfeiture, then the burden is on the petitioner to prove that the property is subject to forfeiture. However, if an answer has not been filed by the owner of the property, the petition for forfeiture may be introduced into evidence and is prima facie evidence that the property is subject to forfeiture. The standard of proof placed upon the petitioner in regard to property forfeited under the provisions of this article shall be by a preponderance of the evidence.

Miss. Code Ann. § 41-29-179(2).

         The burden of proof in a forfeiture action differs from that involved in a criminal trial. The State need not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a connection exists between the forfeited property and the illegal activity. Thus, a criminal conviction is not a prerequisite to a civil forfeiture. See State ex rel. Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics v. Lincoln County, 605 So.2d 802, 804 (Miss. 1992). Mississippi Code Annotated § 41-29-153 identifies property subject to forfeiture, including money. Section 41-29-153(7) provides that “[a]ll monies, coin and currency found in close proximity to forfeitable controlled substances ... are presumed to be forfeitable under this paragraph; the burden of proof is upon claimants of the property to rebut this presumption.”

         The state court's forfeiture order recites that the “Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics has put forth proof that property at issue is subject to forfeiture under the provisions of §§ 4[1]-29-153(a)(5) and 41-29-153(a)(7) of the Mississippi Code of 1972, as amended, having been used, or intended for use, in violation of the Uniform Controlled Substances Law and having been found in close proximity to forfeitable controlled substances, to-wit: marijuana.” See Plaintiff's Exhibit L.

         During testimony before Magistrate Judge Parker, the plaintiff admitted that the $7, 746.00 was found in a backpack along with marijuana. Additionally, during the plaintiff's plea hearing in state court, the court asked the plaintiff “Are you satisfied that if we brought a jury in here, and they heard the four charges, that there would be enough evidence that they might conclude that you were ...


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