McClendon v. May

Decision Date03 February 1999
Docket NumberCivil Action No. CV498-205.
Citation37 F.Supp.2d 1371
PartiesRonnie McCLENDON, Plaintiff, v. Tony MAY, Joseph Martin, and Effingham County, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Georgia

Abda Lee Quillian, Savannah, GA, for plaintiff.

Thurbert E. Baker, Kathleen M. Pacious, John C. Jones, Atlanta, GA, Terry L. Readdick, G. Todd Carter, Brunswick, GA, for defendant.


MOORE, District Judge.


Defendants May and Martin have moved to dismiss Plaintiff McClendon's complaint on several grounds. Similarly, Defendant Effingham County has filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. McClendon has responded to both motions.

McClendon's complaint advances the following five counts: (1) Assistant District Attorney May is liable for damages to McClendon under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because he allegedly violated McClendon's Fifth and Sixth Amendment Rights; (2) District Attorney Martin is liable for damages to McClendon under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because he allegedly violated McClendon's Fifth and Sixth Amendment Rights; (3) Effingham County is liable for damages to McClendon under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because the policies, practices, and customs of the county caused the alleged violations of McClendon's constitutional rights; (4) May and Martin are liable for damages to McClendon under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 because they allegedly conspired with each other to violate McClendon's constitutional rights; and (5) May, Martin, and Effingham County are liable to McClendon for attorney's fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

In response to these allegations, May and Martin argue that the complaint should be dismissed. They argue (1) that May and Martin are immune from suit in their official capacities under the Eleventh Amendment because they are state, rather than county, officials; (2) that May and Martin are absolutely immune from suit by virtue of the doctrine of prosecutorial immunity; (3) that May and Martin are entitled to qualified immunity; and (4) that all contentions older than September 8, 1996 are barred by the applicable statute of limitations.1

In its Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, Defendant Effingham County argues that Assistant District Attorney May and District Attorney Martin are state officials. Effingham County contends that because they are state officials, they could not set policy for the County. Accordingly, Effingham County asserts that it cannot be held liable.

On December 15, 1998, the Court ordered McClendon, May, and Martin to respond to two questions.2 Those parties have responded and the Court has carefully taken those submissions into consideration in reaching its decision on the present motions.

McClendon has filed a Response to Defendant May's and Martin's Motion to Dismiss and argues that none of the grounds they advance is sufficient to dismiss the complaint. Similarly, he opposes Effingham County's motion and relies upon his previously filed Response to May's and Martin's motion. For the reasons that follow, the Motion to Dismiss and the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings are GRANTED.


The following recitation of fact is based entirely on Plaintiff's complaint.

McClendon's complaint focuses on the events surrounding the Effingham County Grand Jury investigation of the death of Steven Wayne McClendon, who died of a gunshot wound on October 14, 1990. In the years following Steven McClendon's death, Plaintiff McClendon was indicted several times for murdering Steven McClendon.

On March 18, 1991, an Effingham County Grand Jury heard evidence relating to the death of Steven McClendon. However, the official minutes of the grand jury session do not reflect the action taken by the grand jury, nor is there any true, official record of its presentments. During the March 1991 presentment, members of the victim's family were present throughout the proceeding and discussed the incident with the grand jurors even though they were not sworn as witnesses.

On June 4, 1991, another grand jury heard evidence surrounding the death. Members of the victim's family were also present during this grand jury session. The grand jury returned a true bill charging McClendon and others with murder. This indictment was later nolle prossed.

On September 2, 1991, another grand jury heard evidence surrounding the death. The grand jury returned a no bill on the charge of murder.

Just over five years later, the Effingham County Grand Jury again heard evidence relating to the death of Steven McClendon. On September 13, 1996, evidence was presented to the grand jury and it returned a true bill charging McClendon with murder. Allegedly, the witnesses who testified during this presentment did so in each other's presence. Moreover, Defendant May, the assistant district attorney, was present during the grand jury's deliberations and voting and stated something similar to "let's indict it and let the Court work it out." He apparently also said something like, "this is a case that probably needs to try at some point," and may have actually asked for a true bill. Plaintiff filed a Plea in Abatement/Motion to Dismiss Indictment in response to this conduct and the conduct of the earlier grand juries.

However, before a hearing was conducted on McClendon's Motion, the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit issued a Standing Order Regarding Grand Juries. This October 23, 1996 Order recognized that within the Ogeechee Circuit the district attorney and assistant district attorneys often remained "in the presence of grand juries during deliberations and the finding of true bills and no bills." The Order mandated that the district attorney and his assistants immediately cease that practice. The Order stated, "They shall remain separate and apart and outside the sight or hearing of each grand jury while that body is deliberating, voting, or deciding on any other action concerning any indictment." Shortly after the Order was issued, McClendon's September 13, 1996 indictment was nolle prossed.

In December 1996, the grand jury was again presented with evidence, and it returned an indictment charging McClendon with murder. In response, McClendon again filed a Motion to Dismiss/Plea in Abatement and on May 12, 1997 the Superior Court of Effingham County granted that Motion.

Before the present action was instituted, the Attorney General for the State of Georgia issued Unofficial Opinion U97-3 on January 17, 1997. That opinion was an apparent response to an inquiry from a Senator in District 2 concerning whether or not the district attorney or members of the district attorney's staff should be present during grand jury deliberations. The opinion states that because the Georgia Code calls for the secrecy of the proceedings of the grand jury, "in the interest of secrecy, neither the district attorney nor the district attorney's staff should remain present during any deliberations." The opinion fails to address the interest of fairness to the defendant.

Finally, on September 8, 1998, McClendon filed this action seeking money damages for the injuries he allegedly suffered during this tortured course of grand jury proceedings.

A. Standard of Review.

Defendants May and Martin petition the Court to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Defendant Effingham County has moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). Like May and Martin, Effingham County contends that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because McClendon's complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

"In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint, a court `must accept the well pleaded facts as true and resolve them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.'" Beck v. Deloitte & Touche, 144 F.3d 732, 735 (11th Cir.1998) (quoting St. Joseph's Hosp., Inc., v. Hospital Corp. of America, 795 F.2d 948, 954 (11th Cir.1986)). "Before this Court can dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), it must conclude that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of the claim that would entitle it to relief." St. Joseph's Hosp., Inc. v. Hospital Authority of America, 620 F.Supp. 814, 820 (S.D.Ga.1985), vacated on other grounds, St. Joseph's Hosp., Inc., v. Hospital Corp. of America, 795 F.2d 948 (11th Cir.1986). As a consequence of this exacting standard, "a defendant thus bears the `very high burden' of showing that the plaintiff cannot conceivably prove any set of facts that would entitle him to relief." Beck, 144 F.3d at 735.

B. Eleventh Amendment Immunity.

In their Motion to Dismiss, Martin and May argue that McClendon's claims against them in their official capacities should be dismissed on Eleventh Amendment grounds. The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution provides, "The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or subjects of any Foreign State." U.S. Const. Am. XI. The Amendment also applies to suits in federal court against a state by its own citizens. See Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 18-19, 10 S.Ct. 504, 33 L.Ed. 842 (1890). The protection provided to states by the Amendment has been extended to protect state entities, See Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100, 104 S.Ct. 900, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984) ("suit in which the State or one of its agencies or departments is named as defendant is proscribed by the Eleventh Amendment ... regardless of the relief sought,") and state officials in their official capacities, See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166-67, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985). Essentially, the Eleventh Amendment creates a sovereign immunity from suit in federal court which the states enjoy unless it has...

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5 cases
  • Vandiver v. Meriwether Cnty.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Georgia
    • 7 Agosto 2018
    ...district attorneys are state, not county, officials when exercising discretion in prosecutorial decisions. Accord McClendon v. May , 37 F.Supp.2d 1371, 1376 (S.D. Ga. 1999). There is, however, a wrinkle in this case that was not present in Owens . The district attorney here was not enforcin......
  • Colon v. State
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • 11 Agosto 2005
    ...v. State, 272 Ga. 217, 221-222(5), 526 S.E.2d 560 (2000). 13. 1997 Un. Op. Atty. Gen. U97-3, p. 112 (1997). 14. McClendon v. May, 37 F.Supp.2d 1371, 1381 (III)(D) (S.D.Ga.1999). 15. See United States v. Navarro-Vargas, 408 F.3d 1184, 1190-1195(II)(A) (9th Cir.2005) (outlining history of gra......
  • Neville v. Classic Gardens
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Georgia
    • 17 Enero 2001
    ...[her] prosecutorial discretion, [she is] considered [a][S]tate official[]cloaked in Eleventh Amendment Immunity." McClendon v. May, 37 F.Supp.2d 1371, 1375-76 (S.D.Ga.1999), aff'd, 212 F.3d 599 (11th Cir.2000); accord Cook v. Ellison, 178 F.3d 1299, 1999 WL 311206 at * 2 (9th Cir.1999) Acco......
  • Walker v. Officers & Officers of the Courts Individually & in Their Official Capacity
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Georgia
    • 15 Febrero 2012
    ...Amendment immunity. Owens v. Fulton County, 877 F.2d 947, 952 (11th Cir. 1989) (the office exercises state power); McClendon v. May, 37 F.Supp.2d 1371, 1375-76 (S.D. Ga. 1999); Leonard v. City of Columbus,2011WL 672249 at * 2 (M.D. Ga. Jan. 20, 2011).2 And his defense lawyer is not a state ......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Criminal Law - Laura D. Hogue and Franklin J. Hogue
    • United States
    • Mercer University School of Law Mercer Law Reviews No. 58-1, September 2006
    • Invalid date 740. 136. Id. at 864, 621 S.E.2d at 741. 137. Id. 138. 275 Ga. App. 73, 76, 619 S.E.2d 773, 778 (2005) (quoting McClendon v. May, 37 F. Supp. 2d 1371, 1381 (S.D. Ga. 1999)). 139. Id. at 73, 619 S.E.2d at 776. 140. Id. at 73, 75-76, 619 S.E.2d at 776, 777. 141. Id. at 76, 619 S.E.2d at 77......

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