Reece v. Whitley, NO. 3:15-0361

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtBARBARA D. HOLMES United States Magistrate Judge
PartiesJAMES R. REECE v. L. RAY WHITLEY, et al.
Docket NumberNO. 3:15-0361
Decision Date23 February 2016

L. RAY WHITLEY, et al.

NO. 3:15-0361


February 23, 2016

TO: Honorable John T. Nixon, Senior District Judge


By Order entered April 14, 2015 (Docket Entry No. 3), this action was referred to the Magistrate Judge, pursuant to Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(1)(A) and (B), for management of the case, to dispose or recommend disposition of any pretrial motions, and to conduct further proceedings, if necessary.

Presently pending before the Court are seven motions to dismiss filed by the defendants in this action: 1) the motion to dismiss (Docket Entry No. 35) and amended motion to dismiss (Docket Entry No. 59) of Defendant Laura A. Frost; 2) the motion to dismiss (Docket Entry No. 39) of Defendants Robert Cooper, Meridith DeVault, Dee David Gay, Allen Glenn, Tom Gray, Lytle James, William Lamberth, CL "Buck" Rogers, Jerry Smith, Robert Wedemeyer, Ray Whitley, Tara Wiley, John Williams, and John Wootten, Jr.; 3) motion to dismiss (Docket Entry No. 44) of Defendants James Hunter, The County of Sumner, and Mahailiah Hughes; 4) the motion to dismiss (Docket Entry No. 48) of Defendant Nathan Whittle; 5) the motion to dismiss (Docket Entry No. 51) of Defendants Andrew Beasley and Manuel Russ; 6) the motion to dismiss (Docket Entry No. 61) of Defendants Wilson County, Tennessee and John T. Gwin; and 7) the motion to dismiss (Docket

Page 2

Entry No. 63) of Defendants City of Gallatin, Tennessee and Chris Vines. Set out below is the Court's recommendation for disposition of the motions.


James R. Reece ("Plaintiff") is a current resident of Texas. The instant lawsuit was filed by him pro se on April 2, 2015, and is but one of a string of lawsuits brought by Plaintiff regarding events that began in 2009 and have been ongoing for several years.

The basic historical facts are as follows. Plaintiff was arrested in Sumner County, Tennessee, on September 19, 2009, by City of Gallatin police officer Chris Vines on a charge of aggravated assault after being involved in a violent fight with another man at Plaintiff's residence. Plaintiff was later indicted and went to trial on December 7-8, 2010. Plaintiff proceeded at trial without counsel after several defense counsel were appointed for him but were permitted to withdraw from his case. Plaintiff was convicted of the charge and sentenced to six years of imprisonment. His appointed appellate counsel then filed a successful direct appeal, and the conviction was overturned after the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals' found that Plaintiff had not waived or forfeited his Sixth Amendment right to counsel and was, thus, entitled to a new trial. See State v. Reece, 2013 WL 1089097 (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. March 14, 2013). Plaintiff was subsequently released upon bond pending a new trial.

At his new trial on April 1, 2014, Plaintiff was represented by counsel and was acquitted. Despite his acquittal, he thereafter filed a pro se appeal from the judgment of acquittal raising arguments about the legality and authority of certain aspects of the state criminal proceedings that had occurred during the prior 5 years and about the legality of the trial judge's action of jailing

Page 3

Plaintiff for twenty days based upon a finding of contempt. See Docket Entry No. 80-7. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed Plaintiff's appeal from the judgment of acquittal, finding that there was no right to an appeal as of right after an acquittal and that any challenges made to the original charging instrument or arrest were moot, and affirmed the trial judge's finding of contempt. See State v. Reece, 2015 WL 176030 (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. January 14, 2015).

The above events were accompanied by more discord than usually occurs in criminal proceedings. As noted by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals in the introductory paragraph of its opinion overturning Plaintiff's conviction:

immediately after his arrest, the defendant began to challenge the actions of the Sumner County court system, filing numerous documents with this Court and the Tennessee Supreme Court and suing various persons and entities in federal court. The lower courts appointed four separate attorneys to represent the defendant, but each moved to withdraw.

See State v. Reece, 2013 WL 1089097 at *1. The allegations recounted by Plaintiff in the 52 page complaint filed in this action provide examples of this discord.

A summary of Plaintiff's federal court filings is further illuminating of the context in which the instant lawsuit has been filed. Early into the events at issue, Plaintiff unsuccessfully sought to remove the state criminal proceedings to federal court and/or to obtain declaratory relief from the federal court. See Reece v. Sumner County, Tennessee, et at., 3:09-1049. In 2011, he filed a lawsuit seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against 17 defendants based on allegations that his constitutional rights had been violated by the events that had occurred to that point in his criminal proceedings. See Reece v. L. Ray Whitley, et al., 3:11-1122. Several ofthe claims raised by Plaintiff were dismissed with prejudice upon initial review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), and the remainder of his action was dismissed with prejudice under Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

Page 4

for failure to prosecute. Id. Plaintiff then filed a petition for federal habeas corpus relief on March 31, 2014, alleging that various legal infirmities in the state criminal proceedings had occurred. See Reece v. State of Tennessee, 3:14-0085. The petition was denied, and Plaintiff's appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals was unsuccessful. Id. Plaintiff thereafter brought another action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against five individuals, asserting that his constitutional rights had been violated by their failure to provide him with a bail hearing for 106 days following the reversal of his conviction in March 2013. See Reece v. John D. Wootten, Jr., et al., 3:14-1403. This action was dismissed with prejudice upon initial review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) for failure to state a claim for relief against any of the defendants. Id. Most recently, Plaintiff filed a second petition seeking federal habeas corpus relief, which was dismissed upon the Court's finding that Plaintiff was not in custody and, thus, could not seek habeas corpus relief. See Reece v. State of Tennessee, 3:16-0038.


Plaintiff names 25 defendants in the instant lawsuit, many of whom have been sued in his previous Section 1983 actions. The Defendants consist of the judges, attorneys, and other officers involved in Plaintiff's state criminal proceedings, as well as three municipalities: District Attorney L. Ray Whitley; former or current Assistant District Attorneys Tara Wiley, William Lamberth, and Lytle A. James; former Tennessee State Attorney General Robert E. Cooper; Assistant State Attorney General Meredith DeVault; Criminal Court Judges Dee David Gay and John Wootten, Jr.; Chancery Court Judge Tom E. Gray; Circuit Court Judge C.L. "Buck" Rogers (now deceased); General Sessions Court Judges James Hunter and John Gwin; former or current Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals Judges Robert Wedenmeyer, John E. Williams, Jerry L. Smith, and Allen E. Glenn; Gallatin

Page 5

city police officer Chris Vines; Sumner County Circuit and General Session Court Clerk Mahailiah Hughes; criminal defense attorneys Laura Frost, Nathan Whittle, Manuel Russ, and Andrew Beasley;1 the City of Gallatin, Tennessee; Wilson County, Tennessee; and Sumner County, Tennesseee. See Complaint (Docket Entry No. 1) at 14-16. Plaintiff states that he sues Defendants "individually, in their official capacities." Id. at 1 and 14.

Plaintiff brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 contending that his rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments, id. at 10-11, have been violated in a multitude of ways during his criminal proceeding, beginning with an alleged lack of probable cause to support his arrest and the criminal charge and continuing through his judgment of acquittal and his unsuccessful appeal from that judgment. Plaintiff also brings claims for malicious prosecution and false imprisonment under state law. Id. at 1 and 3. He asserts that jurisdiction over this action exists pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332, 1367, and 1652. Id. at 2. Plaintiff's main request for relief is for:

this Court [to] grant to plaintiff declaratory relief upon the judgment rendered by Defendants on April 1, 2014, and find said judgment is null and void, and without force of law, and therefore does not trigger limitations for bringing this instant claim, for facts and reasons shown in Art. II, herein.

Id. at 52. In the alternative, Plaintiff requests compensatory damages of at least $75,000.00 and unspecified punitive damages. Id. at 51-52.

In support of his claims, Plaintiff contends that the state court's denial of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel before and during the first trial deprived the trial court of jurisdiction

Page 6

to proceed in his case, as well as negated jurisdiction for (i) the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals to hear his direct appeal and remand for a new trial, (ii) the state trial court to hold a new trial upon remand, and (iii) the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals to issue a decision upon his appeal after the judgment of acquittal. Id. at 3-9. Plaintiff contends that, because the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals was without jurisdiction to remand his case for a new trial, the new trial that subsequently occurred without jurisdiction, id. at 3, and the judgment of acquittal on April 1, 2014, is, therefore, a nullity that does not amount to a termination of the criminal proceedings brought against him. Id. at 4. He further contends that the issue of probable cause has never...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT