Thompson v. Link

Decision Date04 June 2019
Docket NumberDOCKET NO. 19-cv-0252 SECTION P
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Louisiana




June 4, 2019




Before the Court is the Report and Recommendations of the Magistrate Judge, [Record Document 8], to which Plaintiff Mark Anthony Thompson ("Thompson") has objected, [Record Document 9].1 Because the Heck bar might not apply to the search of which Thompson complains and because the Court lacks the facts necessary to evaluate the Fourth Amendment issues presented, this Court ADOPTS IN PART and REJECTS IN PART the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendations. The Heck bar applies to any alleged misconduct during Thompson's trial, and so the Report is ADOPTED as to Defendants Judge Patricia Minaldi ("Judge Minaldi"), Myers P. Namie ("Namie"), and John L. Walker ("Walker"). The Report is also ADOPTED as to Defendant Eric Link ("Link") for conduct that occurred during and in preparation for Thompson's trial. This Court CONCURS in the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that Thompson's claim regarding the search of his co-defendant's cell phone is Heck-barred, but for slightly different reasons. The Report is

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REJECTED as to Link's conduct related to the search of Thompson's electronics at the Houston International Airport (the "Airport Search"). All claims against Judge Minaldi, Namie, and Walker and all claims against Link other than those related to the Airport Search are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE to their being reasserted again until the Heck bar in this matter has been lifted.

I. Background

After discovering a disturbing video on his wife's cell phone, Lloyd D. reported a possible crime to local police. [Record Document 8 at 3]. His wife, Rosalie D., was interviewed at the police station and her cell phone searched for evidence. [Record Document 67-1 at 2 in 2:14-cr-00074]. After a federal criminal complaint charged Thompson and Rosalie D. with attempted production of child pornography, this Court issued arrest warrants. [Record Documents 1, 4, and 5 in 2:14-cr-00074]. When Thompson landed at the Houston International Airport after a flight from Singapore, he was met by agents from the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS"). United States v. Thompson, 53 F. Supp. 3d 919, 920 (W.D. La. 2014). He was escorted to a room in the airport where Link, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, questioned him about the criminal complaint. [Record Document 1 at 6]. During this interview, agents seized two cell phones, a computer, and an external hard drive; they extracted and copied all of the data from these devices. Thompson, 53 F. Supp. 3d at 920. Link testified at Thompson's detention hearing that no child pornography was found on the devices. [Record Document 78 at 35 in 2:14-cr-00074].

Because the agents had neither a warrant nor Thompson's consent to access his data, Thompson filed a motion to suppress any evidence obtained from his devices. Thompson, 53

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F. Supp. 3d at 920. Judge Minaldi, to whom the case was assigned, denied the motion. Id. at 923. The matter proceeded to trial, at which Walker and Namie represented the Government. [Record Document 1 at 19, 21]. The jury found Thompson guilty of one count of attempted use of a child to produce pornography and one count of attempting to entice a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity. See United States v. Thompson, 709 F. App'x 758, 761 (5th Cir. 2017). On appeal, Thompson alleged prosecutorial misconduct, misrepresentation of Rosalie D.'s plea agreement, insufficiency of the evidence, incorrect exclusion of a defense expert's testimony, and judicial bias. Id. at 761-65. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the conviction. Id. at 766. Thompson then brought a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion to vacate his sentence, reiterating many of his earlier claims and asserting additional claims of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel. [Record Document 249 in 2:14-cr-00074]. This Court denied the motion, and Thompson has appealed. [Record Documents 266 and 268 in 2:14-cr-00074].

Thompson now files a Bivens complaint2 alleging that the investigation and prosecution of his offenses violated his constitutional rights. [Record Document 1]. In her Report and Recommendations, [Record Document 8 at 4], the Magistrate Judge concluded that Thompson's allegations challenge the validity of his conviction and as such are barred under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). Thompson's objection cites Heck once, [Record

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Document 9 at 16-17], but is otherwise nonresponsive to the Magistrate Judge's analysis.3

II. Heck Standard

In Heck, the Supreme Court held that, in order to recover damages

for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid[,] a § 1983 plaintiff must show that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus.

512 U.S. at 486-487. Thus, before considering the merits of a prisoner's § 1983 or Bivens claim, a district court must address a threshold question: "whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence." Id. at 487.

III. Thompson's Global Objections

Thompson confusingly describes Heck as "a state case from an inmate that petitioned a Motion 2254" and contrasts this with his own § 2255 motion. [Record Document 9 at 16-17]. This Court construes Thompson's discussion of Heck as an argument that the case does not apply to federal inmates pursuing complaints against federal officers under Bivens. But, "Heck applies to Bivens actions." Cronn v. Buffington, 150 F.3d 538, 541 n.2 (5th Cir. 1998) (citing Stephenson v. Reno, 28 F.3d 26, 27 (5th Cir. 1994)); see Cardona v. United States, 191 F. App'x 327, 328 (5th Cir. 2006) (per curiam) (applying Heck to the conduct of a federal prosecutor). Therefore, to the extent that Thompson is arguing that Heck is inapplicable, his argument fails.

Thompson may also be arguing that Magistrate Judge Kay should not have made

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recommendations regarding a Heck bar to his Bivens action because she also recommended denying his § 2255 motion. [Record Document 9 at 17]. As a district judge reviews a magistrate judge's recommendations de novo, see Habets v. Waste Mgmt., Inc., 363 F.3d 378, 381 (5th Cir. 2004) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)), Thompson's argument is without merit.

IV. Trial-Related Claims

Thompson alleges that Defendants engaged in various sorts of misconduct in pretrial proceedings and at trial. [Record Document 1 at 5-25]. The Fifth Circuit has repeatedly held that claims alleging "ineffective assistance, prosecutorial misconduct, trial court error, judicial misconduct, juror misconduct, and wrongful incarceration are all barred by Heck." Mouton v. Louisiana, 547 F. App'x 502, 502 (5th Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (unpublished); see also Smith v. Gambrell, 108 F. App'x 218, 218-19 (5th Cir. 2004) (per curiam) (unpublished) ("[A]llegations of ineffective assistance and prosecutorial misconduct call into question the validity of [a] conviction."). The Fifth Circuit thus adopts a broad reading wherein all challenges to trial and pretrial proceedings must be analyzed under a Heck framework. In that light, this Court has no difficulty concluding that Thompson's claims of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct are potentially subject to the Heck bar.

As Thompson's conviction has not been overturned, the Magistrate Judge did not err in finding that his claims against Judge Minaldi, Walker, and Namie are barred by Heck nor did she err in concluding that claims related to Link's trial testimony are also barred. [Record Document 8 at 4]. These claims are legally frivolous. See Hamilton v. Lyons, 74 F.3d 99, 102 (5th Cir. 1996). The Court accordingly ADOPTS the Report and Recommendations in these

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V. Search-Related Claims

A. Applying Heck to Fourth Amendment Claims

Thompson's complaint also challenges the Airport Search and a search of Rosalie D.'s cell phone. [Record Document 1 at 3, 6-10]. Under the Fourth Amendment, searches must be reasonable and, unless an exception applies, conducted in accordance with a warrant supported by probable cause. U.S. Const. amend. IV; Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403 (2006). As a general rule, evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment must be excluded from a criminal trial. See United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 908-09 (1984) (quoting Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154, 171 (1978)).

In Heck, the Supreme Court observed in a footnote:

[A] suit for damages attributable to an allegedly unreasonable search may lie even if the challenged search produced evidence that was introduced in a state criminal trial resulting in the § 1983 plaintiff's still-outstanding conviction. Because of doctrines like independent source and inevitable discovery and especially harmless error, such a § 1983 action, even if successful, would not necessarily imply that the plaintiff's conviction was unlawful. In order to recover compensatory damages, however, the § 1983 plaintiff must prove not only that the search was unlawful, but that it caused him actual, compensable injury, which, we hold today, does not encompass the "injury" of being convicted and imprisoned (until his conviction is overturned).

512 U.S. at 487 n.7 (internal citations omitted). Harmless errors occur "during the presentation of the case to the jury." Arizona v. Fulminante, 499 U.S. 279, 307 (1991). Similarly, the doctrines of independent source and inevitable discovery are not exceptions to the Fourth Amendment, but rather to the exclusionary rule. See Murray v. ...

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