Wooten v. Roach

Decision Date27 March 2019
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 4:18-CV-380
Citation377 F.Supp.3d 652
Parties Suzanne H. WOOTEN v. John ROACH, Sr., Christopher Milner, Collin County, Texas, Gregory Abbott and Harry Eugene White
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Texas

James Painter Roberts, Scott H. Palmer, Scott H. Palmer, PC, Addison, TX, Sean Reed Cox, Law Offices of Sean R. Cox, Dallas, TX, for Plaintiff.

Robert Jacob Davis, Matthews Shiels Knott Eden Davis & Beanland LLP, Dallas, TX, Patrick Kinney Sweeten, Christopher D. Hilton, Office of the Attorney General, Austin, TX, for Defendant.



Pending before the Court are Defendants John Roach, Sr. and Christopher Milner's ("CCDAO Defendants") Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) (Dkt. #17), Defendant Collin County, Texas' ("the County") Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) (Dkt. #18), and Defendants Abbott and White's ("AG Defendants") Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. #20). Having considered the motion and the relevant pleadings, the Court finds that the CCDAO's motion should be denied, the County's motion should be granted in part and denied in part, and the AG's motion should be denied.


As alleged by Plaintiff Suzanne H. Wooten, on March 4, 2008, Plaintiff defeated incumbent Judge Charles Sandoval in the Republican primary election for the 380th District Court Judge in Collin County, Texas by a landslide. The next day, Judge Sandoval approached the Collin County District Attorney's Office (the "CCDAO") to complain about Plaintiff, asserting that she cheated during the election and he wanted the CCDAO to find a crime against her. After this meeting, the CCDAO1 took it upon themselves to investigate Plaintiff's campaign without the assistance of law enforcement. Eventually, the Office of the Attorney General2 (the "OAG"), joined in the case against Plaintiff. The investigation lasted over two years before Plaintiff was initially indicted on October 14, 2010, with the final indictment filed on July 14, 2011.

The theory of the criminal investigation and prosecution against Plaintiff was that a married couple, David Frederick Cary and Stacy Stine Cary ("the Carys") gave itemized monetary contributions to Plaintiff, through the Carys consultant who also happened to be Plaintiff's media consultant, James Stephen Spencer. The Carys and Spencer were co-defendants in the criminal prosecution. Plaintiff and the Carys were all tried separately, and convicted by three different juries. Specifically, Plaintiff's jury found her guilty of six counts of bribery, one count of engaging in organized criminal activity, one count of money laundering, and one count of tampering with a governmental record. After these three trials, Spencer took a plea deal. The Carys appealed their convictions. The Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed Stacy Cary's conviction but several months later a different panel determined David Cary should be acquitted on all counts. Both cases were then appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. On December 14, 2016, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals determined that the Carys should be acquitted on all counts, as the allegations against the Carys were not actually a crime pursuant to the relevant statutes. Stacy Cary v. State , 507 S.W.3d 750 (2016) ; David Cary v. State , 507 S.W.3d 761 (2016).

Based on these holdings, on May 10, 2017, Plaintiff filed her First Amended Application for 11.072 Writ of Habeas Corpus Declaring Actual Innocence as a Matter of Law with the 366th Judicial District in Collin County, Texas. On May 24, 2017, the 366th Judicial District in Collin County granted the requested relief "finding the evidence presented legally insufficient because the allegations, even if true, were not crimes under Texas law." (Dkt. #3 at p. 1). The 366th Judicial District in Collin County further determined that because the evidence was legally insufficient to convicther of the nine felony charges, there had been a "violation of the Applicant's due process rights." (Dkt. #3 at p. 1).

Based on this set of facts, Plaintiff filed suit on May 23, 2018 (Dkt. #1). On May 29, 2018, Plaintiff amended her complaint (Dkt. #10) suing the CCDAO Defendants, the AG Defendants, and the County for violation of her due process rights, violation of the fourth amendment, conspiracy to deprive constitutional rights, and malicious prosecution, among other causes of action and theories of liability. On July 30, 2018, the CCDAO Defendants (Dkt. #17), the County (Dkt. #18), and the AG Defendants (Dkt. #20) filed their motions to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint asserting, among other things, immunity. On September 10, 2018, Plaintiff filed a response to the CCDAO Defendants' motion (Dkt. #29), the AG Defendants' motion (Dkt. #30), and the County's motion (Dkt. #31). On September 24, 2018, the CCDAO Defendants (Dkt. #32), the AG Defendants (Dkt. #35), and the County (Dkt. #33) filed a reply. Finally, on October 1, 2018, Plaintiff filed a sur-reply to the AG Defendants' reply (Dkt. #36) and the County's reply (Dkt. #37). Plaintiff did not file a sur-reply to the CCDAO Defendants' reply.


The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that each claim in a complaint include a "short and plain statement ... showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2). Each claim must include enough factual allegations "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007).

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion allows a party to move for dismissal of an action when the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts in the plaintiff's complaint and view those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Bowlby v. City of Aberdeen , 681 F.3d 215, 219 (5th Cir. 2012). The Court may consider "the complaint, any documents attached to the complaint, and any documents attached to the motion to dismiss that are central to the claim and referenced by the complaint." Lone Star Fund V (U.S.), L.P. v. Barclays Bank PLC , 594 F.3d 383, 387 (5th Cir. 2010). The Court must then determine whether the complaint states a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. " ‘A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the [C]ourt to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.’ " Gonzalez v. Kay , 577 F.3d 600, 603 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) ). "But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the [C]ourt to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged—but it has not ‘show[n]‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.’ " Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (quoting FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2) ).

In Iqbal , the Supreme Court established a two-step approach for assessing the sufficiency of a complaint in the context of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. First, the Court should identify and disregard conclusory allegations, for they are "not entitled to the assumption of truth." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 664, 129 S.Ct. 1937. Second, the Court "consider[s] the factual allegations in [the complaint] to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief." Id. "This standard ‘simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary claims or elements.’ "

Morgan v. Hubert , 335 F. App'x 466, 470 (5th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). This evaluation will "be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937.

Thus, "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’ " Id. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ).


All Defendants in this case move to dismiss Plaintiff's claims based on a variety of theories. The Court addresses Defendants arguments in turn, either individually or grouped together when applicable.

I. Prosecutorial Immunity

The CCDAO Defendants and the AG Defendants both move to dismiss Plaintiff's claims asserting that they are entitled to absolute immunity.

The Supreme Court of the United States established that prosecutors are "immune for a civil suit for damages under § 1983." Imbler v. Pachtman , 424 U.S. 409, 430, 96 S.Ct. 984, 47 L.Ed.2d 128 (1976). However, prosecutors are not entitled to immunity simply based on their title, instead courts are to look to the " ‘functional nature of the activities’ of which the plaintiff complains." McGruder v. Necaise , 733 F.2d 1146, 1148 (5th Cir. 1984) (citations omitted); accord Imbler , 424 U.S. at 431, 96 S.Ct. 984, Kalina v. Fletcher , 522 U.S. 118, 126, 118 S.Ct. 502, 139 L.Ed.2d 471 (1997). It is the prosecutor's burden to establish that the "functional nature of the activities" are protected by prosecutorial immunity. Buckley v. Fitzsimmons , 509 U.S. 259, 274, 113 S.Ct. 2606, 125 L.Ed.2d 209 (1993).

Prosecutors are immune "insofar as that conduct is ‘intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process.’ " Burns v. Reed , 500 U.S. 478, 486, 111 S.Ct. 1934, 114 L.Ed.2d 547 (1991) (citations omitted). This does not mean that only actions made during trial are protected; the courts have recognized that " ‘the duties of the prosecutor in his role as advocate for the State involve actions preliminary to the initiation of a prosecution and actions apart from the courtroom.’ " Id. (citations omitted). The Fifth Circuit determined that prosecutorial immunity extends to "investigating ... a criminal prosecut...

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