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Nottingham v. Gray

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 17, 2019

JAMES E. NOTTINGHAM, Petitioner,
v.
RICHARD A. GRAY, et. al., Respondents. JAMES E. NOTTINGHAM, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BUTTS, et. al., Defendants.

          BRANN, J.

          MEMORANDUM

          KAROLINE MEHALCHICK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. Background and Procedural History

         On October 16, 2018, James E. Nottingham (“Nottingham”) filed two causes of action which involve a common question of law or fact. First, he filed the above-captioned petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Nottingham v. Gray, et. al., No. 4:18-CV-02002 (M.D. Pa. filed Oct. 16, 2018). He then filed the above captioned complaint alleging civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] Nottingham v. Butts, et. al., No. 4:18-CV-02003 (M.D. Pa. filed Oct. 16, 2018). Nottingham was confined at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill (“SCI - Camp Hill”) at the time of both filings. Nottingham v. Gray, et. al., No. 4:18-CV-02002 (Doc. 1); Nottingham v. Butts, et. al., No. 4:18-CV-02003 (Doc. 13).

         On March 13, 2019, the Court determined that Nottingham's statement for relief contained within his civil rights action was inadequate, as it sought to enjoin the proceedings against him and have him released from custody, a request which generally “falls under the habeas corpus umbrella.” The Court granted Nottingham thirty days to amend his complaint to sufficiently allege a § 1983 claim.[2] Nottingham v. Butts, et. al., No. 4:18-CV-02003 (Doc. 14, at 14-18); (Doc. 20).

         On June 28, 2019, Nottingham filed his amended complaint. Nottingham v. Butts, et. al., No. 4:18-CV-02003 (Doc. 28). The underlying facts of the amended complaint stem from the same incident which underlies Nottingham's habeas corpus petition. According to the Affidavit of Probable Cause attached to Nottingham's amended complaint, police responded to a 911 call at Nottingham's residence on July 13, 2015, and found Nottingham walking down his driveway. Police proceeded to his residence, where they found Nottingham's girlfriend, his girlfriend's daughter, and his girlfriend's two cousins. These witnesses stated that Nottingham returned from the bar intoxicated and became involved in an argument with his girlfriend. After shoving his girlfriend and punching her cousin in the head, Nottingham allegedly grabbed a nearby rifle and shot it into the floor and into the wall near to where his girlfriend was located. Police proceeded to place Nottingham under arrest and acquired a warrant to search his residence. Nottingham v. Butts, et. al., No. 4:18-CV-02003 (Doc. 28, at 15-16).

         Nottingham alleges a litany of procedural errors leading to his conviction, including a search warrant which lacked probable cause, denial of his opportunity to be involved with pre-trial hearings, searches and seizures conducted without the requisite warrants, removal of DNA evidence during the course of his trials, and ineffective assistance of counsel. Nottingham also alleges a Brady violation. Nottingham v. Butts, et. al., No. 4:18-CV-02003 (Doc. 28, at 3-5, 9).

         In his habeas corpus petition, Nottingham challenges the legality of certain evidence obtained during his search and seizure. Specifically, Nottingham submits that the state exceeded the scope of its search warrant when it seized several items. Nottingham also raises a sufficiency of the evidence claim, as he alleges no forensic testing took place, the witnesses rendered inconsistent testimony, and a Brady violation occurred. Further, Nottingham seeks habeas relief on the grounds of perjury. He also briefly mentions ineffective assistance of counsel. Nottingham v. Gray, et. al., No. 4:18-CV-02002 (Doc. 1, at 6-7, 9, 12, 17). These allegations stem from the same prosecution as that underlying Nottingham's § 1983 claim. See Nottingham v. Butts, et. al., No. 4:18-CV-02003 (Doc. 28, at 3-5, 9, 15-16).

         Nottingham's amended complaint is now before the court. For the reasons stated herewith, the Court orders that Nottingham's actions be consolidated into his habeas corpus action pursuant to Rule 42(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[3]

         II. Discussion

         A. Nottingham's claims are more appropriately brought in a habeas corpus petition

         When deciding whether a § 1983 claim is appropriate, the Court must examine the conduct of which the plaintiff complains. That conduct must not have bearing on the validity of the plaintiff's conviction or sentence. If it does, and a judgment for the plaintiff “would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence, ” then the Court must dismiss the complaint. The only federal remedy in that case is a writ of habeas corpus.[4] Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994). This law holds true when the plaintiff looks to recover damages for an alleged unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment. Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-87 (emphasis added).The Third Circuit has explained that “where a pro se complaint requests habeas relief, a district court generally should construe the complaint as a habeas petition.” Brown v. City of Philadelphia, 339 Fed. App'x 143, 147 (3d Cir. 2009).

         If Nottingham were to prevail on the allegations in his civil rights complaint - if the search warrant is deemed inadequate, if police are deemed to have exceeded the scope of the search warrant, if the evidence is deemed insufficient, if counsel is found ineffective, if it is determined that a Brady violation was committed - it would implicitly invalidate the legitimacy of his conviction. Therefore, Nottingham's § 1983 claim is improper and his only recourse is through his petition for habeas corpus. See Heck, 512 U.S. at 487; Nottingham v. Butts, et. al., No. 4:18-CV-02003 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 16, 2018) (Doc. 28, at 3-5, 9).

         B. Nottingham's causes of action call ...


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