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Spottswood v. Washington County

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 13, 2020

SHAWN CLARKE SPOTTSWOOD, Plaintiff,
v.
WASHINGTON COUNTY, MINNESOTA, Defendant.

          ORDER

          ELIZABETH COWAN WRIGHT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This action comes before the Court on Plaintiff Shawn Clarke Spottswood's (1) Amended Complaint (Dkt. 14); (2) Application to Proceed in District Court Without Prepaying Fees or Costs (Dkt. 2) (“IFP Application”)); and (3) “Referral Request from Judge” (Dkt. 21) (“Referral Motion”). For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants the Referral Motion and the IFP Application. Furthermore, given various problems in the Amended Complaint, the Court orders Spottswood to file a second amended complaint within 30 days. If he does not do so, the Court will treat the Amended Complaint as the operative pleading and-consistent with the discussion below-likely recommend its dismissal.

         I. BACKGROUND AND COMPLAINT ALLEGATIONS

         A. Case Background

         Spottswood filed this action's original Complaint on May 20, 2019. (Dkt. 1 at 1.) That pleading named two defendants; one was listed as “Chairman of County of Commissioners.” (Id.) In response, the Court entered an Order stating that it assumed that Spottswood meant here the chairperson of the Washington County Board of Commissioners. (See Dkt. 3 at 2.) The Court also ordered Spottswood to file an addendum stating the capacity in which he meant to sue the chairperson. (See id.)

         Spottswood filed an addendum in August 2019, but it did not provide a capacity specification. (See Dkt. 4; see also Dkt. 11 at 1.) Later that month, Spottswood filed a motion to amend his complaint. (See Dkt. 10.) The Court granted that motion, and Spottswood filed the Amended Complaint on October 21, 2019. (See Dkt. 11 at 3; Dkt. 14 at 1.[1])

         B. Amended Complaint

         The Amended Complaint specifically names only one defendant: Washington County. (See Dkt. 14 at 1.) The pleading's thrust concerns the County's investigation and prosecution of Spottswood for a charge of possessing tools for burglary or theft. (See Id. at 2; see also Register of Actions, State v. Spottswood, No. 82-CR-15-4099, available at http://pa.courts.state.mn.us (last accessed Jan. 2, 2020) (“State-Court Docket”).[2]) In September 2015, county authorities charged Spottswood with one count of possessing such tools. (See State-Court Docket.) A jury convicted him in March 2017, but Spottswood filed a motion for a judgment of acquittal, and the state court granted that motion. (See id.; Order on Mot. for J. of Acquittal, State v. Spottswood, No. 82-CR-15-4099 (Minn. Dist. Ct. Apr. 17, 2017).)

         The Amended Complaint contends that Washington County police investigators, and the prosecutor in Spottswood's criminal case, violated his constitutional rights. (See, e.g., Dkt. 14 at 6-7.) Spottswood alleges that Sara Peulen-identified as a deputy with the Washington County Sheriff's Office-made false statements in a report used to justify an “illegal [search] and seizure.” (Id. at 7.) This search and seizure was what led to the discovery of a set of so-called jiggler keys, Spottswood's possession of which led to his prosecution. (See, e.g., id. at 6.) Spottswood also alleges that a prosecutor with the last name of “Wedes” reviewed relevant police video, and knew from that video that Peulen had made false statements, but nevertheless continued prosecuting Spottswood. (See Id. at 7.) Furthermore, he generally alleges that Wedes acted maliciously during Spottswood's prosecution, which negatively affected Spottswood in various ways both before and during trial. (See Id. at 8-9.) Spottswood claims that this conduct violated his rights under the Fourth and Eighth Amendments. (See, e.g., id. at 4.)

         Spottswood also claims that after the entry of his judgment of acquittal, a corrections officer at the Washington County Jail demanded that Spottswood clean his cell before being allowed to leave. (See Id. at 9.) He claims that this violated his rights under the Thirteenth Amendment. (See Id. at 4, 9.)

         In addition to these constitutional causes of action, the Amended Complaint includes a claim for “compensation for exoneration” under Minn. Stat. § 611.362. Under § 611.362, subd. 1, “[a] person who receives an order under [Minn. Stat. § 590.11] determining that the person is entitled to compensation based on exoneration may bring a claim for an award . . . .”[3]

         As for relief, Spottswood seeks $3.25 million in damages: $50, 000 for the § 611.362 claim, and $3.2 million for the constitutional violations. (Dkt. 14 at 10.) He also appears to seek, as part of his relief under § 611.362, additional compensation so that he can attend college. (See id.)

         C. Referral Motion

         Spottswood filed the Referral Motion on December 18, 2019. In that filing, Spottswood stated that he had been referred to the Federal Bar Association's Pro Se Project (“PSP”) by those he had contacted for assistance as part of “trying to obtain counsel for [his] case.” (See Dkt. 21 at 1.) When he reached out to the PSP, he states, he was told that he could not receive PSP assistance “without a referral from a federal judge.” (Id.) The Referral Motion thus asks this Court to provide such a referral. (See id.)

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Referral Motion and Order to Amend

         The Court will address the Referral Motion first. “[T]he Court has no obligation to refer a pro se litigant to the [PSP].” Rickmyer v. ABM Sec. Servs., Inc., No. 15-cv-4221 (JRT/FLN), 2016 WL 1248677, at *5 (D. Minn. Mar. 29, 2016) (citing cases), aff'd, 668 Fed.Appx. 685 (8th Cir. 2016); see also Henderson v. Minnesota, No. 19-cv-0135 (MJD/ECW), 2019 WL 2223950, at *2 (D. Minn. May 23, 2019) (quoting Rickmyer). But “[i]n civil rights matters the court may, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, ‘request' an attorney to represent a party if, within the court's discretion, the circumstances are such that would properly justify such a request.” Mosby v. Mabry, 697 F.2d 213, 214 (8th Cir. 1982) (emphasis removed).

         Among the factors a district court should consider when determining whether to appoint counsel in a civil case are “the factual complexity of the issues, the ability of the indigent person to investigate the facts, the existence of conflicting testimony, the ability of the indigent person to present the claims, and the complexity of the legal arguments.” Phillips v. Jasper County Jail, 437 F.3d 791, 794 (8th Cir. 2006) (citing Edgington v. Mo. Dep't of Corrs., 52 F.3d 777, 780 (8th Cir. 1995)). In this case, some of these factors suggest that this Court need not refer Spottswood to the PSP. But after reading the Amended Complaint and noting Spottswood's repeated difficulties in addressing capacity issues, the Court believes that the circumstances here justify a referral. As the following discussion ...


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