Ezenwa v. United States of America et al, No. 4:2024cv01510 - Document 8 (S.D. Tex. 2024)

Court Description: MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER. Ezenwa's claims against the United States are dismissed with prejudice. State-law claims against defendant Sheryl Fryer are dismissed without prejudice. (Signed by Judge Sim Lake) Parties notified. (glc4)

Download PDF
Ezenwa v. United States of America et al Doc. 8 United States District Court Southern District of Texas ENTERED IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS HOUSTON DIVISION MAXWELL CHIBUEZE EZENWA, BOP #83800-079, May 10, 2024 Nathan Ochsner, Clerk § § § § Plaintiff, § v. § § UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., § § CIVIL ACTION NO. H-24-1510 § Defendants. § MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER The plaintiff, Maxwell Chibueze Ezenwa (BOP #83800-079), has filed an 18-page typewritten pleading titled "Defamation, Libel, Slander/ Disparagement" (Docket Entry No. 1) (the "Complaint"). The Complaint is not on a court-approved form. In the Complaint Ezenwa raises several claims attacking his alleged wrongful arrest, conviction, sentencing, and imprisonment. sues the United States constitutional rights, for the Because the plaintiff alleged violation of his the Complaint is construed to arise - at least in part - under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 91 S. Ct. 1999 (1971) . 1 claims arising under state law. Ezenwa also asserts Ezenwa represents himself and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. 1 The title a prisoner gives to pro se pleadings is not controlling; .rather, courts look at the content of the pleading. United s&tes v. Santora, 711 F.2d 41, 42 n.1 (5th Cir. 1983). Dockets.Justia.com The court is required to scrutinize pleadings filed by prisoners and dismiss the action if the complaint is "f~ivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted," or "seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). After considering the pleadings, the court concludes that this case will be dismissed for the reasons explained below. I. Background Ezenwa is presently incarcerated by the Bureau of Prisons at the low security Federal Correctional Texas. 2 Ins ti tut ion in Beaumont, The defendants named in the Complaint are the United States of America and Sheryl Fryer, an anchorwoman with ABC Channel 13 Eyewitness News. 3 Public records reflect that on April 14, 2021, a 15-count superseding indictment was filed in the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, charging Ezenwa with: (1) one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud affecting financial institutions in violation of 18 u.s.c. § 1349 (Count 1); (2) eight counts of wire 2 Complaint, Docket Entry No. 1, p. 19. For purposes of identification, all page numbers reference the pagination imprinted on each docket entry by the court's electronic case filing system, ECF. 3 Ezenwa identifies ABC Channel 13 Eyewitness News as being owned by the Walt Disney Group. (See Complaint, Docket Entry No. 1, p. 19.) To the extent that the Complaint can be construed as Ezenwa naming the Walt Disney Group as a separate defendant, Ezenwa does not make any factual allegations against the Walt Disney Group in the Complaint. -2- fraud affecting financial institutions in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343 (Counts 2-9); (3) one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. counts of mail (Counts 11-15) . 4 § 1349 (Count 10); and (4) fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341, five 1342 Following a bench trial, Judge Charles Eskridge found Ezenwa guilty of all 15 counts as charged in the superseding indictment. 5 Ezenwa was sentenced to 78 months as to each of the . 15 counts, to be served concurrently. 6 Ezenwa's convictions on \1 April The fifth Circuit affirmed 2023. 7 24, Subsequently, district court denied Ezenwa's attempt to vacate, set aside, the or correct his sentence on post-conviction collateral review. 8 Although the Complaint is difficult to parse, it appears that Ezenwa asserts claims against the United States for wrongful prosecution, prosecutorial misconduct, and false arrest in relation to his criminal "prejudiced by proceeding. 9 the report Ezenwa of also Sheryl claims Fryer" that who he was allegedly "releas[ed] a false news report" that caused him to lose his trial, 4 See United States v. Maxwell Chibueze Ezenwa, Case No. 4:20cr-267-1, Superseding Indictment, Docket Entry No. 38, pp. 34, 5-7 (S.D. Tex., Houston Div.). 5 See id., Minute Entry Order, Docket Entry No. 102, p. 1. 6 Id., Minute Entry for Feb. 24, 2022, Sentencing hearing. 7 Id., Court of Appeals Opinion, Docket Entry No. 168. 8 Id., Opinion and Order Denying Relief, Docket Entry No. 184, 9 Complaint, Docket Entry No. 1, pp. 1, 2, 9. p. 1. -3- his business, and his 4O1K retirement accounts. 10 He alleges that Fryer's false news report led to his "false imprisonment by the task force[.]" 11 He also asserts several state-law tort claims, including claims for malicious prosecution, defamation, libel, slander, trespass, malicious interference with business employment; and intentional infliction of emotional distress. 12 He seeks $90 million as compensation. 13 II. Standard of Review The Prison Litigation Reform Act ( "PLRA") requires federal district courts to screen prisoner complaints to identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint if it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Crawford-El v. Britton, 118 S. Ct. 1584, 1596 provisions found in the PLRA, including (1998) the See (summarizing requirement that district courts screen prisoners' complaints and summarily dismiss frivolous, Tollefson, malicious, 135 S. or meritless actions); Ct. 1759, 1761-62 (2015) see also Coleman v. (discussing the screening provision found in the federal in forma pauperis statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) (2), and reforms enacted by the PLRA that were "'designed to filter out the bad claims lOid. at 8. 11 Id. at 9. l2Id. at 2, 4, 7. l3Id. at 15-16. -4- [filed by prisoners] and facilitate consideration of the good'") S. Ct. 910, 914 (2007)) A complaint is (alteration in original). frivolous either in law or in fact.'" 1 733 ( 1992) (1989)). (quoting Jones v. Bock, 127 if it "' lacks an arguable basis Denton v. Hernandez, 112 S. Ct. 1728, ( quot:;ing Neitzke v. Williams, 109 S. Ct. 1827, 1831 "A complaint lacks an arguable basis in law if it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, such as if the complaint alleges the violation of a legal interest which clearly does not exist." Harper v. Showers, 174 F.3d 716, 718 1999) quotation (internal marks and citations (5th Cir. omitted). "A complaint lacks an arguable basis in fact if, after providing the plaintiff the opportunity necessary, the facts to present additional alleged are clearly baseless." Gilley, 138 F.3d 211, 213 (5th Cir. 1998) facts when Talib v. (citation omitted). To avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim, the factual allegations in the complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level [.]" Twombly, 127 S .' Ct. 1955, 1965 ( 2 0 07) Bell Atlantic Corp .. v. ( citation omitted) . If the complaint has not set forth "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," it must be dismissed. at 1974. Id. A reviewing court must "'accept all well-pleaded facts as true and construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.'" 2020) Heinze v. Tesco Corp., 971 F.3d 475, 479 (5th Cir. (citation omitted) . But it need not accept as true any "conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual inferences, or legal -5- conclusions." Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see also White v. U.S. Corrections, L.L.C., 996 F.3d 302, 307 (5th Cir. 2 021) elements ( same) of a In other words, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the cause of action, statements, do not suffice." 1949 (2009) supported by mere conclusory Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, (citing Twombly, 127 S. Ct. at 1965). In conducting this review the court plaintiff represents himself in this case. is mindful that the Courts are required to give a prose litigant's contentions a liberal construction. Erickson v. Pardus, 127 S. Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007) See (per curiam); see also Haines v. Kerner, 92 S. Ct. 594, 595-96 (1972) (per curiam) (noting that allegations in a prose complaint, however inartfully pleaded, are held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers) Even under this lenient standard, pro se litigants are still required to "properly plead sufficient facts that, when relief[.]" 2014) liberally construed, state a plausible claim to E.E.O.C. v. Simbaki, Ltd., 767 F.3d 475, 484 (5th Cir. (quoting Champion v. United States, 421 F. App'x 418, 423 (5th Cir. 2011); Pickett v. Nunn, 367 F. App'x 536, 537 (5th Cir. 2010)) . III. A. Discussion Claims Against the United States Ezenwa seeks monetary damages from the United States for alleged improprieties that resulted in his arrest, conviction, and -6- imprisonment. damages It is well established, however, for an allegedly imprisonment, or for "unconstitutional other unlawfulness would render a that to recover harm caused conviction by actions or whose convictio:r:i or sentence invalid," a civil-rights plaintiff must prove "that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a determination, or state called tribunal into question issuance of a writ of habeas corpus." 2364, 2372 (1994). authorized by a to make federal such court's Heck v. Humphrey, 114 S. Ct. A claim for damages that bears a relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. Therefore, if a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would "necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence," then the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated. Id. The court construes Ezenwa's claims against the United States to be brought under Bivens, which allows a victim who has suffered a constitutional violation by a federal actor to recover damages in federal court . See Bivens, 91 S. Ct. at 2004-05. The Fifth Circuit has held that Heck applies to-claims such as those lodged by Ezenwa brought under Bivens, validity of his conviction. (5th Cir. 1994) which necessarily implicate the See Stephenson v. Reno, 28 F.3d 26, 27 (holding that Heck applies to Bivens actions just -7- as it does§ 1983 actions); see also Danmola v. United States, 736 F. App'x 514, 514-15 (5th Cir. 2018) (per curiam) Lopez v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, Director, (5th Cir. 2020) (same). (same); Ortiz- 830 F. App'x 127, 133 Ezenwa does not allege or show that his convictions or sentences have been vacated or set aside. In fact, court records confirm that Ezenwa's challenges to his convictions and sentences have all been unsuccessful. See United States v. Maxwell Chibueze Ezenwa, Case No. 4:20-cr-267-1 (S.D. Tex., Houston Div.). Ezenwa's claims are therefore barred by Heck. claims are not cognizable at this dismissed with prejudice. 424 (5th Cir. 1996) time, Because his the Complaint must be See Johnson v. McElveen, 101 F.3d 423, (explaining that claims barred by Heck are "dismissed with prejudice to their being asserted again until the Heck conditions are met"). B. Claims Against Fryer To the extent that Ezenwa alleges that Fryer has violated his constitutional rights, such claims must be dismissed. claim under [42 U.S. C.] § 1983, a plaintiff must "To state a [1] allege a violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and [2] must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law." Oliver, 995 F.3d 461, 466 (5th Cir. 2021) and citation omitted). Sanchez v. (internal quotation marks The alleged violation "must be caused by -8- the exercise of some right or privilege created by the State or by a rule of conduct imposed by the state or by a person for whom the State is responsible." Lugar v. S. Ct. 2744, 2753 (1982) Edmondson Oil Co. 1 Inc. , 102 This means that "the party charged with the deprivation must be a person who may fairly be said to be a state actor," that is, one who is in fact a state official, one who "has acted together with or has obtained significant aid from state officials," or one whose "conduct is otherwise chargeable to the State." Id. at 2746. Ezenwa cannot sue Fryer under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because he cannot show that Fryer, who is a local news anchorwoman, qualifies as a state Mississippi, See actor. 597 F.3d 678, Bryant 686 v. Military (5th Cir. 2010) Department of ("A person acts 'under color of state law' if he engages in the' [m]isuse of power, possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law.'") omitted) . Accordingly, any claims against Fryer (citations purportedly brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 will be dismissed with prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Any state-law claims Ezenwa purports to bring against Fryer must also be dismissed. A federal district court has supplemental jurisdiction over state-law claims that are so related to the federal claims that they form part of the same case or controversy. 28 U.S.C. § 1367 (a). A district court may decline to exercise -9- supplemental jurisdiction over state-law claims after dismissing the federal claims. See St. Germain v. Howard, 556 F. 3d 261, 263-64 (5th Cir. 2009); see also United Mine Workers of America v. Gibbs, 89 S. Ct. 1130, 1139 (1966) ("Needless decisions of state law should be avoided both as a matter of comity and to promote justice between the parties, by procuring for them a surer~footed reading of applicable law."). Generally, when all federal claims have been dismissed at an early stage, a district court should dismiss any pendent state-law claims without prejudice. Parkwood Hospital, 180 F.3d 234, 246 (5th Cir. 1999) Bass v. ("When a court dismisses all federal claims before trial, the general rule is to dismiss any pendent claims.") (citing Wong v. Stripling, 881 F.2d 200, 204 (5th Cir. 1989)). Ezenwa's federal claims will be dismissed. Because the court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any state-law claims against Fryer, any state law claims without prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. IV. § will be dismissed 1367(c) (3) Conclusion and Order Accordingly, the court ORDERS as follows: 1. Ezenwa's the United States are pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (e) (2) (B) (ii) for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted. DISMISSED 2. claims against with prejudice Ezenwa's state-law claims against defendant Sheryl Fryer are DISMISSED without prejudice. To the extent Ezenwa attempts to bring federal claims -10- under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Fryer, such claims are DISMISSED with prejudice under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (e) (2) (B) (ii) for failure to state a claim. The Clerk shall provide a copy of this Memorandum Opinion and Order to the parties. SIGNED at Houston, Texas, on this the 10th day of May, 2024. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE -11-

Some case metadata and case summaries were written with the help of AI, which can produce inaccuracies. You should read the full case before relying on it for legal research purposes.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.