United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division
MICHAEL E. PETTIT Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT FOR THE DISTRICT OF UTAH, and UTAH HIGHWAY PATROL Defendants.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
SAM SENIOR JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
Pettit filed this Complaint in the United States District
Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Subsequently, the
matter was transferred to the District of Utah and assigned
to this Court. The Complaint, which is less than clear, was
characterized upon transfer to this district as a prisoner
civil rights lawsuit. The essence of the Complaint appears to
be that Mr. Pettit wants the return of some $2000 he asserts
was unlawfully taken when he was stopped and arrested by
Troopers of the Utah Highway Patrol (“UHP”).
Presumably, Mr. Pettit invokes 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as the
basis of his alleged deprivation.
2013, Mr. Pettit was indicted in the United States District
Court for the District of Utah on one count of possession of
cocaine with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C.
§ 841(a)(1), after UHP Troopers discovered 2.5 kilograms
of cocaine hidden in a vehicle he was driving. After a jury
trial before this Court, Mr. Pettit was found guilty and
sentenced to ten years of imprisonment to be followed by
eight years of supervised release. See Case No.
August 1, 2014, Mr. Pettit filed in Case No. 2:13-cr-00286-DS
a Motion for Return of Property pursuant to Federal Rule of
Criminal Procedure 41(g), asserting that approximately $3000
had been unlawfully seized. In an order dated October 6,
2014, this Court denied that motion because there was no
evidence that the United States ever seized, forfeited, or
physically possessed the cash at issue. The Court noted that
should he discover that the cash was in the possession of the
State of Utah, Mr. Pettit had an adequate remedy at law in
the Utah State Courts. See October 6, 2014 Order. On
June 6, 2016, Mr. Pettit filed in Case No. 2:13-cr-00286-DS a
second Motion for Return of Property which focused on the
same $3000. That Motion was also denied. See July 8,
Court has reviewed Plaintiff's Complaint with the
deference due his pro se status. Hall v.
Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir.
1991). Because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma
pauperis, the Court is directed to dismiss such a case
at any time if it determines that the action is frivolous or
malicious or fails to state a claim on which relief may be
granted. 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B). The Court on its own may
also dismiss a complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P 12(b)(6)
for failure to state a claim. Hall, 935 F.2d at
the pleadings in pro se cases are to be liberally
construed, “[t]he broad reading of the Plaintiff's
complaint does not relieve [him] of the burden of alleging
sufficient facts on which a recognized legal claim could be
based.” Id. While Plaintiff need not describe
every fact in specific detail, “conclusory allegations
without supporting factual averments are insufficient to
state a claim on which relief can be based.”
Id. The Complaint must present sufficient
allegations of fact, assumed to be true, that “raise a
right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. T wombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).
The complaint must present “enough facts to state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”
Id. at 550.
questions can be raised at any time by a court on its own
motion. First State Bank & Trust Co. v. Sand Springs
State Bank, 528 F.2d 350, 353 (10th Cir.
1976). Here, Mr. Pettit names as defendants the United States
District Court for the District of Utah and the Utah Highway
Patrol. As for the District Court, “[a]bsent a waiver,
sovereign immunity shields the Federal Government and its
agencies from suit.” FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S.
471, 475 (1994). Unless the United States waives immunity and
consents to suit, sovereign immunity is a jurisdictional bar
to such actions. Id. “Because immunity is
assumed until proven otherwise, the plaintiff bears the
burden of proving that the sovereign has waived its immunity
and that the Court has the jurisdictional right to hear the
case. Cheyenne-Arapaho Gaming Comm'n v. Nat'l
Indian Gaming Comm'n, 214 F.Supp.2d 1155, 1164 (N.D.
Okla. 2002) (citing McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance
Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 188 (1936). Mr. Pettit has not
established waiver of immunity by the United States, nor can
he. Absent jurisdiction, the District Court must be dismissed
from the lawsuit.
the UHP, the Eleventh Amendment operates as a jurisdictional
bar to suits in federal court against a state and arms of the
state that have not consented to suits of that specific kind.
Wagoner Cty. Rural Water Dist. No. 2 v. Grand River Dam
Auth., 577 F.3d 1255, 1258 (10th Cir. 2009)
(citing Steadfast Ins. Co. F. Agric. Ins. Co., 507
F.3d 1250, 1252-53 (10th Cir. 2007). Section 1983
does not abrogate a state's Eleventh Amendment immunity.
Ellis v. Univ. of Kan. Med Ctr., 163 F.3d 1186, 1196
(10th Cir. 1999). Utah has not waived its
immunity. Utah Code Ann. § 63G-7-201(4)(b). Because the
Utah Highway Patrol, through the Utah Department of Public
Safety, constitutes an arm of the state of Utah it cannot be
sued in federal court due to its Eleventh Amendment immunity.
See Schaefer v. Wilcock, 676 F.Supp. 1092, 1098 (D.
Utah 1987) (holding UHP “immune from any suit in
federal court, whether based on § 1983 or on breach of
any state law obligation); Absent jurisdiction, the Utah
Highway Patrol must be dismissed.
reasons stated, Mr. Pettit's ...