Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Tenth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Pro Se Complaint Against "Cops"; Lacks State Action

In July of 2003, Wichita (Kansas) police officer Javier Guete pulled David Mitchell over and discovered him to be driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. During the arrest, a "Cops" film crew caught the proceeding on tape. Both Officer Guete and a "Cops" reporter tried repeated to obtain Mitchell's signature on a release form. Eventually Mitchell signed the form, "believing he would be allowed to go home. Instead, Mitchell was prosecuted and appeared on a May 1, 2004 segment of "Cops." Fox has since aired the segment several times."

Mitchell sued Fox and "Cops" for invasion of privacy and sued the Wichita Police Department under 42 USC [sec.] 1983 in August of 2005. The district court consolidated and dismissed the actions as time-barred. In its consideration of Mitchell's pro se appeals, the 10th Circuit said,

"We agree with the district court that any constitutional violation that might have occurred...became actionable in July 2003 and time-barred in July 2005. But Mitchell's appearance on "Cops" in May 2004 caused an alleged injury for which he sued within two years. Thus, the district court erred in dismissing as untimely Mitchell's [sec.] 1983 claims that derived from being showed on "Cops."  Nevertheless, [sec.] 1983 does not apply to private parties unless their conduct amounts to "state action"....Mitchell pleaded in his complaint against Fox and the producers of "Cops" that there was no state action component. Thus, Mitchell failed to plead a viable {sec.] 1983 claim...."

Read the entire opinion here.

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