Thomas v. State of Alabama et al (INMATE1)

Filing 4

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS re 1 Inmate 1983 Complaint filed by Tyrone Thomas, it is the Recommendation of the Mag Judge that: 1) The 1983 claims presented agaisnt the State of Alabama, Judge Truman Hobbs, Jr., and Winston Durant be dismissed with p rejudice in accord. with the directives of 28 USC 1919 (e)(2)(B)(i) and (ii); 2) The plaintiff's challenge to the constitutionality of the sentence imposed upon him by the CC of Mont Co., AL be dismissed without prejudice pursuant to the provisi ons as further set out as such cliams are not properly before the court at this time; 3) This case be dismissed prior to service of process in accord. with the directives as further set out. Objections to R&R due by 7/2/2007. Signed by Judge Charles S. Coody on 6/18/07. (vma, )

Download PDF
Thomas v. State of Alabama et al (INMATE1) Doc. 4 Case 2:07-cv-00498-MEF-CSC Document 4 Filed 06/18/2007 Page 1 of 8 IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA NORTHERN DIVISION TYRONE THOMAS, Plaintiff, v. STATE OF ALABAMA, et al., Defendants. ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:07-CV-498-MEF [WO] RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE This case is before the court on a 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint filed by Tyrone Thomas ["Thomas"], a convicted inmate presently confined in the Montgomery County Detention Facility. In this complaint, Thomas challenges the constitutionality of a sentence imposed upon him by the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Alabama in May of 2006. Thomas names the State of Alabama, Truman Hobbs, Jr., the state judge who presided over his criminal proceedings, and Winston Durant, his attorney, as defendants in this cause of action. Thomas requests that this court dismiss his state criminal case and award him monetary damages. Plaintiff's Complaint - Court Doc. No. 1 at 5. Upon review of the complaint, the court concludes that dismissal of this case prior to service of process is proper under 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), (ii) and (iii).1 A prisoner who is allowed to proceed in forma pauperis in this court will have his complaint screened in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B). This screening procedure requires the court to dismiss a prisoner's civil action prior to service of process if it determines that the complaint is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary damages from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(iii). 1 Dockets.Justia.com Case 2:07-cv-00498-MEF-CSC Document 4 Filed 06/18/2007 Page 2 of 8 I. DISCUSSION A. The State of Alabama The State of Alabama is immune from suit. Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265 (1986). Moreover, "a State is not a `person' within the meaning of 1983...." Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 65, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 2309 (1989). Thus, the plaintiff's claims against this defendant are "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory" and are due to be dismissed pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and (iii). Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989).2 B. Claims Against Judge Truman Hobbs, Jr. Thomas argues that Judge Hobbs violated his constitutional rights during criminal proceedings related to a 2006 conviction before the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Alabama. Specifically, Thomas complains that Judge Hobbs "sentenced [him] to 20 years in prison without a mental health evaluation or any kind of I.Q [determination]...." Plaintiff's Complaint - Court Doc. No. 1 at 4. The claims against Judge Hobbs entitle Thomas to no relief in this cause of action. 1. The Request for Monetary Damages. It is clear that all of the allegations made by the plaintiff against Judge Hobbs emanate from actions taken by this defendant in his judicial capacity during state court proceedings over which he had jurisdiction. The law is well established that a state judge is absolutely immune from civil liability for acts taken pursuant Although Neitzke interpreted the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 1915(d), the predecessor to 1915(e)(2), the analysis contained therein remains applicable to the directives contained in the present statute. 2 2 Case 2:07-cv-00498-MEF-CSC Document 4 Filed 06/18/2007 Page 3 of 8 to his judicial authority. Forrester v. White, 484 U. S. 219, 227-229 (1988); Paisey v. Vitale in and for Broward County, 807 F.2d 889 (11th Cir. 1986); Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349 (1978). Accordingly, the plaintiff's claims for monetary damages against Judge Hobbs are "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory" and are therefore due to be dismissed under the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and (iii). Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. 2. The Request for Declaratory Relief. To the extent Thomas seeks declaratory relief from any adverse decision issued by Judge Hobbs in the state criminal proceedings over which this defendant presided, this court lacks jurisdiction to render such judgment in an action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983. "The Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents ... lower federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over cases brought by `state-court losers' challenging `state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced.' Exxon Mobil Corp. V. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284, 125 S.Ct. 1517, 161 L.Ed.2d 454 (2005)." Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, ___, 126 S.Ct. 1198, 1199 (2006). Although "Rooker-Feldman is a narrow doctrine," it remains applicable to bar Thomas from proceeding before this court as this case is "brought by [a] state-court loser[] complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments. 544 U.S. at 284, 125 S.Ct. [at] 1517." Lance, 546 U.S. at ___, 125 S.Ct. At 1201; District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 486 (1983) (federal district courts "do not have jurisdiction ... over challenges to state court decisions in particular cases arising out of judicial proceedings even if those challenges 3 Case 2:07-cv-00498-MEF-CSC Document 4 Filed 06/18/2007 Page 4 of 8 allege that the state court's action was unconstitutional."). Moreover, a 1983 action is inappropriate either to compel or to appeal a particular course of action by a state court. Datz v. Kilgore, 51 F.3d 252, 254 (11th Cir. 1995) ( 1983 suit arising from alleged erroneous decisions of a state court is merely a prohibited appeal of the state court judgment); see also Rolleston v. Eldridge, 848 F.2d 163 (11th Cir. 1988). In light of the foregoing, the court concludes that dismissal of the plaintiff's request for declaratory relief with respect to actions undertaken by Judge Hobbs during proceedings related to a state criminal conviction imposed in May of 2006 is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B)(i). See Clark v. State of Georgia Pardons and Paroles Board, 915 F.2d 636 (11th Cir. 1990); see also Neitzke, 490 U.S. 319. C. Claims Against Defense Counsel Thomas complains that Winston Durant, the attorney who represented him on the Montgomery County conviction, failed to argue plaintiff's "mental health history" to the trial court. Plaintiff's Complaint - Court Doc. No. 1 at 4. An essential element of a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action is that a person acting under color of state law committed the constitutional violation about which the plaintiff complains. American Manufacturers Mutual Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 119 S.Ct. 977, 985, 143 L.Ed.2d 130 (1999); Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527 (1981); Willis v. University Health Services, Inc., 993 F.2d 837, 840 (11th Cir. 1993). To state a viable claim for relief under 1983, a plaintiff must assert "both an alleged constitutional deprivation ... and that `the party 4 Case 2:07-cv-00498-MEF-CSC Document 4 Filed 06/18/2007 Page 5 of 8 charged with the deprivation [is] a person who may fairly be said to be a state actor.'" American Manufacturers, 526 U.S. at 50, 119 S.Ct. at 985 (emphasis in original). An attorney who represents a defendant in criminal proceedings does not act under color of state law. Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312 (1981); Mills v. Criminal District Court No. 3, 837 F.2d 677, 679 (5th Cir. 1988) ("[P]rivate attorneys, even court-appointed attorneys, are not official state actors and ... are not subject to suit under section 1983."). Since the conduct about which Thomas complains was not committed by a person acting under color of state law, the 1983 claims asserted against Winston Durant are frivolous as they lack an arguable basis in law. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. Such claims are therefore due to be dismissed in accordance with the directives of 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B)(i). D. The Challenges to Plaintiff's Sentence Thomas attacks the validity of the sentence imposed upon him by the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Alabama. Specifically, Thomas argues that the state court violated his constitutional rights when it imposed sentence without ordering a mental health evaluation or considering the status of his mental health.3 The aforementioned claims go to the fundamental legality of the plaintiff's sentence. Consequently, these claims provide no basis for relief at this time. Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641, 646 (1997); Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994); Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973). In Heck, the Supreme Court held that a claim for damages challenging the legality of 3 Thomas asserts that he is schizophrenic and bi-polar. Plaintiff's Complaint - Court Doc. No. 1 at 3. 5 Case 2:07-cv-00498-MEF-CSC Document 4 Filed 06/18/2007 Page 6 of 8 a prisoner's conviction or confinement is not cognizable in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action "unless and until the conviction or sentence is reversed, expunged, invalidated, or impugned by the grant of a writ of habeas corpus" and complaints containing such claims must thisefore be dismissed. 512 U.S. at 483-489. Under Heck, the relevant inquiry is "whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence." 512 U.S. at 487. The Court emphasized that "habeas corpus is the exclusive remedy for a ... prisoner who challenges" a conviction or sentence, "even though such a claim may come within the literal terms of 1983" and, based on the foregoing, concluded that Heck's complaint was due to be dismissed as no cause of action existed under section 1983. 512 U.S. at 481. In so doing, the Court rejected the lower court's reasoning that a section 1983 action should be construed as a habeas corpus action. In Balisok, the Court concluded that a state prisoner's "claim[s] for declaratory [and injunctive] relief and money damages, ... that necessarily imply the invalidity of the punishment imposed, is not cognizable under 1983 ..." unless the prisoner can demonstrate that the challenged action has previously been invalidated. 520 U.S. at 648. Moreover, the Court determined that this is true not only when a prisoner challenges the judgment as a substantive matter but also when "the nature of the challenge to the procedures could be such as necessarily to imply the invalidity of the judgment." Id. at 645. The Court reiterated the position previously taken in Heck that the "sole remedy in federal court" for a prisoner challenging the constitutionality of a conviction or sentence is a petition for writ of habeas corpus. Balisok, 520 U.S. at 645. Additionally, the Court 6 Case 2:07-cv-00498-MEF-CSC Document 4 Filed 06/18/2007 Page 7 of 8 "reemphasize[d] ... that a claim either is cognizable under 1983 and should immediately go forward, or is not cognizable and should be dismissed." Id. at 649. The claims presented in the instant complaint challenge the constitutionality of a sentence imposed upon Thomas by the Circuit Court of Montomgery County, Alabama. A judgment in favor of Thomas on these claims would necessarily imply the invalidity of this sentence. It is clear from the complaint that the sentence about which Thomas complains has not been invalidated in an appropriate proceeding. Consequently, the instant collateral attack on the plaintiff's current sentence is prohibited and subject to summary dismissal by this court pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). Balisok, 520 U.S. at 645; Heck, 512 U.S. at 481; Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 488-490 (1973). II. CONCLUSION Accordingly, it is the RECOMMENDATION of the Magistrate Judge that: 1. The 1983 claims presented against the State of Alabama, Judge Truman. Hobbs, Jr., and Winston Durant be dismissed with prejudice in accordance with the directives of 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and (iii). 2. The plaintiff's challenge to the constitutionality of the sentence imposed upon him by the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Alabama be dismissed without prejudice pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) as such claims are not properly before the court at this time. 3. This case be dismissed prior to service of process in accordance with the directives 7 Case 2:07-cv-00498-MEF-CSC Document 4 Filed 06/18/2007 Page 8 of 8 of 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), (ii) and (iii). It is further ORDERED that on or before July 2, 2007 the parties may file objections to this Recommendation. Any objections filed must clearly identify the findings in the Magistrate Judge's Recommendation to which the party is objecting. Frivolous, conclusive or general objections will not be considered by the District Court. The parties are advised that this Recommendation is not a final order of the court and, therefore, it is not appealable. Failure to file written objections to the proposed findings and advisements in the Magistrate Judge's Recommendation shall bar the party from a de novo determination by the District Court of issues covered in the Recommendation and shall bar the party from attacking on appeal factual findings in the Recommendation accepted or adopted by the District Court except upon grounds of plain error or manifest injustice. Nettles v. Wainwright, 677 F.2d 404 (5th Cir. 1982). See Stein v. Reynolds Securities, Inc., 667 F.2d 33 (11th Cir. 1982). See also Bonner v. City of Prichard, 661 F.2d 1206 (11th Cir. 1981, en banc), adopting as binding precedent all decisions of the former Fifth Circuit handed down prior to the close of business on September 30, 1981. Done this 18th day of June, 2007. /s/Charles S. Coody CHARLES S. COODY CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 8

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.


Why Is My Information Online?