Coleman v. Brown et al

Filing 5

ORDER of Dismissal. Signed by Judge Edward M. Chen on 4/19/2013. (Attachments: # 1 Certificate of Service). (emcsec, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 4/19/2013)

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1 2 3 4 5 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 6 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 7 8 RAHSAAN COLEMAN, 9 11 For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 12 13 No. C-12-6291 EMC (pr) Plaintiff, v. ORDER OF DISMISSAL DIANA BECTON BROWN, Municipal Court Judge In and For Contra Costa County of the State of California; et al., Defendants. ___________________________________/ 14 15 Rahsaan Coleman filed this pro se prisoner's civil rights action against two judges who 16 presided over the criminal proceedings against him. He contends that their "practices, acts and/or 17 policies ... have caused plaintiff to be wrongly or illegally tried, convicted and sentenced on the 18 basis of excess of jurisdiction." Docket # 1-1, p. 3. Mr. Coleman's theory is that his conviction and 19 sentence are invalid because the two defendant judges did not timely file their oaths of office. 20 A federal court must engage in a preliminary screening of any case in which a prisoner seeks 21 redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. 22 § 1915A(a). In its review the court must identify any cognizable claims, and dismiss any claims 23 which are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek 24 monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See id. at § 1915A(b). Pro se 25 pleadings must be liberally construed. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 26 (9th Cir. 1990). 27 28 To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated and (2) that the violation was 1 committed by a person acting under the color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 2 (1988). 3 Generally, a plaintiff may not obtain damages in a § 1983 action for alleged constitutional 4 violations in connection with his criminal trial as long as the conviction remains in place. Heck v. 5 Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), held that a plaintiff cannot bring a civil rights action for damages 6 for a wrongful conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness 7 would render a conviction or sentence invalid, unless that conviction or sentence already has been 8 determined to be wrongful. See id. at 486-87. A conviction or sentence may be determined to be 9 wrongful by, for example, being reversed on appeal or being set aside when a state or federal court issues a writ of habeas corpus. See id. The Heck rule also prevents a person from bringing an action 11 For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 that – even if it does not directly challenge the conviction or other decision – would imply that the 12 conviction or other decision was invalid. The practical importance of this rule is that a plaintiff 13 cannot attack his conviction in a civil rights action for damages; the decision must have been 14 successfully attacked before the civil rights action for damages is filed. The Heck rule was first 15 announced with respect to an action for damages, but the Supreme Court has since applied the rule 16 to an action that sought declaratory relief as well as damages. See Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 17 641, 648 (1997). If success in the § 1983 action would "necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of 18 confinement or its duration," the § 1983 action is barred no matter the relief sought (i.e., damages or 19 equitable relief) as long as the conviction has not been set aside. See Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 20 74, 82 (2005). 21 Mr. Coleman claims that defendants violated his rights by causing his conviction in an 22 allegedly unlawful trial – unlawful because defendants' oaths of office were defective. Although he 23 alleges at one point that his complaint "is not challenging the criminal conviction or sentence," he 24 alleges in the next breath that he is "challenging the established state procedure itself which 25 destroyed his rights to a fair trial." Docket # 1-1, p. 15. He requests that the Court issue an order 26 vacating his sentence and conviction, and order a new trial for him. Id. at 18. Mr. Coleman's claims 27 are squarely within the Heck rule because success on them would call into question the validity of 28 2 1 his conviction and sentence from the Contra Costa County Superior Court. The complaint must be 2 dismissed. in federal court is by filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. See Preiser 5 v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973). Mr. Coleman already has done so. His habeas petition 6 challenging his conviction was denied in 2012, and both the district court and the Ninth Circuit 7 denied a certificate of appealability. See Coleman v. McGrath, No. C 04-4069 PJH. A prisoner who 8 wishes to file a second or successive habeas petition challenging the same conviction or sentence 9 must first obtain from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ("Ninth Circuit") an 10 order authorizing this Court to consider a second or successive petition. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(3)(A). 11 For the Northern District of California The exclusive method for a state prisoner to challenge his state court conviction or sentence 4 United States District Court 3 Seeking such an order from the Ninth Circuit would be an exercise in futility for Mr. Coleman 12 because the claim has already been rejected. Mr. Coleman presented his challenge to the judges' 13 oaths in his first federal habeas petition and the district court dismissed the claim because it 14 presented only a question of state law. See Docket # 24, p. 2 in Coleman v. McGrath, C 04-4069 15 PJH. The court must dismiss a claim presented in a second or successive petition that was presented 16 in an earlier petition. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(1). 17 18 CONCLUSION For the foregoing reasons, this action is DISMISSED. Plaintiff's request for appointment of 19 counsel is DENIED because, in light of the dismissal of the action, there is no reason to appoint 20 counsel. (Docket # 3.) The Clerk shall close the file. 21 22 IT IS SO ORDERED. 23 24 Dated: April 19, 2013 25 _________________________ EDWARD M. CHEN United States District Judge 26 27 28 3

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