Hickingbottom v. Ryan
OPINION AND ORDER This case is DISMISSED pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. ***Civil Case Terminated. Signed by Judge Jon E DeGuilio on 9/21/16. cc:pltf(kjp)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
MICHAEL D. HICKINGBOTTOM,
MARY K. RYAN,
Cause No. 2:16-CV-393 JD
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael D. Hickingbottom, a pro se prisoner, filed this complaint under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 against Lake County Deputy Prosecutor Mary K. Ryan. “A document filed pro se is to be
liberally construed, and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less
stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89,
94 (2007) (quotation marks and citations omitted). Nevertheless, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A,
the court must review the merits of a prisoner complaint and dismiss it if the action is frivolous
or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief
against a defendant who is immune from such relief.
Hickingbottom is currently an inmate at the New Castle Correctional Facility. He claims
that the prosecutor in his 2004 state criminal trial had a police report in her possession wherein
Antonio Guzman provided a statement that he was robbed by both Hickingbottom and Maurice
Reed. Before trial, this police report was provided to his attorney, Theresa Hollandsworth, but
was never disclosed to Hickingbottom or the jury. At trial, Ryan put Maurice Reed on the stand,
where he testified that he had no participation in the robbery. Hickingbottom was ultimately
convicted. Hickingbottom believes that the failure to disclose the police report to him at trial
violates Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), which imposes a duty on the prosecutor to turn
over impeaching or exculpatory evidence to the accused in advance of trial. Id. He seeks money
damages against Mary Ryan.
As a threshold matter, based on the allegations of the complaint, it is not plausible to find
any Brady violation occurred. "To establish a Brady violation, the defendant must prove three
elements: (1) the evidence at issue was favorable to the accused, either because it was
exculpatory or impeaching; (2) the evidence was suppressed by the Government, either willfully
or inadvertently; and (3) the denial was prejudicial." United States v. Roberts, 534 F.3d 560, 572
(7th Cir. 2008). Here, while Hickingbottom and the jury may have been unaware of the police
report at trial, Hickingbottom concedes that Ryan provided it to his counsel before trial. (DE 1 at
2, 3.) Because Ryan provided the police report to Hickingbottom’s counsel, it was not
suppressed and there was no Brady violation.
Nevertheless, even if Ryan committed a Brady violation at trial, Hickingbottom’s claim
for money damages against her is barred by the doctrine of prosecutorial immunity. The
prosecutor is entitled to absolute immunity for her actions “in initiating a prosecution and in
presenting the State’s case” against Hickingbottom. See Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 431
(1976) (“[I]n initiating a prosecution and in presenting the State’s case, the prosecutor is immune
from a civil suit for damages under § 1983.”). “[A]bsolute immunity shields prosecutors even if
they act maliciously, unreasonably, without probable cause, or even on the basis of false
testimony or evidence.” Smith v. Power, 346 F.3d 740, 742 (7th Cir. 2003) (quotation marks and
citation omitted). Though Hickingbottom alleges that Ryan committed a Brady violation when
the case was presented to the jury, that is a prosecutorial act for which prosecutors, such as Ryan,
have absolute immunity. Fields v. Wharrie, 740 F.3d 1107, 1115 (7th Cir. 2014). Thus, the
complaint does not state any claim against Mary Ryan.
Though it is usually necessary to permit a plaintiff the opportunity to file an amended
complaint when a case is dismissed sua sponte, see Luevano v. Wal-Mart, 722 F.3d 1014 (7th
Cir. 2013), that is unnecessary where the amendment would be futile. Hukic v. Aurora Loan
Servs., 588 F.3d 420, 432 (7th Cir. 2009) (“[C]ourts have broad discretion to deny leave to
amend where . . . the amendment would be futile.”) Such is the case here. No amendment could
overcome the immunity of the prosecutor.
As a final matter, Hickingbottom seemingly complains that he was wrongly convicted in
2004. He cannot have his state conviction overturned in a section 1983 civil rights action.
Instead, he must pursue such relief in a habeas proceeding under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, subject to the
requirements of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). See
28 U.S.C. § 2254; Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 488 (1973) (habeas corpus is the
exclusive remedy for a state prisoner who challenges the fact or duration of his confinement).
For these reasons, this case is DISMISSED pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.
ENTERED: September 21, 2016
/s/ JON E. DEGUILIO
United States District Court
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