Hughes v. Prator
MEMORANDUM RULING re 8 MOTION to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) filed by Steve Prator. Signed by Judge Robert G James on 12/5/2017. (crt,Crawford, A)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
STACY KELLE HUGHES
CIVIL ACTION NO. 17-0711
JUDGE ROBERT G. JAMES
MAG. JUDGE KAREN HAYES
Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss [Doc. No. 8] filed by Defendant Caddo Parish
Sheriff Steve Prator. On October 27, 2017, Magistrate Judge Karen L. Hayes issued a Report and
Recommendation [Doc. No. 18] in which she recommends denying Defendant’s motion.
Defendant objected to the Report and Recommendation on November 13, 2017 [Doc. No.
19], and Plaintiff responded to the objection on November 27, 2017 [Doc. No. 20].
Having reviewed the entire record de novo, including Defendant’s objection and Plaintiff’s
response, the Court concurs with the Magistrate Judge’s findings and ADOPTS the Report and
Recommendation. The Court issues this Ruling to address one non-dispositive misstatement of law.
Defendant moved for dismissal under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994),
arguing that the Court should dismiss Plaintiff’s claims because they necessarily imply the invalidity
of Plaintiff’s conviction or sentence. [Doc. No. 8]. Pertinent here, Defendant argued that Plaintiff’s
allegations, if proven, would necessarily imply that Defendant deprived Plaintiff of his right to
effective assistance of counsel. Id. Citing U.S. v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648, 649 (1984), Defendant
argued that Plaintiff’s allegations amount to a constructive denial of counsel claim, where a court
would presume prejudice without inquiring into Plaintiff’s counsel’s actual performance. [Doc. No.
17, p. 7].
The Magistrate Judge rejected Defendant’s argument. [Doc. No. 18, pp. 8-9]. Citing U.S.
v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648, 649 (1984), Gochicoa v. Johnson, 238 F.3d 278, 285 (5th Cir. 2000), and
Burdine v. Johnson, 262 F.3d 336, 338 (5th Cir. 2001), the Magistrate Judge stated, “As long as
counsel is physically present in the courtroom, a Sixth Amendment right to counsel claim requires
a showing of actual prejudice to the criminal defendant’s case.” Id. at 8. The Magistrate Judge then
concluded that a court would not presume prejudice because Plaintiff does not allege that his counsel
was physically absent from the courtroom for any relevant hearing. Id.
Cronic, Gochicoa, and Burdine, however, do not stand for the cited proposition. Whether
a court will presume prejudice does not always depend on counsel’s physical presence in, or absence
from, the courtroom. In Burdine, the Fifth Circuit stated, “Cronic-type prejudice results in
circumstances in which, although counsel is present, counsel’s ineffectiveness is so egregious that
the defendant is in effect denied any meaningful assistance of counsel at all.” Burdine, 262 F.3d at
385 (emphasis added). Likewise, in Gochicoa, the Fifth Circuit did not limit presumed prejudice
to cases in which counsel was physically absent: “We have found constructive denial in cases
involving the absence of counsel from the courtroom, conflicts of interest between defense counsel
and the defendant, and official interference with the defense . . . .” Gochicoa, 238 F.3d at 284.
Cronic, in particular, “identified three situations implicating the right to counsel that involved
circumstances ‘so likely to prejudice the accused that the cost of litigating their effect in a particular
case is unjustified.’” Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 695-96 (2002) (quoting Cronic, 466 U.S. at 65859). First, prejudice is presumed “where the accused is denied the presence of counsel at ‘a critical
stage,’ . . . .” Id. (internal citations omitted). Second, the Court “posited that a similar presumption
was warranted if ‘counsel entirely fails to subject the prosecution’s case to meaningful adversarial
testing.’” Id. This presumption could apply even if counsel was physically present in the courtroom.
See Goodwin v. Johnson, 132 F.3d 162, n.10 (5th Cir. 1997). Third, the Supreme Court stated “that
in cases like Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45, 53 (1932), where counsel is called upon to render
assistance under circumstances where competent counsel very likely could not, the defendant need
not show that the proceedings were affected.” Bell, 535 U.S. at 696 (citing Cronic, 466 U.S. at 65962).1 This scenario, like the former, does not necessarily turn on counsel’s physical presence in, or
absence from, the courtroom.
Regardless, none of the Cronic scenarios apply here. Plaintiff does not allege that counsel
was absent at a critical stage,2 that counsel entirely failed to subject the prosecution’s case to
meaningful adversarial testing, or that his counsel was called to render assistance under
circumstances3 where competent counsel very likely could not. Thus, a presumption of prejudice
is not warranted.
In Powell, the trial court appointed “all the members of the bar” to represent the
defendants at arraignment. Powell, 287 U.S. at 49. In addition, only one attorney appeared, on
the day of trial, to represent the defendants. Id. at 53. Under the circumstances, the Court
concluded that “the likelihood that counsel could have performed as an effective adversary was
so remote as to have made the trial inherently unfair.” Cronic, 466 U.S. at 661 (citing Powell,
287 U.S. at 58).
In Wright v. Van Patten, 552 U.S. 120, 121 (2008), the defendant claimed that his “right
to counsel had been violated by his trial counsel’s physical absence from the plea hearing.” “His
counsel was not physically present at the plea hearing but was linked to the courtroom by
speakerphone.” Id. The Court denied the claim, holding that its precedents did not “clearly hold
that counsel’s participation by speaker phone should be treated as a ‘complete denial of counsel,’
on par with total absence.” Id. at 125. Here, Plaintiff alleges that he participated “via video
teleconferencing[,]” but his counsel was physically present in the courtroom. [Doc. No. 1, p. 67].
For instance, Plaintiff does not allege that his counsel operated under a conflict of
interest or that the trial court appointed his counsel the day he pled guilty.
Instead, to assert a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, Plaintiff would have to allege
that counsel’s actions prejudiced his defense (i.e. that but for counsel’s actions, the result of the
proceeding would have differed). See U.S. v. Brown, 167 F.3d 538 (5th Cir. 1998) (“Unless a
defendant can show that his case is squarely governed by Cronic, he must rebut a presumption that
the analysis for determining a Sixth Amendment violation is governed by Washington.”). Plaintiff,
however, does not allege prejudice.
Accordingly, as the Magistrate Judge concluded, accepting Plaintiff’s allegations as true and
rendering judgment in his favor would not necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction. For this
reason, as well as the reasons set forth in the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation,
Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss is DENIED.
Monroe, Louisiana, this 5th day of December, 2017.
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