Lawrence v. State of Montana
ORDER ADOPTING FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 6 in full. Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis 1 DENIED. Complaint 2 DISMISSED. All pending motions ( 8 , 9 ) DENIED as moot. Signed by Judge Dana L. Christensen on 11/18/2015. Mailed to Lawrence. (TAG, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MONTANA
JOSEPH EDWARD LAWRENCE,
STATE OF MONTANA,
NOV 18 2015
Clerk. u.s Oistrlct Court
District Of Montana
United States Magistrate Judge John T. Johnston entered his Findings and
Recommendations on June 16, 2015, recommending denying Petitioner Joseph E.
Lawrence's ("Lawrence") motion to proceed in forma pauperis and dismissing his
complaint, which was liberally construed as alleging a violation under 42 U.S.C. §
1983. Lawrence timely objected to the Findings and Recommendations, and is
therefore entitled to de nova review of the record. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(l). The
portions of the findings and recommendations not specifically objected to will be
reviewed for clear error. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Commodore Bus. Mach.,
Inc., 656 F.2d 1309, 1313 (9th Cir. 1981). Since the parties are familiar with the
facts of this case, they will only be repeated as necessary to explain the Court's
order. For the reasons explained below, the Court adopts Judge Johnston's
Findings and Recommendations in full.
Lawrence is a pro se prisoner challenging his state court conviction and
imprisonment. On May 7, 2015, Lawrence filed a complaint in this Court alleging
that his imprisonment by the State of Montana is illegal and seeks various forms of
relief, including immediate release from prison and monetary damages. In his
complaint, Lawrence alleges that his underlying state court conviction is void
because the judge who presided over his case also issued the information against
him. Judge Johnston reviewed Lawrence's complaint and determined that it
attempts to allege violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Judge Johnston found that
Lawrence's claims are frivolous because they were barred by the doctrine
established inHeckv. Humphrey, 517 U.S. 477 (1994).
In his objections, Lawrence fails to clearly specify which part of Judge
Johnston's Findings and Recommendations he objects to. However, upon careful
review of Lawrence's objections, he appears to argue that dismissal of the
complaint is inappropriate because he was not required to exhaust state
administrative remedies before filing an action under§ 1983.
Lawrence is correct that, in general, exhaustion of state administrative
remedies is not a prerequisite to bringing a claim under§ 1983. Heck, 512 U.S. at
480. However, Lawrence's claim is attempting to challenge his underlying
criminal conviction and seeks damages for his alleged illegal imprisonment. As
noted by Judge Johnston, Heck provides that:
[I]n order to recover damages for an allegedly unconstitutional
conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose
unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983
plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on
direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state
tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question
by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. §
Heck, 512 U.S. at 487. Additionally, this Court "must consider whether a
judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his
conviction or sentence; if it would, the complaint must be dismissed unless the
plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been
Here, Heck makes clear that though Lawrence does not need to exhaust state
administrative remedies before bringing his § 1983 claim, he must show that his
state conviction has been reversed on direct appeal, declared invalid, or called into
question. Further, any decision by this Court that rules in favor of Lawrence's
claims would imply that his underlying state conviction is invalid. Because his
appeal to the Montana Supreme Court is still pending, 1 it is apparent that
Lawrence's conviction and sentence have not been invalidated. Thus, Lawrence's
complaint is, at this point, frivolous and must be dismissed. Lawrence must first
take his arguments to the Montana Supreme Court before this Court can address
Additionally, Lawrence has filed a "Notice of Amendment to Complaint"
(Doc. 10). In this document, Lawrence moves the Court to allow the amendment
of his complaint to omit all references to § 1983 and asks the Court to only
consider the violation of due process claims. However, as noted by Judge
Johnston, amendment of Lawrence's complaint will not cure its defects. Even if
Lawrence was allowed to remove any references to§ 1983, the Court would then
construe Lawrence's complaint as a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. In order
to proceed in a habeas action, Lawrence is required to exhaust all remedies in state
court before the petition could be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b ). As noted above,
because Lawrence has not exhausted his remedies in state court, allowing
Lawrence to amend his complaint at this point would be futile.
A review of the Montana Supreme Court Docket shows that Lawrence's appeal is still
pending. On November 16, 2015, the Montana Supreme Court granted Lawrence an extension of
time to file his opening brief. He must now file his brief by December June 22, 2015. (Montana
Supreme Court Docket, DA 14-0720, Origination Court Case Number: DC 12-127)
There being no clear error in Judge Johnston's remaining Findings and
Recommendations, IT IS ORDERED that:
(1) Judge Johnston's Findings and Recommendations (Doc. 6) are
ADOPTED IN FULL.
(2) Lawrence's Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis (Doc. 1) is DENIED.
(3) Lawrence's Complaint (Doc. 2) is DISMISSED.
(4) All pending motions (Docs. 8, 9) are DENIED as moot.
(5) The Clerk of Court is directed to close this matter and enter judgment
pursuant to Rule 58 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Dated this lfZ_ day ofNovember,
Dana L. Christensen, Chief Judge
United States District Court
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?