Skaggs v. Sanchez et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER by District Judge Kenneth J. Gonzales denying as moot 6 Plaintiff's Motion for Appointment of Counsel; and dismissing 1 Civil Rights Complaint. (tah)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW MEXICO
JOSEPH B. SKAGGS,
No. CV 17-00025 KG/KRS
JUDGE MARK SANCHEZ, DISTRICT
ATTORNEY ERIC SCRAMLIN, DEFENDANTS
ATTORNEY BRYON COLLOPY, DET. DAVID
MIRANDA, DET. JOE CLARK,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Civil Rights Complaint Pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983 filed by Plaintiff Joseph B. Skaggs on January 6, 2017 (Doc. 1). Also before the
Court is Plaintiff Skaggs’ letter motion for appointment of counsel (Doc. 6). The Court will
deny the letter motion as moot and dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint for failure to state a claim on
which relief can be granted.
Plaintiff Skaggs is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis. (Doc. 4). The Court has the
discretion to dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint sua sponte for failure to state a claim upon
which relief may be granted under either Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) or 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) the Court must accept all well-pled factual allegations, but not
conclusory, unsupported allegations, and may not consider matters outside the pleading.
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); Dunn v. White, 880 F.2d 1188, 1190 (10th
Cir. 1989). The court may dismiss a complaint under rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim if
“it is ‘patently obvious’ that the plaintiff could not prevail on the facts alleged.” Hall v. Bellmon,
935 F.2d 1106, 1109 (10th Cir. 1991) (quoting McKinney v. Oklahoma Dep’t of Human Services,
925 F.2d 363, 365 (10th Cir. 1991)). A plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. A claim should be dismissed
where it is legally or factually insufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. Twombly, 550
U.S. at 570.
Under § 1915(e)(2)(B) the Court may dismiss the complaint at any time if the Court
determines the action fails to state a claim for relief or is frivolous or malicious. 28 U.S.C. §
915(e)(2)(B)(2). The authority granted by § 1915 permits the court the unusual power to pierce
the veil of the complaint's factual allegations and dismiss those claims whose factual contentions
are clearly baseless. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989). See also Hall v. Bellmon,
935 F.2d at 1109. The authority to “pierce the veil of the complaint's factual allegations” means
that a court is not bound, as it usually is when making a determination based solely on the
pleadings, to accept without question the truth of the plaintiff's allegations. Denton v. Hernandez,
504 U.S. 25, 32-33 (1992). The Court is not required to accept the truth of the plaintiff's
allegations but, instead, may go beyond the pleadings and consider any other materials filed by
the parties, as well as court proceedings subject to judicial notice. Denton, 504 U.S. at 32-33.
In reviewing a pro se complaint, the Court liberally construes the factual allegations. See
Northington v. Jackson, 973 F.2d 1518, 1520-21 (10th Cir. 1992). However, a pro se plaintiff’s
pleadings are judged by the same legal standards that apply to all litigants and a pro se plaintiff
must abide by the applicable rules of court. Ogden v. San Juan County, 32 F.3d 452, 455 (10th
Cir. 1994). The Court is not obligated to craft legal theories for the plaintiff or to supply factual
allegations to support the plaintiff’s claims. Nor may the Court assume the role of advocate for
the pro se litigant. Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d at 1110.
In deciding whether to dismiss the complaint, in whole or in part, the Court is to consider
whether to allow plaintiff an opportunity to amend the complaint. Pro se plaintiffs should be
given a reasonable opportunity to remedy defects in their pleadings. Reynoldson v. Shillinger,
907 F.2d 124, 126 (10th Cir. 1990). The opportunity to amend should be granted unless
amendment would be futile. Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d at 1109. An amendment is futile if the
amended claims would also be subject to immediate dismissal under the rule 12(b)(6) or §
1915(e)(2)(B) standards. Bradley v. Val-Mejias, 379 F.3d 892, 901 (10th Cir. 2004).
Plaintiff Skaggs brings civil rights claims against several judicial and law enforcement
Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arising out of his criminal conviction in New Mexico state
court. (Doc. 1 at 1-4). Plaintiff was convicted of Trafficking a Controlled Substance and Felon
in Possession of a Firearm in State of New Mexico, County of Lea, Fifth Judicial District cause
no. D-506-CR-2013-75. (Doc. 1 at 25-26). Plaintiff requests that his criminal charges in state
court be overturned, that all wrongdoers be held accountable and charged to the fullest extent of
the law, and that he be awarded lost wages and damages for the period of his incarceration.
(Doc. 1 at 5). Plaintiff’s claims against all Defendants fail to state a claim upon which relief can
First, Plaintiff Skaggs names Judge Mark Sanchez as a Defendant. (Doc. 1 at 1).
Plaintiff’s civil rights claims against a judicial officer acting as a judge are clearly barred by
absolute judicial immunity. See Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 355-56 (1978); Christensen v.
Ward, 916 F.2d 1462, 1473-76 (10th Cir. 1990); Hunnicutt v. Sewell, 147 N.M. 272, 277-78, 219
P.3d 529, 534-45 (Ct. App. 2009). It is well settled that the doctrine of judicial immunity is
applicable in actions, such as the case at bar, with 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims as well as state law
claims. Van Sickle v. Holloway, 791 F.2d 1431, 1434–35 (10th Cir.1986); Collins on Behalf of
Collins v. Tabet, 111 N.M. 391, 396, 806 P.2d 40, 45 (1991). Absolute immunity bars all suits
for money damages for acts made in the exercise of judicial discretion. Guttman v. Khalsa, 446
F.3d 1027, 1033 (10th Cir.2006). The United States Supreme Court has recognized absolute
immunity for officials whose special functions or constitutional status requires complete
protection from suit. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 807 (1982). The purpose of absolute
judicial immunity is:
“to benefit the public, ‘whose interest is that the judges should be at liberty to
exercise their functions with independence and without fear of consequences.’ The
Supreme Court has recognized that ‘the loser in one forum will frequently seek another,
charging the participants in the first with unconstitutional animus.’ Therefore, absolute
immunity is necessary so that judges can perform their functions without harassment or
Van Sickle v. Holloway, 791 F.2d at 1434–35.
The only allegations against Judge Sanchez are that he “gave me a guilty plea without
due process.” (Doc. 1 at 2). Skaggs seeks to recover damages against Judge Sanchez for acts that
were unquestionably made in the exercise of judicial discretion. Any claims against Judge
Sanchez are barred by absolute judicial immunity. Guttman, 446 F.3d at 1033.
Plaintiff also names Eric Scramlin, in his capacity as District Attorney, as a Defendant.
(Doc. 1 at 1-2). Prosecutors are entitled to immunity in the performance of their prosecutorial
functions. Miller v. Spiers, 434 F.Supp.2d 1064 (2006); Johnson v. Lally, 118 N.M. 795, 796,
887 P.2d 1262, 1263 (Ct. App. 1994). The common law has long recognized prosecutors must be
given immunity from the chilling effects of civil liability. Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478, 485, 111
S.Ct. 1934, 114 L.Ed.2d 547 (1991); Griffith v. Slinkard, 146 Ind. 117, 44 N.E. 1001, 1002
(1896); Collins, 111 N.M. at 396, 806 P.2d at 45. Prosecutors are absolutely immune from
damages for their advocacy and activities “intimately associated with the judicial phase of the
criminal process.” Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430 (1976). Skaggs similarly makes no
factual allegations against Defendant Scramlin other than that he “gave me a guilty plea without
due-process and other violations.” (Doc. 1 at 2). Therefore, Skaggs makes no allegations of
conduct that is outside the performance of prosecutorial functions and the claims against
Defendant Scramlin will also be dismissed.
Plaintiff Skaggs further seeks to proceed against Public Defender Bryon Collopy. (Doc.
1 at 2). Section 1983 states:
“Every person who, under color of any statue, ordinance, regulation,
custom, or usage, of any State, Territory or the District of Columbia,
subjects or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States
or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of
any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and
laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law . . .”
42 U.S.C. § 1983 (emphasis added). The U.S. Supreme Court has held that public
defenders cannot be sued under § 1983 because they do not act under color of state law. See,
Polk County. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 315, 102 S.Ct. 445, 70 L.Ed.2d 509 (1981). A public
defender does not act under color of state law when performing a lawyer’s traditional functions
as counsel to a defendant in a criminal proceeding. Polk, 454 U.S. at 325. Plaintiff’s allegations
against Defendant Collopy relate to his representation of Defendant in the criminal proceedings
and the claims against Defendant Collopy fail to state any claim for relief under § 1983. See
Doc. 1 at 2; Polk, 454 U.S. at 325.
Last, in addition to Defendants Sanchez, Scramlin, and Collopy, Skaggs names Det.
David Miranda and Det. Joe Clark as Defendants. The claims against Detectives Miranda and
Clark arise out of their testimony at Plaintiff’s state criminal trial. (Doc. 1 at 4). Even if Plaintiff
were not precluded from proceeding against Defendants Sanchez, Scramlin, and Collopy, all of
his claims against those Defendants, as well as Defendants Miranda and Clark, are barred by the
In Heck v. Humphry, 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994), the Supreme Court addressed the
question of when a prisoner may bring a § 1983 claim relating to his conviction or sentence. The
Court held that when a state prisoner seeks damages in a § 1983 suit, the district 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. Heck, 512 U.S. at 487.
Similarly, although in some circumstances a prospective injunction may be available under §
1983, to the extent a request for declaratory or injunctive relief would necessarily invalidate the
prisoner’s conviction or sentence, declaratory and injunctive relief are also barred by the Heck
doctrine. Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 80-81 (2005). See also Edwards v. Balisok, 520
U.S. 641 (1997).
Plaintiff’s Request for Relief specifically requests that his State criminal conviction be
overturned. (Doc. 1 at 5). Plaintiff Skaggs has been convicted and sentenced in State of New
Mexico cause no. D-506-CR-2013-75. Because a favorable ruling on Plaintiff’s claims would
require treating his criminal prosecution in Fifth Judicial District cause no. D-506-CR-2013-75.
as invalid, all of the civil rights claims in his Complaint must be dismissed under the Heck
doctrine. See, Beck v. City of Muskogee Police Dept., 195 F.3d 553, 556–57 (10th Cir.1999).
The claims against Defendants for violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are barred by Heck and,
therefore, fail to state a claim on which relief can be granted.
The Court will dismiss all of Plaintiff’s claims in this case without leave to amend. The
Court determines that any amendment of Plaintiff’s Complaint would still be barred under the
Heck doctrine and would be subject to immediate dismissal. Therefore, granting of leave to
amend the Complaint would be futile. Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d at 1109; Bradley v. Val-Mejias,
379 F.3d at 901.
IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiff Joseph B. Skaggs’ letter motion for appointment of
counsel (Doc. 6) is DENIED as moot in light of the dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims, and the Civil
Rights Complaint Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 filed by Plaintiff Joseph B. Skaggs on January 6,
2017 (Doc. 1) is DISMISSED for failure to state a claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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