Arthur v. State of New Mexico et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER dismissing 1 Complaint by Chief Judge M. Christina Armijo. (vv)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW MEXICO
BERDINO JOE ARTHUR,
No. CV 16-00843 MCA/LF
STATE OF NEW MEXICO, COUNTY
OF SAN JUAN, IN THE 11TH JUDICIAL
DISTRICT, NEW MEXICO DEPARTMENT
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF DISMISSAL
THIS MATTER is before the Court sua sponte under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) on the Prisoner’s Civil Rights Complaint (“Complaint”) filed by Plaintiff
Berdino Joe Arthur on July 22, 2016 (Doc. 1). The Court will dismiss Arthur’s Complaint for
failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted.
I. Standards for Failure to State a Claim
Plaintiff Arthur is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis. 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. Id.
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. §
1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). 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 1106, 1109 (10th Cir.1991). 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
In reviewing a pro se complaint, the Court liberally construes the factual allegations. See
Northington v. Jackson, 973 F.2d at1520-21. 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).
II. Arthur’s Complaint Fails to State a Claim
Arthur names the “State of New Mexico, County of San Juan, in the 11th Judicial
District” as a defendant. Although it is not entirely clear, Arthur appears to be trying to assert
claims against the New Mexico Eleventh Judicial District Court. Arthur also alleges claims
against the “New Mexico Department of Correction.” Arthur’s allegations against the Eleventh
Judicial District Court and the New Mexico Department of Corrections fail to state a claim for
First, the Eleventh Judicial District Court and the New Mexico Department of
Corrections are agencies of the State of New Mexico. The State is not a “person” within the
meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and, therefore, there is no remedy against the State under § 1983.
Therefore, the claims against the Eleventh Judicial District and the New Mexico Department of
Corrections fail to state any claim for relief. Will v. Michigan Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58,
Second, to state a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must assert acts by
government officials acting under color of law that result in a deprivation of rights secured by the
United States Constitution. 42 U.S.C. § 1983; West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). There must
be a connection between official conduct and violation of a constitutional right. Conduct that is
not connected to a constitutional violation is not actionable under Section 1983. See Trask v.
Franco, 446 F.3d 1036, 1046 (10th Cir. 1998). Plaintiff may not proceed solely on a theory of
vicarious liability. A plaintiff must plead that each government official, through the official’s
own individual actions, has violated the Constitution. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676, 129
S.Ct. 1937, 1948 (2009).
Plaintiff must allege some personal involvement by an identified official in the alleged
constitutional violation to succeed under § 1983. Fogarty v. Gallegos, 523 F.3d 1147, 1162 (10th
Cir. 2008). In a Section 1983 action, it is particularly important that a plaintiff’s complaint
“make clear exactly who is alleged to have done what to whom, to provide each individual with
fair notice as to the basis of the claim against him or her.” Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242,
1249-50 (10th Cir. 2008) (emphasis in the original). Arthur’s Complaint refers to “defendant” and
“they” but does not identify any individual or specify any individual conduct that violated his
constitutional rights. (Doc. 1 at 1-3, 9-10). Arthur’s Complaint fails to state a plausible § 1983
claim for relief against either the Eleventh Judicial District Court or the New Mexico Department
of Corrections. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.
Third, in a supplemental filing, Arthur seeks to allege claims against the District Attorney
and District Judge who prosecuted and sentenced him. Civil rights claims against officers acting
as judges or prosecutors 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.
Like judges, 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).
Arthur seeks to recover damages against the unnamed District Judge and District
Attorney for acts that were unquestionably made in the exercise of judicial and prosecutorial
Any claims against the District Judge and the District Attorney are barred by
immunity and, even if Arthur had actually named them as defendants, his claims would be
Last, even if Arthur did identify an individual and specify individual conduct against
defendants that are not immune, his Complaint still fails to state a claim under the Heck doctrine.
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).
Arthur’s request for relief specifically asks the Court to dismiss all state criminal charges,
release him, and award him damages for wrongful sentencing. (Doc. 1 at 5). Arthur’s requests
for relief clearly necessitate the invalidation of his sentence. Because a favorable ruling on
Arthur’s claims would require treating his sentence in Eleventh Judicial District cause no. D1116-CR-200800611 as invalid, the civil rights claims in the Complaint must be dismissed under
the Heck doctrine. See, Beck v. City of Muskogee Police Dept., 195 F.3d 553, 556–57 (10th
The Court will dismiss Arthur’s Complaint without leave to amend because the Court
determines that amendment of the Complaint would be futile. Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d at 1109.
In light of the relief he seeks, any amendment Arthur might make would still necessarily imply
the invalidity of his state-court conviction and sentence and would still be barred under Heck.
Amendment would be futile because 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
IT IS ORDERED that the Prisoner’s Civil Rights Complaint (“Complaint”) filed by
Plaintiff Berdino Joe Arthur on July 22, 2016 (Doc. 1) is DISMISSED for failure to state a claim
on which relief can be granted and judgment will be entered.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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