Thoele v. Hamlin et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER entered. The complaint filed by Troy Thoele is DISMISSED. The dismissal constitutes a "strike." Thoele's motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. Email sent to Manager of Three Strikes List. (Signed by Judge Alfred H Bennett) Parties notified. (wbostic, 4)
United States District Court
Southern District of Texas
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
TROY DANIEL THOELE,
MARC HAMLIN, et al.,
October 18, 2017
David J. Bradley, Clerk
CIVIL ACTION NO.4: 17-cv-2337
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
The plaintiff, Troy Daniel Thoele, is an inmate in custody of the Texas
Department of Criminal Justice-Correctional Institutions Division (TDCJ). Thoele has
filed a pro se civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and he proceeds in forma
pauperis. Because this case is governed by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the Court
is required to scrutinize the claims and dismiss the complaint, in whole or in part, if it
determines that the complaint "is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted" or "seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from
such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). After reviewing all of the pleadings, the Court
concludes that this case must be dismissed for the reasons explained below.
Thoele is presently confined by TDCJ at the Huntsville Unit as the result of
several state-court convictions entered against him in Brazos County, Texas.
defendants in this case are Brazos County District Clerk Marc Hamlin and the Honorable
Travis Bryan, III, who presided over the criminal cases against Thoele in the 272nd
District Court for Brazos County. The complaint concerns Thoele's effort to challenge
his underlying convictions on state collateral review, which is summarized briefly below.
After entering open guilty pleas in five separate cause numbers, Thoele was
convicted of 50 counts of unlawful possession of child pornography.' On April 12, 2012,
Judge Bryan sentenced Thoele to ten years' imprisonment on 48 of the counts with the
sentences to run concurrently, five years' imprisonment on one count, stacked, and ten
years' imprisonment on the remaining count, also to run consecutively. Thoele v. State,
2012 WL 5696428, at *1 (Tex. App.-Waco 2012, pet. refd) (mem. op.). On November
15, 2012, the Tenth Court of Appeals of Texas affirmed the judgments in each cause
number; and subsequently, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused discretionary
To date, Thoele has filed applications for a state writ of habeas corpus under
Article 11.07 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure on three separate occasions. 2
Thoele's first state writ applications, in which he collaterally challenged his convictions,
were denied by the Court of Criminal Appeals. Ex parte Thoele, Nos. WR-80,833-05 to
WR-80,833-09. Thoele's second state writ application, in which he asserted a challenge
to his eligibility for mandatory supervision, was dismissed for non-compliance with
Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 73.1. Ex parte Thoele, No. WR-80,833-12.
Trial Court Numbers 11-03883-CRF-272, 11-03884-CRF-272, 11-03885-CRF-272, 11-03886CRF-272, and 11-03887-CRF-272.
The Court takes judicial notice of information pertaining to the status of Thoele's state habeas
proceedings from publicly available state court records. See Website for the Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals, available at http://www.txcourts.gov/cca: see also Website for Brazos County
Judicial Records Search, available at https://justiceweb.brazoscountytx.gov/BrazosPortal/.
In July 2016, Thoele tiled his third set of state writ applications, a gam ratsmg
Issues related to mandatory supervisiOn.
In August 2016, the State tiled a motion
requesting the designation of issues, along with a proposed order. Thoele's state habeas
proceedings remain pending in the trial court.
In March 2017, Thoele moved the Court of Criminal Appeals for leave to file a
writ of mandamus, alleging that more than 35 days had elapsed since he tiled his state
writ application and that the application had not yet been forwarded to the Court of
Criminal Appeals as required by Article 11.07 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.
In re Thoele, No. WR-80,833-13. On March 29. 2017, the Court of Criminal Appeals
ordered the District Clerk of Brazos County to tile a response by either submitting the
record on Thoele's state writ application, submitting a copy of a timely tiled order which
designates issues to be investigated, or stating that Thoele has not tiled an application for
a writ of habeas corpus in Brazos County. !d., Order dated March 29. 2017. On April
25, 2017, Hamlin forwarded a copy of the "'Respondent's Motion Requesting the
Designation of Issues with Proposed Order'' tiled in response to Thoele's state writ
application; the proposed order designating issues was unsigned.
On April 28, 2017,
Hamlin forwarded a copy of the same motion with the proposed order signed by Judge
Thoele's mandamus proceeding remains pending in the Court of Criminal
On July 26, 2017, Thoele executed his complaint under 42 U.S.C.
alleges that Hamlin refuses to transmit Thoele's state application for a writ of habeas
corpus to the Court of Criminal Appeals, in violation of state law. (Docket Entry 1, at 3).
Thoele further asserts Judge Bryan issued an illegal order designating issues which
interfered with the state habeas process; Thoele contends this order is illegal because
Judge Bryan signed it outside of the twenty-day time period allotted for the convicting
court to enter such an order. !d. at 3, 8-9. Thoele seeks a trial by jury. a declaratory
judgment that his due process rights were violated, a permanent injunction directing the
defendants to follow state law, and an award of damages and costs of an unspecified
amount. !d. at 4.
Defendant Judge Bryan is entitled to judicial immunity.
The Supreme Court has established that "'generally, a judge is immune from a suit
for money damages."
Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9. 9 ( 1991) (per curiam) (citations
Judicial immunity serves to safeguard ···a general principle of the highest
importance to the proper administration of justice that a judicial officer, in exercising the
authority vested in him, shall be free to act upon his own convictions, without
apprehension of personal consequences to himself.'"
/d. at I 0 (quoting Bradley v.
Fisher, 80 U.S. 335, 347 (1871)); see also Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-57
(1978) ("A judge will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in
error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his authority; rather. he will be subject to
liability only when he has acted in the "clear absence of all jurisdiction.''') (citation
Judicial immunity is overcome only when the acts were ·'not taken in the
judge's judicial capacity," or when they were ··taken in the complete absence of all
jurisdiction." Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11-12 (citations omitted).
The Fifth Circuit has further explained that ·"f_j]udicial officers are entitled to
absolute immunity from claims for damages arising out or acts performed in the exercise
of their judicial functions."
Boyd v. Biggers, 31 F.3d 279. 284 (5th Cir. 1995) (per
curiam) (citing Graves v. Hampton, 1 F.3d 315. 317 (5th Cir. 1993)); see also Bauer v.
Texas, 341 F.3d 352, 357 (5th Cir. 2003) ("Judges enjoy absolute immunity from liability
for judicial or adjudicatory acts.") (citing Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 108 S.Ct.
538, 545 (1988)). "A judge's acts are judicial in nature if they are ·normally performed
by a judge' and the parties affected "dealt with the judge in his judicial capacity."' Boyd,
31 F.3d at 285 (quoting Mireles. 502 U.S. at 12). In determining whether an act was
judicial in nature, courts should consider four factors:
(1) whether the precise act complained of is a normal judicial function; (2)
whether the acts occurred in the courtroom or appropriate adjunct spaces
such as the judge's chambers; (3) whether the controversy centered around
a case pending before the court; and ( 4) whether the acts arose directly out
of a visit to the judge in his official capacity.
Baflardv. Wall, 413 F.3d 510,515 (5th Cir. 2005) (quoting Malina v. Gonzales, 994 F.2d
1121, 1124 (5th Cir. 1993)). The foregoing factors are construed broadly in favor of
To the extent Thoele's claims against Judge Bryan have any content, they are
focused on the manner in which he has presided over Thoele· s state habeas proceedings.
Such conduct manifestly falls into the category protected from suit and Thoele's claims
against him therefore fail to overcome judicial immunity.
Further, although judicial
immunity does not bar claims for injunctive or declaratory relief in civil rights actions,
this Court has no authority to direct state courts or their judicial ofticers in the
performance of their duties. See LaBranche v. Becnel. )59 F. App 'x. 290. 290 (5th Cir.
2014) (citing Holloway v. Walker, 765 F.2d 517, 525 (5th Cir. 1985)); Moye v. Clerk,
DeKalb Cnty. Superior Court, 4 74 F.2d 1275. 1276 (5th Cir. 1973 )).
Thoele's claims against Judge Bryan will be dismissed.
Defendant Hamlin is entitled to quasi-judicial immunity.
Nor can Thoele demonstrate liability with respect to Hamlin. "Court clerks have
absolute quasi-judicial immunity from damages for civil rights violations when they
perform tasks that are an integral part of the judicial process." Mylett v. Mullican, 992
F.2d 1347, 1352 n.36 (5th Cir. 1993) (quoting Mullis v. United States Bankruptcy Court,
828 F.2d 1385, 1390 (9th Cir. 1987), cert. denied, 486 U.S. 1040 (1988)). When a clerk
of court files or refuses to tile a document with the court, he is entitled to immunity,
provided that the acts complained of are within his professional functions. See Mullis,
828 F.2d at 1390. This protection is not limited to immunity from damages but extends
to actions for declaratory, injunctive, and other equitable relief. ld. at 1394. Thoele's
allegations against Hamlin fail to overcome his entitlement to immunity in this instance
and, therefore, the claims against him will be dismissed.
Thoele has filed two motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary
injunction. (Docket Entry Nos. 6, 7). In both of those motions, Thoele asks this Court to
restrain Judge Bryan from any further involvement in his state habeas proceedings. !d.
To obtain a preliminary injunction, the applicant must show (I) a substantial
likelihood that he will prevail on the merits. (2) a substantial threat that he will suffer
irreparable injury if the injunction is not granted, (3) that his threatened injury outweighs
the threatened harm to the party whom he seeks to enjoin. and ( 4) that granting the
preliminary injunction will not disserve the public interest.
Planned Parenthood of
Houston & Southeast Texas v. Sanchez. 403 F.3d 324. 329 (5th Cir. 2005). For a
permanent injunction to issue, the plaintiff must prevail on the merits or his claim and
establish that equitable relief is appropriate in all other respects. Dresser-Rand Co. v.
Virtual Automation Inc., 361 F.3d 831, 847-48 (5th Cir. 2004).
Thoele does not
demonstrate he is entitled to injunctive relief. Thoek·s motions are denied.
Based on the foregoing, the Court ORDERS as follows:
1. The complaint filed by Troy Thoele, (Docket Entry No. 1). is DISMISSED
with prejudice as frivolous and for seeking monetary damages from a
defendant who is immune from such relief under 28 U.S.C. ~ 1915A(b)(l)-(2).
2. The dismissal constitutes a "'strike'" for purposes of 28 U .S.C.
3. Thoele's motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction,
(Docket Entry Nos. 6, 7). are DENIED.
The Clerk is directed to provide a copy of this Memorandum Opinion and
Order to the plaintiff. The Clerk will also provide a copy by regular mail, facsimile
transmission, or e-mail to: (1) the TDC.J - Office of the General Counsel, P.O. Box
13084, Austin, Texas, 78711, Fax Number (512) 936-2159; and (2) the Manager of
SIGNED at Houston, Texas. on
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