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Cobb v. Reeves

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Statesboro Division

January 13, 2015

ROBERT S. REEVES and JOHN A. FITZNER, Ill. Defendants.


JAMES E. GRAHAM, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, an inmate currently incarcerated at Georgia State Prison in Reidsville, Georgia, filed an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. A prisoner proceeding in a civil action against officers or employees of government entities must comply with the mandates of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A. In determining compliance, the court shall be guided by the longstanding principle that pro se pleadings are entitled to liberal construction. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Walker v. Dugger, 860 F.2d 1010, 1011 (11th Cir. 1988).

28 U.S.C. § 1915A requires a district court to screen the complaint for cognizable claims before or as soon as possible after docketing. The court must dismiss the complaint or any portion of the complaint that is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary damages from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) and (2).

In Mitchell v. Farcass, 112 F.3d 1483, 1490 (11th Cir. 1997), the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit interpreted the language contained in § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), which is nearly identical to that contained in the screening provisions at § 1915A(b). As the language of § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) closely tracks the language of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court held that the same standards for determining whether to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) should be applied to prisoner complaints filed pursuant to § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). Mitchell, 112 F.3d at 1490. Although the court in Mitchell interpreted § 1915(e), its interpretation guides this Court in applying the identical language of § 1915A.

Plaintiff contends that the plea he entered in a state court was not entered into knowingly and voluntarily. Plaintiff also contends that he was not permitted to withdraw his plea, even though the court rejected the plea. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Reeves, the trial court judge, denied his motion to correct sentence, even though Plaintiff contends he is serving a sentence longer than to what he agreed. Plaintiff also alleges that he is being imprisoned falsely because he was not allowed to withdraw his guilty plea. Plaintiff also names John Fitzner, Ill. the Chief Assistant District Attorney, as a Defendant.

Congress did not abrogate the doctrine of judicial immunity when it enacted section 1983. Judicial immunity is an absolute immunity, and it applies even when a judge acts maliciously. Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356 (1978) (holding judicial immunity doctrine applies in § 1983 actions); Harris v. Deveaux, 780 F.2d 911, 914 (11th Cir. 1986). Absolute immunity not only protects against liability but also against a case going to trial at all. Harris, 780 F.2d at 914 (citing Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985)). To determine whether a judge is entitled to absolute immunity from money damages under section 1983, a two-part test was established in Stump: 1) whether the judge dealt with the plaintiff in a judicial capacity; and 2) whether the judge acted in the "clear absence of all jurisdiction." Id. (quoting Stump, 435 U.S. at 357). The second prong of this test is "only satisfied if a judge completely lacks subject matter jurisdiction." Id. at 916. Plaintiff has failed to show that Defendant Reeves acted in the clear absence of jurisdiction. Thus, Plaintiffs claims against Defendant Reeves should be DISMISSED under the doctrine of judicial immunity.

Additionally, prosecutors are immune from liability under the doctrine of prosecutorial immunity for actions taken within the scope of their office. Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430 (1976). Prosecutorial immunity in § 1983 suits is derived from judicial immunity. Id. at 427. Policies supporting prosecutorial immunity include concerns "that harassment by unfounded litigation would cause a deflection of the prosecutor's energies from his public duties and the possibility that he would shade his decisions instead of exercising the independence of judgment required by his public trust." Id. Plaintiff has not alleged that Defendant Fitzner with the District Attorney's Office acted outside the scope of his position as a prosecutor. Plaintiffs claim against Defendant Fitzner should be DISMISSED under the doctrine of prosecutorial immunity.

In addition, it appears that the relief Plaintiff seeks is under the purview of 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as he seems to challenge his state court conviction. When a state prisoner challenges the "fact or duration of his physical imprisonment, and the relief he seeks is a determination that he is entitled to immediate release or a speedier release from that imprisonment, his sole federal remedy is a writ of habeas corpus." Harden v. Pataki, 320 F.3d 1289, 1294 n.6 (11th Cir. 2003) (quoting Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973)). However, Plaintiff must exhaust his available state remedies before a federal court can address these claims. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(c).

Moreover, Plaintiff seeks $300, 000.00 in monetary damages. The Supreme Court has held:

that, in order to recover damages for 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. § 2254. A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983.

Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994). According to the Heck Court, "when a state prisoner seeks damages in a [civil rights] suit, the district court must consider whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence." Id. at 487. If this is the case, the plaintiff's complaint "must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated." Id. A district court must determine whether "plaintiffs action, even if successful, will not demonstrate the invalidity of any outstanding criminal judgment against the plaintiff, the action should be allowed to proceed, in the absence of some other bar to the suit." Id. (emphasis in original). To have success on his claims, Plaintiffs conviction would have to be overturned, which has not occurred.


Based on the foregoing, it is my RECOMMENDATION that Plaintiffs Complaint be DISMISSED based on his failure to state a claim ...

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