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Toney v. Ruiz


June 9, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Barry Ted Moskowitz United States District Judge


I. Procedural History

On February 19, 2010, Stephen Toney ("Plaintiff"), a state prisoner currently incarcerated at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, California, and proceeding pro se, submitted a civil rights Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1983. In addition, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis ("IFP") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). On April 30, 2010, the Court granted Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed IFP but sua sponte dismissed his Complaint for failing to state a claim and for seeking money damages against immune Defendants pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) & 1915A(b). See Apr. 30, 2010 Order at 5-6.

The Court granted Plaintiff leave to file an Amended Complaint in order to correct the deficiencies of pleading identified by the Court. Id. at 6. On May 13, 2010, Plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint ("FAC"). In this pleading, Plaintiff names only five Defendants who are the attorneys who represented him during his criminal trial and subsequent appeal.

II. Sua Sponte Screening Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) & 1915A(b)

Notwithstanding payment of any filing fee or portion thereof, the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") requires courts to review complaints filed by prisoners against officers or employees of governmental entities and dismiss those or any portion of those found frivolous, malicious, failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeking monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A; Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (§ 1915(e)(2)); Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 446 (9th Cir. 2000) (§ 1915A).

As currently pleaded, it is clear that Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint fails to state a cognizable claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 imposes two essential proof requirements upon a claimant: (1) that a person acting under color of state law committed the conduct at issue, and (2) that the conduct deprived the claimant of some right, privilege, or immunity protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535 (1981), overruled on other grounds by Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 328 (1986); Haygood v. Younger, 769 F.2d 1350, 1354 (9th Cir. 1985) (en banc).

The only named Defendants are those attorneys who represented Plaintiff during his criminal trial and subsequent appeal of his criminal conviction. A person "acts under color of state law [for purposes of § 1983] only when exercising power 'possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law.'" Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 317-18 (1981) (quoting United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 326 (1941)). Attorneys appointed to represent a criminal defendant during trial, do not generally act under color of state law because representing a client "is essentially a private function... for which state office and authority are not needed." Polk County, 454 U.S. at 319; United States v. De Gross, 960 F.2d 1433, 1442 n.12 (9th Cir. 1992). Thus, when publicly appointed counsel are performing as advocates, i.e., meeting with clients, investigating possible defenses, presenting evidence at trial and arguing to the jury, they do not act under color of state law for section 1983 purposes. See Georgia v. McCollum, 505 U.S. 42, 53 (1992); Polk County, 454 U.S. at 320-25; Miranda v. Clark County, 319 F.3d 465, 468 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc) (finding that public defender was not a state actor subject to suit under § 1983 because, so long as he performs a traditional role of an attorney for a client, "his function," no matter how ineffective, is "to represent his client, not the interests of the state or county.").

Accordingly, Plaintiff's claims against all the named Defendants must be dismissed for failing to state a claim upon which section 1983 relief may be granted. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) & 1915A(b); Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1126-27; Resnick, 213 F.3d at 446.

Moreover, to the extent Plaintiff seeks damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on the alleged ineffectiveness assistance of his trial and appellate counsel, his claim amounts to an attack on the validity of his underlying criminal proceedings, and as such, is not cognizable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 unless and until he can show that conviction has already been invalidated. Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994); Ramirez v. Galaza, 334 F.3d 850, 855-56 (9th Cir. 2003) ("Absent such a showing, '[e]ven a prisoner who has fully exhausted available state remedies has no cause of action under § 1983....'") (quoting Heck, 512 U.S. at 489), cert. denied, 124 S.Ct. 2388 (2004).

In Heck, the Supreme Court held that: when a state prisoner seeks damages in a section 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 unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated. But if the district court determines that the plaintiff's action, even if successful, will not demonstrate the invalidity of any outstanding criminal judgment against the plaintiff, the action should be allowed to proceed.

Heck, 512 U.S. at 487 (emphasis added). An action that is barred by Heck should be dismissed for failure to state a claim without prejudice to Plaintiff's right to file a new action if he succeeds in invalidating his conviction. Edwards, 520 U.S. at 649.

Here, Plaintiff's ineffective assistance of counsel claims against Defendants "necessarily imply the invalidity" of his criminal proceedings and continuing incarceration. Heck, 512 U.S. at 487. Were Plaintiff to succeed in showing that any of the named Defendants rendered ineffective assistance of counsel, an award of damages would "necessarily imply the invalidity" of his conviction. Id.; see also Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688 (1984) (to succeed on ineffective assistance claim petitioner must show that counsel's performance fell below objective standard of reasonableness and that but for counsel's errors the result of the trial would have been different). Thus, because Plaintiff seeks damages for an allegedly unconstitutional criminal proceedings in a criminal case, and because he has not alleged that his conviction has already been invalidated, a section 1983 claim for damages has not yet accrued. See Heck, 512 U.S. at 489-90.

III. Conclusion and Order

Good cause appearing, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED:

Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint is DISMISSED without prejudice for failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(b) & 1915A(b). Moreover, because the Court finds amendment of Plaintiff's claims would be futile at this time, leave to amend is DENIED. See Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 339 (9th Cir. 1996) (denial of a leave to amend is not an abuse of discretion where further amendment would be futile).

The Clerk shall enter a final judgment dismissing this case without prejudice.


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