UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
June 25, 2010
ALLEN LEE RODRIQUEZ, CDCR # V-35218 PLAINTIFF,
RONALD BOBO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. John A. Houston United States District Judge
ORDER: (1) GRANTING MOTION TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS, IMPOSING NO INITIAL PARTIAL FILING FEE AND GARNISHING $350.00 BALANCE FROM PRISONER TRUST ACCOUNT [Doc. No. 2]; AND (2) DISMISSING ACTION FOR SEEKING MONETARY DAMAGES AGAINST DEFENDANTS WHO ARE IMMUNE AND FOR FAILING TO STATE A CLAIM PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) & 1915A(b)
Plaintiff, a state inmate currently incarcerated at the California Rehabilitation Center located in Norco, California, and proceeding pro se, has filed a civil rights Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff has not prepaid the $350 filing fee mandated by 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a); instead, he has filed a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis ("IFP") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) [Doc. No. 2]. Plaintiff seeks "automatic immediate release," along with monetary damages for his allegedly unconstitutional arrest and criminal conviction in 2003.
I. MOTION TO PROCEED IFP
All parties instituting any civil action, suit or proceeding in a district court of the United States, except an application for writ of habeas corpus, must pay a filing fee of $350. See 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a). An action may proceed despite a party's failure to pay only if the party is granted leave to proceed IFP pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). See Andrews v. Cervantes, 493 F.3d 1047, 1051 (9th Cir. 2007); Rodriguez v. Cook, 169 F.3d 1176, 1177 (9th Cir. 1999). Prisoners granted leave to proceed IFP however, remain obligated to pay the entire fee in installments, regardless of whether the action is ultimately dismissed for any reason. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1) & (2).
The Court finds that Plaintiff has submitted a certified copy of his trust account statement pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2) and S.D. CAL. CIVLR 3.2. Plaintiff's trust account statement shows that he has insufficient funds from which to pay an initial partial filing fee.
Accordingly, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed IFP [Doc. No. 2] and assesses no initial partial filing fee per 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). However, the Court further orders the Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") to garnish the entire $350 balance of the filing fees owed in this case, collect and forward them to the Clerk of the Court pursuant to the installment payment provisions set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1).
II. SCREENING PURSUANT TO 28U.S.C.§§1915(e)(2)&1915A(b)
The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA")'s amendments to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 also obligate the Court to review complaints filed by all persons proceeding IFP and by those, like Plaintiff, who are "incarcerated or detained in any facility [and] accused of, sentenced for, or adjudicated delinquent for, violations of criminal law or the terms or conditions of parole, probation, pretrial release, or diversionary program," "as soon as practicable after docketing." See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A(b). Under these provisions, the Court must sua sponte dismiss any prisoner civil action and all other IFP complaints, or any portions thereof, which are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim, or which seek damages from defendants who are immune. 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 n.1 (9th Cir. 2000) (§ 1915A).
Before amendment by the PLRA, the former 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d) permitted sua sponte dismissal of only frivolous and malicious claims. Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1126, 1130. However, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and § 1915A now mandate that the court reviewing an IFP or prisoner's suit make and rule on its own motion to dismiss before directing that the Complaint be served by the U.S. Marshal pursuant to FED.R.CIV.P. 4(c)(2). Id. at 1127 ("[S]section 1915(e) not only permits, but requires a district court to dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint that fails to state a claim."); see also Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d 1193, 1194 (9th Cir. 1998) (discussing § 1915A).
"[W]hen determining whether a complaint states a claim, a court must accept as true all allegations of material fact and must construe those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Resnick, 213 F.3d at 447; Barren, 152 F.3d at 1194 (noting that § 1915(e)(2) "parallels the language of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)"). Here, however, even presuming Plaintiff's factual allegations true, the Court finds his Complaint both fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and seeks monetary relief from defendants who are immune. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B); 1915A(b); Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1126-27; Resnick, 213 F.3d at 446, n.1.
Where the running of the statute of limitations is apparent on the face of the complaint, dismissal for failure to state a claim is proper. See Cervantes v. City of San Diego, 5 F.3d 1273, 1276 (9th Cir. 1993). Because section 1983 contains no specific statute of limitation, federal courts apply the forum state's statute of limitations for personal injury actions. Jones v. Blanas, 393 F.3d 918, 927 (9th Cir. 2004); Maldonado v. Harris, 370 F.3d 945, 954 (9th Cir. 2004); Fink v. Shedler, 192 F.3d 911, 914 (9th Cir. 1999). Before 2003, California's statute of limitations was one year. Jones, 393 F.3d at 927. Effective January 1, 2003, the limitations period was extended to two years. Id. (citing CAL. CIV. PROC. CODE § 335.1). The two-years limitations period, however, does not apply retroactively. Canatella v. Van de Kamp, 486 F.3d 1128, 1132-22 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Maldonado, 370 F.3d at 955).
Unlike the length of the limitations period, however, "the accrual date of a § 1983 cause of action is a question of federal law that is not resolved by reference to state law." Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 388 (2007); Hardin v. Staub, 490 U.S. 536, 543-44 (1989) (federal law governs when a § 1983 cause of action accrues). "Under the traditional rule of accrual ... the tort cause of action accrues, and the statute of limitation begins to run, when the wrongful act or omission results in damages." Wallace, 549 U.S. at 391; see also Maldonado, 370 F.3d at 955 ("Under federal law, a claim accrues when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury which is the basis of the action." ).
Here, Plaintiff claims that he was falsely arrested and convicted of a crime in 2003. See Compl. at 1. Thus, Plaintiff would have reason to believe that his constitutional rights were violated seven years ago. Id.; see also Maldonado, 370 F.3d at 955. However, Plaintiff did not file his Complaint in this case until May 24, 2010, which exceeds California's statute of limitation. See CAL. CODE CIV. PROC. § 335.1; Jones, 393 F.3d at 927.
Plaintiff does not allege any facts to suggest how or why California's two-year statute of limitations might be tolled for a period of time which would make his claims timely. See, e.g., CAL. CODE CIV. P. § 352.1 (tolling statute of limitations "for a maximum of 2 years" during a prisoner's incarceration); Fink v. Shedler, 192 F.3d 911, 916 (9th Cir. 1999) (finding that CAL. CODE CIV. P. § 352.1 tolls a California prisoner's personal injury claims accruing before January 1, 1995 for two years, or until January 1, 1995, whichever occurs later, unless application of the statute would result in a "manifest injustice."). Assuming that Plaintiff has been incarcerated since 2003, pursuant to Fink, Plaintiff's claims against Defendants, accruing in 2003, would be tolled for two years. California's two-year statute of limitations would then begin to run --requiring Plaintiff to file this action against these Defendants no later than 2007.
Generally, federal courts also apply the forum state's law regarding equitable tolling. Fink, 192 F.3d at 914; Bacon v. City of Los Angeles, 843 F.2d 372, 374 (9th Cir. 1988). Under California law, however, a plaintiff must meet three conditions to equitably toll a statute of limitations: (1) he must have diligently pursued his claim; (2) his situation must be the product of forces beyond his control; and (3) the defendants must not be prejudiced by the application of equitable tolling. See Hull v. Central Pathology Serv. Med. Clinic, 28 Cal. App. 4th 1328, 1335 (Cal. Ct. App. 1994); Addison v. State of California, 21 Cal.3d 313, 316-17 (Cal. 1978); Fink, 192 F.3d at 916. Here, however, Plaintiff has failed to plead any facts which, if proved, would support the equitable tolling of his claims. See Cervantes v. City of San Diego, 5 F.3d 1273, 1277 (9th Cir. 1993). Thus, Plaintiff's entire action must be dismissed as barred by the statute of limitations.
Additionally, Plaintiff names Ronald Bobo, the attorney appointed to represent him during his criminal proceedings, Leslie Ann Rose, the attorney appointed to represent him during the appellate process and W. Mark Kirkness, Supervising Public Defender, as Defendants. However, 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 Defendants Bobo, Rose and Kirkness 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). Heck holds 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 section 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." Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-87. A claim challenging the legality of a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983. Id. at 487; Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641, 643 (1997).
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 Bobo, Rose and Kirkness "necessarily imply the invalidity" of his criminal proceedings and continuing incarceration. Heck, 512 U.S. at 487. Were Plaintiff to succeed in showing that Defendants Bobo, Rose and Kirkness 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); Lozada v. Deeds, 964 F.2d 956, 958-59 (9th Cir. 1992) (remedy for ineffective assistance of counsel is a conditional writ granting petitioner's release unless state retries him or allows him to pursue an appeal with the assistance of counsel within a reasonable time). 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.
Moreover, Plaintiff's names San Diego Superior Court Judge Eddie Sturgeon as a Defendant who appears to have presided over his criminal proceedings. To the extent Plaintiff seeks damages under § 1983 against Judge Sturgeon for allegedly violating his constitutional rights during his criminal proceedings, this Defendant is entitled to absolute judicial immunity. See Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 359 (1978) (noting the longstanding rule that "[a] judge is absolutely immune from liability for his judicial acts even if his exercise of authority is flawed by the commission of grave procedural errors."); Ashelman v. Pope, 793 F.2d 1072, 1075 (9th Cir. 1986) ("Judges and those performing judge-like functions are absolutely immune from damage liability for acts performed in their official capacities.").
Thus, Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Sturgeon are dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(iii) for seeking monetary relief against a Defendant who is immune from such relief without leave to amend.
Likewise, the Court must dismiss Plaintiff's claims for money damages against Defendant Drain and Weiner. Criminal prosecutors are absolutely immune from civil damages suits premised upon acts committed within the scope of their official duties which are "intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process." Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430 (1976); see also Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 272-73 (1993); Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478, 487-93 (1991). A prosecutor is immune even when the prosecutor's malicious or dishonest action deprived the defendant of his or her liberty. Ashelman, 793 F.2d at 1075. Thus, Plaintiff's claim against Defendants Drain and Weiner are dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(iii) for seeking monetary relief against defendants who are immune from such relief without leave to amend.
Moreover, to the extent that Plaintiff seeks monetary damages from the Sheriff Deputy Defendants who were witnesses at his trial for allegedly committing perjury, these Defendants are also absolutely immune. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(b)(iii); § 1915A(b)(2). "Witnesses, including police witnesses, are immune from liability for their testimony in earlier proceedings even if they committed perjury." Paine v. City of Lompoc, 965 F.3d 975, 981 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325, 345 (1983)). "Witness immunity also extends to conspiracies to commit perjury." Id. (citing Franklin v. Terr, 201 F.3d 1098, 1101-02 (9th Cir. 2000). See also Burns v. County of King, 883 F.2d 819, 821 (9th Cir. 1989) (witnesses are absolutely immune from suits for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for testimony given at trial, or for testimony given during adversarial pretrial proceedings); Demoran v. Witt, 781 F.2d 155, 157-58 (9th Cir. 1986).
Accordingly, the Court finds that Plaintiff's entire Complaint must be dismissed sua sponte as barred by the applicable statute of limitations, for seeking monetary damages against immune defendants and for failing to state a claim upon which relief could be granted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A(b). See Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1126-27; Resnick, 213 F.3d at 446, n.1.
III. CONCLUSION AND ORDER
Good cause appearing, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED:
1. Plaintiff's Motion to proceed IFP pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) [Doc. No. 2] is GRANTED.
2. The Secretary of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, or his designee, shall collect from Plaintiff's prison trust account the $350 balance of the filing fee owed in this case by collecting monthly payments from the account in an amount equal to twenty percent (20%) of the preceding month's income and forward payments to the Clerk of the Court each time the amount in the account exceeds $10 in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2). ALL PAYMENTS SHALL BE CLEARLY IDENTIFIED BY THE NAME AND NUMBER ASSIGNED TO THIS ACTION.
3. The Clerk of the Court is directed to serve a copy of this Order on Matthew Cate, Secretary, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 1515 S Street, Suite 502, Sacramento, California 95814.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that:
4. Plaintiff's Complaint is DISMISSED for as barred by the applicable statute of limitations, for seeking monetary damages against immune defendants and for failing to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(b) & 1915A(b). However, Plaintiff is GRANTED forty five (45) days leave from the date this Order is "Filed" in which to file a First Amended Complaint which cures all the deficiencies of pleading noted above. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint must be complete in itself without reference to the superseded pleading. See S. D.CAL. CIVLR. 15.1. Defendants not named and all claims not re-alleged in the Amended Complaint will be deemed to have been waived. See King v. Atiyeh, 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1987).
Further, if Plaintiff's Amended Complaint still fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, it may be dismissed without further leave to amend and may hereafter be counted as a "strike" under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). See McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1177-79 (9th Cir. 1996).
5. The Clerk of the Court is directed to mail a form civil rights Complaint to Plaintiff.
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