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Kenneth Lee Martinez v. District Attorney of San Joaquin County et al

May 2, 2012



Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a civil rights action seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This matter is before the court on a motion to dismiss brought on behalf of defendants Willett, Moore, and Mulvihill. Plaintiff has filed an opposition to the motion. Counsel for defendants have filed a reply.


Plaintiff is proceeding on his original complaint against defendants Sheriff Moore, District Attorney Willett, and Deputy District Attorney Mulvihill. Therein, he alleges that on June 19, 2002, sheriff's deputies arrested him and accused him of sexual assault on his girlfriend. On the same day, plaintiff consented to giving DNA samples at the San Joaquin County General Hospital while his girlfriend underwent a sexual assault exam. Plaintiff claims that the defendants never provided his criminal defense team with any of his or his girlfriend's DNA test results. Plaintiff contends that the DNA test results were critical to his defense because he maintained at trial that he was actually innocent of any crime. Ultimately, plaintiff was convicted of thirteen felony counts and was sentenced to 50 years to life in state prison. Throughout his appellate and post-conviction proceedings, plaintiff alleges that he exercised due diligence in attempting to obtain the DNA test results without success. In terms of relief in this federal civil rights cause of action, plaintiff seeks a court order requiring the defendants to produce all DNA evidence from his case for analysis by an independent laboratory. (Compl. at 3-5.)


I. Defendants' Motion

Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), defense counsel moves to dismiss plaintiff's claims on the grounds that plaintiff fails to identify a constitutional right of which he was purportedly deprived. Defense counsel contends that, in essence, plaintiff is asking this court to issue an order pursuant to the decision in Skinner v. Switzer, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S. Ct. 1289 (2011), requiring that he be given the DNA evidence he seeks. Defense counsel argues that plaintiff has misinterpreted the Skinner decision. According to defense counsel, the Supreme Court in Skinner held that a prisoner may properly bring a claim for relief under § 1983, rather than the habeas corpus statute 28 U.S.C. § 2254, if he can demonstrate that the underlying post-conviction DNA testing procedures violated his right to due process. Defense counsel contends that federal intervention is appropriate in such instances only if the state first offends some principle of justice. Here, defense counsel argues that plaintiff has not alleged that California Penal Code § 1405, which allows a prisoner to seek and obtain DNA evidence following a conviction, is unconstitutional. Rather, plaintiff only alleges that the state courts denied his motions and subsequent appeals seeking DNA evidence. Accordingly, defense counsel concludes that plaintiff's complaint fails to state a cognizable claim for relief. (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 3-4.)

II. Plaintiff's Opposition

In opposition to defendants' motion, plaintiff argues that he sought relief under California Penal Code § 1405 several times but never obtained the potentially exculpatory DNA evidence he seeks in this case. In plaintiff's view, he has clearly alleged a cognizable claim for violation of his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. As in Skinner, plaintiff contends that he is seeking DNA evidence that defendants wish to keep from him because such evidence will establish his actual innocence. (Pl.'s Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 1-3.)

III. Defendants' Reply

In reply, defense counsel reiterates that plaintiff's complaint fails to state a cognizable claim for relief. Defense counsel reiterates that under Skinner, plaintiff may only challenge a state court decision in federal court under § 1983 if he can demonstrate that the underlying rule governing the challenged decision is unconstitutional. Here, according to defense counsel, plaintiff concedes that he is not challenging the constitutionality of California Penal Code § 1405. Rather, plaintiff is merely a party who failed to prevail in state court and is now attempting to invoke federal question jurisdiction to review and reject a state court's judgment. According to defense counsel, the decision in Skinner precludes him from doing so. (Defs.' Reply at 2.)


I. Legal Standards Governing a Motion Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests the sufficiency of the complaint. North Star Int'l v. Arizona Corp. Comm'n, 720 F.2d 578, 581 (9th Cir. 1983). Dismissal of the complaint, or any claim within it, "can be based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory." Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). See also Robertson v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 749 F.2d 530, 534 (9th Cir. 1984). In order to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim a complaint must contain more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action;" it must contain factual allegations sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

In determining whether a pleading states a claim, the court accepts as true all material allegations in the complaint and construes those allegations, as well as the reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Hosp. Bldg. Co. v. Trustees of Rex Hosp., 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976); Love v. United States, 915 F.2d 1242, 1245 (9th Cir. 1989). In the context of a motion to dismiss, the court also resolves doubts in the plaintiff's favor. Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969). However, the court need not ...

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