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White v. Sacramento Public Defender's Office

United States District Court, E.D. California

October 2, 2014

LLOYD WHITE, Plaintiff,


ALLISON CLAIRE, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and has requested authority pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 to proceed in forma pauperis. This proceeding was referred to this court by Local Rule 302 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

Plaintiff has submitted a declaration that makes the showing required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). However, because the court finds that this complaint is subject to summary dismissal, a filing fee will not be assessed.

Screening Requirement

The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally "frivolous or malicious, " that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2).

A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams , 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Franklin v. Murphy , 745 F.2d 1221, 1227-28 (9th Cir. 1984). The court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke , 490 U.S. at 327. The critical inquiry is whether a constitutional claim, however inartfully pleaded, has an arguable legal and factual basis. See Jackson v. Arizona , 885 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1989); Franklin , 745 F.2d at 1227.

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). "The pleading must contain something more... than... a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action." Id., quoting 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, pp. 235-35 (3d ed. 2004). "[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id.

In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Hospital Bldg. Co. v. Rex Hospital Trustees , 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976), construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and resolve all doubts in the plaintiff's favor. Jenkins v. McKeithen , 395 U.S. 411, 421(1969). Plaintiff's Allegations

Plaintiff names the Sacramento (County) Public Defender's Office, Melissa McElheney and Robert Woodard as defendants. Plaintiff alleges that although Melissa McElheney (of the Sacramento County Public Defender's Office) was assigned as his counsel (in a criminal matter), he never accepted her as his counsel and "went back to pro per." He claims that the visitors' log at the Sacramento County Main Jail will show that she made an "illegal contact" with him in December of 2013 because there should only have been one legal visit which should have occurred only after she had been assigned to represent him. Plaintiff complains that because McElheney told the court that he had prison priors, the court added a year to his sentence. She also told the court that plaintiff might have more priors but that she did not have his file with her. Complaint, ECF No. 1 at 3-4.

On September 4th of an unidentified year, plaintiff alleges that Robert Woodard, also apparently from the Public Defender's Office, "cussed [plaintiff] out and threw paper-work at [him]." Plaintiff further claims that an audio and video recording "reveals" that his counsel allowed the district attorney to slander him and accuse plaintiff of rape and sodomy at a bail hearing in open court with his family members in attendance. Id. at 4.

For relief, plaintiff wants the defendants "rights to counsel taken" and "full" (but unspecified) "compensation." He also wants "Sacramento County and State of CA held responsible." Id. at 3. In essence, what plaintiff alleges is that his counsel provided him ineffective assistance of counsel.

No Cognizable Claim Under § 1983

Plaintiff may be seeking to challenge his criminal conviction or sentence on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel, for which an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is not the appropriate vehicle.

Federal law opens two main avenues to relief on complaints related to imprisonment: a petition for habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254, and a complaint under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, Rev. Stat. 1979, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Challenges to the validity of any confinement or to particulars affecting its duration are the province of habeas corpus, Preiser v. Rodriguez , 411 U.S. 475, 500[] ...

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