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Graves v. Supervising Deputy

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 14, 2015




JENNIFER L. THURSTON, Magistrate Judge.


Plaintiff, Michael Graves, is a civil detainee at Coalinga State Hospital ("CSH"). Plaintiff is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this action in the Northern District of California on February 26, 2015. (Doc. 1.) The action was transferred to this Court on April 9, 2015. (Doc. 10.)

A. Screening Requirement

"Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss [a case brought under 42 U.S.C. §1983] at any time if the court determines that... the action or appeal... fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). Section 1983 "provides a cause of action for the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States." Wilder v. Virginia Hosp. Ass'n, 496 U.S. 498, 508 (1990) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983). Section 1983 is not itself a source of substantive rights, but merely provides a method for vindicating federal rights conferred elsewhere. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989). To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Ketchum v. Alameda Cnty., 811 F.2d 1243, 1245 (9th Cir. 1987).

B. The Complaint

Plaintiff complains that the Supervising Deputy, Inyo County Public Defender ("Supervising Deputy") failed to properly train, direct, and supervise the deputy public defender who represented him in his commitment proceedings. Plaintiff states that he is "seeking to prevent the prospect of his being subject to future irrational mental health assessments, conducted by the Government of the State of California's Department of State Hospitals (herein "DSH") ostensibly pursuant to California's Welfare and Institution's Code §§ 6600, et seq., [the Sexually Violent Predator Act] (herein "SVPA"), due to Defendant's failure to adequately train and supervise Plaintiff's attorney to effectively challenge such irrational assessments." (Doc. 1, ¶1.) Almost every paragraph of Plaintiff's allegations begins "During the period Defendant supervised Plaintiff's appointed counsel Defendant was aware that..." ( See e.g. Doc. 1, at ¶¶ 18, 20, 22-46, 48-62.)

Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief "from the prospect of Plaintiff being subjected to future assessments of (i) Plaintiff's alleged current mental condition and (ii) Plaintiff's current volitional control, conducted by DSH staff, that are irrational." ( Id., at p. 17 (emphasis in original).)

C. Under Color of State Law

Plaintiff is not able to proceed under section 1983 against the Supervising Deputy. A public defender and all deputies of that office do not act "under color of state law" when performing a lawyer's traditional functions as counsel to an indigent defendant in a state criminal (in this case civil detention) proceeding. See Polk County v. Dotson, 454 U.S. 312 (1981). This is because a public defender, and any deputy public defenders, are lawyers and are not amenable to administrative direction in the same sense as other employees of the State. Id., at p. 321. A public defender and all deputy public defenders are lawyers. Lawyers representing criminal defendants are not and cannot be the servant of an administrative superior as they "work under cannons of professional responsibility that mandate [the] exercise of independent judgment on behalf of the client." Id. "A lawyer shall not permit a person who recommends, employs, or pays him to render legal services for another to direct or regulate his professional judgment in rendering such legal services." Id., quoting DR 5-107(B), ABA Code of Professional Responsibility (1976). Further, the attorney-client relationship established between a deputy public defender and a defendant is not one that even the Public Defender can control, let alone a Supervising Deputy Public defender "as the cannons of professional ethics require that a deputy public defender be his own man' irrespective of advice or pressures from others. A deputy public defender cannot in any realistic sense, in fulfillment of his professional responsibilities, be a servant of the public defender. He is, himself, an independent officer." Id., at n. 11, quoting Sanchez v. Murphy, 385 F.Supp. 1362, 1365 (Nev. 1974).

Plaintiff's allegations assume that the Supervising Deputy controlled the Deputy Public Defender who represented him in his civil detention proceedings and that, since he was civilly detained, the Supervising Deputy must be responsible for errors by the deputy who represented Plaintiff, that Plaintiff believes resulted in his civil detention. However, as a lawyer, the deputy public defender was obligated to use his own professional judgment when representing Plaintiff and was not subject to direction or regulation by the Public Defender for Inyo County, let alone a Supervising Deputy. Thus, Plaintiff's only avenue to protest his representation at his civil detention proceedings is against the actual deputy public defender who represented him, but even that person will not be a state actor for purposes of claims under section 1983. Any review of the sufficiency of the actions by the deputy public defender who represented Plaintiff is either in a petition for writ of habeas corpus, or under State law.

The Supervising Deputy, Inyo County Public Defender, is not a state actor for purposes of claims under section 1983, nor is anyone from that office whom Plaintiff might seek to add to this action. Accordingly, this action ...

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