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Randolph v. State

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 23, 2016




         Plaintiff Willis Randolph (“Plaintiff”), appearing pro se, filed a Complaint on April 27, 2016. (ECF No. 1.) The Complaint alleges violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the State of California, Jim Obbliger, Katherine Hart, Bob Johansen, and Pete Chavez (collectively, the “Defendants”). Id. Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants engaged in conduct in 1987 that lead to his conviction for murder, despite his asserted innocence. The Court has screened the Complaint and makes its recommendations herein, namely, that Plaintiff’s Complaint be dismissed without leave to amend.


         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court must conduct a review of a pro se complaint to determine whether it “state[s] a claim on which relief may be granted, ” is “frivolous or malicious, ” or “seek[s] monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” If the Court determines that the complaint fails to state a claim, it must be dismissed. Id. Leave to amend may be granted to the extent that the deficiencies of the complaint can be cured by amendment. Cato v. United States, 70 F.3d 1103, 1106 (9th Cir. 1995).

         A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007)). Plaintiff must set forth “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). While factual allegations are accepted as true, legal conclusions are not. Id. at 678.

         In determining whether a complaint states an actionable claim, the Court must accept the allegations in the complaint as true, Hospital Bldg. Co. v. Trs. of Rex Hospital, 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976), construe pro se pleadings liberally in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 447 (9th Cir. 2000), and resolve all doubts in the Plaintiff’s favor. Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969). Pleadings of pro se plaintiffs “must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (holding that pro se complaints should continue to be liberally construed after Iqbal).


         The Complaint alleges that in 1987, Defendant Obbliger, then a deputy district attorney, visited Plaintiff at San Quentin State Prison. Obbliger was accompanied by Defendants Chavez and Johansen, both of whom were deputy sheriffs at the time. The Defendants informed Plaintiff that they had obtained the cooperation of a jailhouse informant who would place Plaintiff at the scene of a crime. They further informed him that they would seek an all-white jury and that Plaintiff would be placed in in prison “for a long time.” (Complaint at 3, ECF No. 1.) Defendant Katherine Hart represented Plaintiff in his criminal proceedings (it is unclear from the Complaint whether Hart was Plaintiff’s attorney during his initial trial, on the appeal of his eventual conviction, or both). Plaintiff asks for an evidentiary hearing and for the reversal of his conviction because of his allegedly wrongful conviction in his 1989 trial, which he asserts constitutes a violation of his constitutional civil rights.

         This is not Plaintiff’s first complaint to make these allegations. In Randolph v. Rainwater, Case No. 1:13-cv-00016-AWI-JLT, Plaintiff sued Defendants Obbliger and Hart, as well as Robert Rainwater, who represented Plaintiff at some point, alleging that Obbliger withheld exculpatory evidence, Hart failed to raise appropriate issues on appeal, and Rainwater provided ineffective assistance of counsel. The Complaint was dismissed without leave to amend on February 20, 2013. Similarly, Plaintiff has filed at least three separate habeas petitions before the U.S. District Court making similar allegations, the most recent of which was filed on the same date this Complaint was filed. See Randolph v. State of California, Case No. 1:16-cv-00592-AWI-JLT; Randolph v. Swarthout, Case No. 1:13-cv-00543-SAB; Randolph v. People of California, Case No. 1:93-cv-05604-LJO.


         Plaintiff’s claim constitutes a challenge to the fact or duration of his confinement. As a result, his sole federal remedy is a writ of habeas corpus and a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is inappropriate. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 479 (1973) (“Release from penal custody is not an available remedy under the Civil Rights Act”); Young v. Kenny, 907 F.2d 874, 875 (9th Cir. 1989) (“Where a state prisoner challenges the fact or duration of his confinement, his sole federal remedy is a writ of habeas corpus.”).

         Moreover, a § 1983 claim is barred where a judgment in favor of a plaintiff “would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence.” Lockett v. Ericson, 656 F.3d 892, 896 (9th Cir. 2011), quoting Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994) (“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 § 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.”). Plaintiff explicitly requests relief invalidating his conviction because it was based on unconstitutional conduct by Defendants. Plaintiff has not, however, demonstrated that his conviction has already been reversed, expunged, or otherwise called into question. Thus, Plaintiff’s claims are not cognizable and must be dismissed. Heck, 512 U.S. at 487 (“A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983.”).

         Even if Plaintiff’s claims were cognizable under § 1983, they would be barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 use the applicable state statute of limitations for personal injury actions. Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 387 (2007). In California, this statute of limitations is two years. Comm. Concerning Cmty. Improvement v. City of Modesto, 583 F.3d 690, 701 n. 3 (9th Cir. 2009) (“Claims under § 1983 are subject to the state statute of limitations for personal injury claims. In California, that state rule is two years.”). State tolling rules also apply. Wallace, 549 U.S. at 394 (“We have generally referred to state law for tolling rules, just as we have for the length of statutes of limitations.”). California Code of Civil Procedure § 352.1(a) allows a statute of limitations to be tolled for up to two years when a plaintiff is “at the time the cause of action accrued, imprisoned on a criminal charge.” Thus, a prisoner typically has four years to assert a § 1983 action for a cause of action that accrues while they are imprisoned. “A federal claim accrues when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury which is the basis of the action.” Bagley v. CMC Real Estate Corp., 823 F.2d 758, 760 (9th Cir. 1991). The conduct Plaintiff complains of occurred nearly thirty years ago, in 1987. This is far beyond the applicable statute of limitations.

         Finally, the allegations in the Complaint cannot state a claim against Defendant Hart as a matter of law. To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff “must allege a violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988) (emphasis added). Plaintiff asserts that he was denied his constitutional rights by Defendant Hart, his attorney. It is well-settled, however, that attorneys do “not act under color of state law when performing a lawyer’s traditional functions as counsel to a defendant in a criminal proceeding.” Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 325 (1981) (upholding dismissal of a § 1983 claim by a pro se prisoner against a public defender that alleged ...

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