United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER OF DISMISSAL
M. CHEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Coleman, an inmate at the California State Prison - Solano,
filed this pro se civil rights action under 42
U.S.C. § 1983. For the reasons discussed below, the
action will be dismissed.
Coleman believes that his conviction and criminal trial were
invalid because two state court judges who presided over his
criminal case did not timely file their oaths of office. He
has unsuccessfully pursued this theory in numerous court
actions and in complaints to the California Commission on
Judicial Performance. See Docket No. 1 at 23-24
(listing nine state court actions); see also Docket
No. 24 at 2 in Coleman v. McGrath, No. 04-cv-4069
PJH (dismissing the oath-of-office claim from habeas action
because it was, at most, a state law error claim). In 2012,
Mr. Coleman filed a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 asserting claims based on his theory. This Court
dismissed that action, concluding that the action was barred
by the rule from Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477
(1994). See Docket No. 5 in Coleman v.
Brown, No. 12-cv-6291 EMC. He now returns with the same
claims and with an additional fact that he contends allows
him to avoid the Heck bar.
present action, Mr. Coleman once again claims that his
conviction and trial were invalid because two state court
judges did not timely file their oaths of office. Mr. Coleman
alleges in his complaint that Contra Costa County Municipal
Court Judge Becton Brown did not file her oath of office
until December 26, 1995, which allegedly was beyond the state
law deadline. See Id. at 15-16. Mr. Coleman alleges
that former Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge
Sepulveda did not file her oaths of office until October 31,
1991 and November 26, 1999, which allegedly were beyond the
state law deadlines. Id. at 17-18. The complaint
suggests these two judges presided over some or all of Mr.
Coleman's trial or criminal proceedings. See Id.
at 12. He alleges that their “practices,
acts and/or policies . . . have caused plaintiff to be
wrongly or illegally tried, convicted and sentenced on the
basis of excess of jurisdiction.” Docket No. 1 at 7.
Coleman has a new fact that he contends will enable him to
avoid the Heck bar that prompted the dismissal of
Case No. 12-cv-6291 EMC. Specifically, he contends that he
“finally obtain[ed] relief from a wrongful
sentence” when he was resentenced pursuant to
California Penal Code § 1170.12 in 2016. See
Docket No. 15 at 2-3 in Coleman v. Brown, Case No.
12-cv-6291 EMC. He further alleges that the minutes and
abstracts from the 2016 sentencing proceedings
“illuminate that [he] challenged and successfully
appealed his wrongful sentence, and or imprisonment.”
Id. at 3.
Coleman's resentencing in 2016 was based on a new
interpretation of California's Three Strikes law by the
California Supreme Court and not because any of his
convictions had been overturned. In People v.
Vargas, 59 Cal.4th 635 (Cal. 2014), the California
Supreme Court announced that a trial court must dismiss one
of a defendant's two prior strike convictions if those
two convictions were based on the same single
Relying on the newly-announced rule in Vargas, Mr.
Coleman filed a habeas petition in the California Court of
Appeal, requesting resentencing. See In re Rahsaan
Coleman, Cal.Ct.App. Case No. A147007 (docket sheet
available with text of orders at
California Court of Appeal requested input from the
respondent, and the respondent agreed that resentencing was
appropriate. The appellate court therefore ordered the matter
remanded to the trial court for resentencing in light of
Vargas. Id. In the trial court, Mr. Coleman was
resentenced to a determinate term of 22 years, 4 months.
See Docket No. 15 at 24 in Coleman v.
Brown, No. 12-cv-6291 EMC (May 20, 2016 amended
abstract). This was a substantial reduction from the
59-years-to-life sentence he had initially received upon
conviction. It thus appears that he was sentenced as a
second-strike defendant rather than as a third-strike
defendant under California's Three Strikes law.
federal court must engage in a preliminary screening of any
case in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental
entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In its review the
court must identify any cognizable claims, and dismiss any
claims which are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief
from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See
Id. at § 1915A(b). Pro se pleadings must
be liberally construed. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police
Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).
state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must
allege two elements: (1) that a right secured by the
Constitution or laws of the United States was violated and
(2) that the violation was committed by a person acting under
the color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S.
42, 48 (1988).
a plaintiff may not obtain damages in a § 1983 action
for alleged constitutional violations in connection with his
criminal trial as long as the conviction remains in place.
Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), held that a
plaintiff cannot bring a civil rights action for damages for
a wrongful conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm
caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a
conviction or sentence invalid, unless that conviction or
sentence already has been determined to be wrongful. See
Id. at 486-87. A conviction or sentence may be
determined to be wrongful by, for example, being reversed on
appeal or being set aside when a state or federal court
issues a writ of habeas corpus. See Id. The
Heck rule also prevents a person from bringing an
action that -- even if it does not directly challenge the
conviction or other decision -- would imply that the
conviction or other decision was invalid. The practical
importance of this rule is that a plaintiff cannot attack his
conviction in a civil rights action for damages; the
decision must have been successfully attacked before
the civil rights action for damages is filed. The
Heck rule was first announced with respect to an
action for damages, but the Supreme Court has since applied
the rule to an action that sought declaratory relief as well
as damages. See Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641,
648 (1997). If success in the § 1983 action would
“necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of confinement
or its duration, ' the § 1983 action is barred no
matter the relief sought (i.e., damages or equitable relief)
as long as the conviction has not been set aside. See
Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 82 (2005).
Coleman alleges that Defendants violated his rights by
causing his conviction in an allegedly unlawful trial -
unlawful because Defendants' oaths of office were
defective. Although he alleges at one point that his
complaint “is not challenging the criminal conviction
or sentence, ' he alleges in the next breath that he is
“challenging the established state procedure itself
which destroyed his rights to a fair trial.” Docket No.
1 at 19. In addition to damages and declaratory relief, he
requests that the Court issue an order vacating his sentence
and conviction, and order a new trial for him. Id.
at 22. Mr. Coleman's claims are squarely within the
Heck rule because success on them would call into
question the validity of his conviction and sentence from the
Contra Costa County Superior Court.
resentencing that occurred in 2016 does not remove the
Heck bar because Mr. Coleman's conviction was
not set aside and there was no retrial. He was resentenced
due to a new interpretation of the Three Strikes law in
Vargas,59 Cal.4th 635. Neither the new
interpretation of the ...