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Cogswell v. Superior Court of San Diego County

United States District Court, S.D. California

May 4, 2017

HENRY IVAN COGSWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
SUPERIOR COURT OF SAN DIEGO COUNTY, et al., Defendant.

          ORDER DISMISSING ACTION PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

          Hon. Anthony J. Battaglia, United States District Judge

         Henry Ivan Cogswell (“Plaintiff”), a state inmate currently incarcerated at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (“RJD”) located in San Diego, California, and proceeding pro se, has filed a civil rights complaint (“Compl.”) brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1.) In addition, Plaintiff has prepaid the initial civil filing fee required to commence a civil action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a). (ECF No. 4.)

         I. Initial Screening per 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1)

         Even though Plaintiff paid the filing fee, the Court can conduct a sua sponte review of Plaintiff's Complaint because he is “incarcerated or detained in any facility [and] is accused of, sentenced for, or adjudicated delinquent for, violations of criminal law or the terms or conditions of parole, probation, pretrial release, or diversionary program.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), (c). Section 1915A, enacted as part of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), requires sua sponte dismissal of prisoner complaints, or any portions thereof, which are frivolous, malicious, or fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 446-47 (9th Cir. 2000). A similar screening provision of the PLRA would apply to Plaintiff's Complaint even if he successfully moved to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”). See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).

         A. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         “Section 1983 creates a private right of action against individuals who, acting under color of state law, violate federal constitutional or statutory rights.” Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1074 (9th Cir. 2001). Section 1983 “is not itself a source of substantive rights, but merely provides a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “To establish § 1983 liability, a plaintiff must show both (1) deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and (2) that the deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” Tsao v. Desert Palace, Inc., 698 F.3d 1128, 1138 (9th Cir. 2012).

         B. Heck bar

         In Plaintiff's Complaint, he alleges that his defense counsel in his state criminal proceedings, and later his appellate counsel, provided “ineffective assistance of counsel.” (Compl. at 2.) Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages against all the named Defendants. (Id. at 8.) However, because Plaintiff is seeking monetary damages against these Defendants, who are his appointed trial and appellate counsel, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, based on alleged violations of his constitutional rights, his claims amount to an attack on the validity of his underlying criminal conviction, and as such, are not addressable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, unless he also alleges that his conviction has been invalidated. Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994); Ramirez v. Galaza, 334 F.3d 850, 855-856 (9th Cir. 2003) (“Absent such a showing, ‘[e]ven a prisoner who has fully exhausted available state remedies has no cause of action under § 1983 . . . .'”) (quoting Heck, 512 U.S. at 489).

         Heck holds that “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 section 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.” Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-87. A claim challenging the legality of a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983. Id. at 487; Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641, 643 (1997).

         In Heck, the Supreme Court held that:

when a state prisoner seeks damages in a section 1983 suit, the district court must consider whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence; if it would, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated. But if the district court determines that the plaintiff's action, even if successful, will not demonstrate the invalidity of any outstanding criminal judgment against the plaintiff, the action should be allowed to proceed.

Heck, 512 U.S. at 487 (emphasis added).

         An action barred by Heck should be dismissed for failure to state a claim without prejudice to Plaintiff's right to file a new action if he succeeds in invalidating his conviction. Edwards, 520 U.S. at 649.

         Here, to the extent Plaintiff intends to raise claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, such claims “necessarily imply the invalidity” of his criminal conviction and continued incarceration. Heck, 512 U.S. at 487. In other words, were Plaintiff to succeed in showing that he was provided ineffective assistance of either trial or appellate counsel, an award of damages would “necessarily imply the invalidity” of his conviction and/or sentence. Id.; see also Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688 (1984) (to succeed on ineffective assistance claim petitioner must show that ...


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