United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER OF DISMISSAL RE: DKT. NOS. 1, 2, 3, 4,
ILLSTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Germaine Hudson, a prisoner at San Quentin State Prison,
filed a pro se civil rights complaint seeking relief
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The complaint is now before the
Court for review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.
a jury trial in 2015 in the Contra Costa County Superior
Court, Hudson was convicted of driving under the influence
causing injury, driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08%
causing injury, leaving the scene of an accident that had
resulted in injury, and hit and run driving. He also was
found to have personally inflicted great bodily injury and to
have suffered two prior serious felony convictions. See
Hudson v. Sexton, No. 17-cv-4373 EMC, Docket No. 29
(order denying petition for writ of habeas corpus). He was
sentenced to 35 years to life in prison, a term he currently
is serving. Id.
complaint in this action, Hudson alleged that Judge Terri
Mockler and Judge Patricia Scanlon, “while employed in
Contra Costa County representing the People of the State of
California, ” denied Hudson his Sixth Amendment right
to effective assistance of trial during the time period of
May - June 2015. Docket No. 1 at 3. For relief, he requested
money damages “and the reversal of [his]
sentence.” Id. Hudson later filed a request to
amend his complaint to delete “any request for
immediate or speedier relief or to vitiate the legality of
the state confinement as not to violate the Heck
bar.” Docket No. 3 at 1.
Review of Complaint
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).
action must be dismissed because there is no viable claim
against any of the defendants. The individual judges have
absolute judicial immunity against the claims for damages for
the acts alleged in the complaint. The allegations that the
judges denied Hudson effective assistance of counsel concern
decisions they made in presiding over Hudson's criminal
case and those were acts performed in their judicial
capacity. See Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 553-55
(1967). The government entity defendants - the “People
of the State of California” and “Contra Costa
County” - are named as defendants only because they
allegedly employed Judge Mockler and Judge Scanlon. There is
no respondeat superior liability under § 1983, i.e. no
liability under the theory that one is responsible for the
actions or omissions of another, such as an employee. See
Board of Cty. Comm'rs. of Bryan Cty. v. Brown, 520
U.S. 397, 403 (1997); Tsao v. Desert Palace, Inc.,
698 F.3d 1128, 1139, 1144 (9th Cir. 2012). Thus, a claim is
not stated against Contra Costa County or the State of
California merely because that entity employed the alleged
wrongdoers, and that is all that is alleged in the complaint.
Moreover, the State of California has Eleventh Amendment
immunity in this case because the Eleventh Amendment to the
U.S. Constitution bars from the federal courts suits against
a state by its own citizens, citizens of another state, or
citizens or subjects of any foreign state, absent consent to
the filing of such suit. Atascadero State Hosp. v.
Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 237-38 (1985).
from the above problems, the Heck rule requires the
dismissal of this action. The case of 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 sentence --
would imply that the conviction or sentence 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.
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.
Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 (2005).
though Hudson's amendment to his complaint disavows any
interest in overturning his conviction, the Heck
rule still applies because a ruling in his favor would be
inconsistent with the validity of his conviction.
Hudson's claim is that the defendant-judges caused him to
be deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to effective
assistance of counsel in his state court criminal case. He
was convicted of several crimes in that case, and that
conviction has not been set aside. The existence of the
currently valid conviction requires the dismissal of his
claim because success on his claim that he received
constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel would
imply that his conviction was invalid, even if he does not
directly seek to have it overturned. Normally, a dismissal
pursuant to the Heck rule is without prejudice to
the plaintiff filing a new action asserting his claim if his
conviction is ever set aside, such as by being reversed on
appeal, but Hudson cannot file a new action against the
judges because they have absolute judicial immunity.
prisoner wants to challenge the lawfulness of his current
custody, the exclusive method by which he may do so in
federal court is by filing a petition for writ of habeas
corpus. See Preiser v. ...