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Lockhart v. Alameda County Court

United States District Court, N.D. California

January 8, 2020

ALAMEDA COUNTY COURT, et al., Defendants.




         Plaintiff Michael Lockhart is a California state prisoner serving a sentence of 25 years to life, imposed following his convictions for drug offenses. In this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 federal civil rights action, he asks this federal court to intervene in the state's handling of his current resentencing proceedings.[1] I am obligated to conduct a preliminary screening of this case to insure that a plausible claim is stated, and it is clear that none is. Federal courts must abstain from interfering with ongoing criminal proceedings in state court, such as Lockhart's state resentencing hearing. Accordingly, this matter will be dismissed.[2]


         A. Standard of Review

         A federal court must conduct a preliminary screening in 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 that 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. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Pro se pleadings must be liberally construed. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988).

         A “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Furthermore, a court “is not required to accept legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations if those conclusions cannot reasonably be drawn from the facts alleged.” Clegg v. Cult Awareness Network, 18 F.3d 752, 754-55 (9th Cir. 1994).

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 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).

         B. Legal Claims

         In his original complaint, Lockhart asked that I remove the Alameda District Attorney from his resentencing proceedings or change the venue of his resentencing, or both. (Compl., Dkt. No. 12 at 3-4.) He alleges that the district attorney has engaged in “misconduct” and “obstruction of justice.” (Id. at 3.) In his amended complaint, his allegations are much the same: the district attorney is allegedly engaging in misconduct.

         Under principles of comity and federalism, a federal court should not interfere with ongoing state criminal proceedings absent extraordinary circumstances (such as bad faith or harassment). Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 43-54 (1971). Younger abstention is appropriate when (1) there is “an ongoing state judicial proceeding, ” (2) those “proceedings implicate important state interests, ” and (3) there is “an adequate opportunity in the state proceedings to raise constitutional challenges.” Middlesex Cty. Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 435 (1982).

         Abstention is appropriate here because all the elements of Younger are present. The record demonstrates that Lockhart's state court proceedings are ongoing, which satisfies the first Younger requirement. The second Younger element is also present: the Supreme Court has held that “a proper respect for state functions, ” such as ongoing criminal proceedings, is an important issue of state interest. See Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 491-92 (1973) (quoting Younger, 401 U.S. at 44). As to the third prong of Younger, there is no reason that Lockhart cannot pursue his constitutional claims in state court.

         In addition, any interference by this court in the state court proceedings would enjoin or have the practical effect of enjoining state proceedings, results disapproved of by Younger. SJSVCCPAC v. City of San Jose, 546 F.3d 1087, 1092 (9th Cir. 2008). Nothing in the complaint suggests there are extraordinary circumstances requiring my interference in state ...

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