United States District Court, D. New Mexico
JOSEPH B. SKAGGS, Plaintiff,
JUDGE MARK SANCHEZ, DISTRICT ATTORNEY ERIC SCRAMLIN, DEFENDANTS ATTORNEY BRYON COLLOPY, DET. DAVID MIRANDA, DET. JOE CLARK, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MATTER is before the Court on the Civil Rights
Complaint Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 filed by
Plaintiff Joseph B. Skaggs on January 6, 2017 (Doc. 1). Also
before the Court is Plaintiff Skaggs' letter motion for
appointment of counsel (Doc. 6). The Court will deny the
letter motion as moot and dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint
for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted.
Skaggs is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis.
(Doc. 4). The Court has the discretion to dismiss an in
forma pauperis complaint sua sponte for failure
to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under
either Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) or 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B). Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) the Court must
accept all well-pled factual allegations, but not conclusory,
unsupported allegations, and may not consider matters outside
the pleading. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007); Dunn v. White, 880 F.2d 1188,
1190 (10thCir. 1989). The court may dismiss a
complaint under rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim if
“it is ‘patently obvious' that the plaintiff
could not prevail on the facts alleged.” Hall v.
Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1109 (10th Cir. 1991) (quoting
McKinney v. Oklahoma Dep't of Human Services,
925 F.2d 363, 365 (10th Cir. 1991)). A plaintiff must allege
“enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at
570. A claim should be dismissed where it is legally or
factually insufficient to state a plausible claim for relief.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B) the Court may dismiss the complaint at
any time if the Court determines the action fails to state a
claim for relief or is frivolous or malicious. 28 U.S.C.
§ 915(e)(2)(B)(2). The authority granted by § 1915
permits the court the unusual power to pierce the veil of the
complaint's factual allegations and dismiss those claims
whose factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke
v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989). See also Hall
v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d at 1109. The authority to
“pierce the veil of the complaint's factual
allegations” means that a court is not bound, as it
usually is when making a determination based solely on the
pleadings, to accept without question the truth of the
plaintiff's allegations. Denton v. Hernandez,
504 U.S. 25, 32-33 (1992). The Court is not required to
accept the truth of the plaintiff's allegations but,
instead, may go beyond the pleadings and consider any other
materials filed by the parties, as well as court proceedings
subject to judicial notice. Denton, 504 U.S. at
reviewing a pro se complaint, the Court liberally construes
the factual allegations. See Northington v. Jackson,
973 F.2d 1518, 1520-21 (10th Cir. 1992). However, a pro se
plaintiff's pleadings are judged by the same legal
standards that apply to all litigants and a pro se plaintiff
must abide by the applicable rules of court. Ogden v. San
Juan County, 32 F.3d 452, 455 (10thCir.
1994). The Court is not obligated to craft legal theories for
the plaintiff or to supply factual allegations to support the
plaintiff's claims. Nor may the Court assume the role of
advocate for the pro se litigant. Hall v. Bellmon,
935 F.2d at 1110.
deciding whether to dismiss the complaint, in whole or in
part, the Court is to consider whether to allow plaintiff an
opportunity to amend the complaint. Pro se plaintiffs should
be given a reasonable opportunity to remedy defects in their
pleadings. Reynoldson v. Shillinger, 907 F.2d 124,
126 (10th Cir. 1990). The opportunity to amend
should be granted unless amendment would be futile. Hall
v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d at 1109. An amendment is futile if
the amended claims would also be subject to immediate
dismissal under the rule 12(b)(6) or § 1915(e)(2)(B)
standards. Bradley v. Val-Mejias, 379 F.3d 892, 901
(10th Cir. 2004).
Skaggs brings civil rights claims against several judicial
and law enforcement Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
arising out of his criminal conviction in New Mexico state
court. (Doc. 1 at 1-4). Plaintiff was convicted of
Trafficking a Controlled Substance and Felon in Possession of
a Firearm in State of New Mexico, County of Lea, Fifth
Judicial District cause no. D-506-CR-2013-75. (Doc. 1 at
25-26). Plaintiff requests that his criminal charges in state
court be overturned, that all wrongdoers be held accountable
and charged to the fullest extent of the law, and that he be
awarded lost wages and damages for the period of his
incarceration. (Doc. 1 at 5). Plaintiff's claims against
all Defendants fail to state a claim upon which relief can be
Plaintiff Skaggs names Judge Mark Sanchez as a Defendant.
(Doc. 1 at 1). Plaintiff's civil rights claims against a
judicial officer acting as a judge are clearly barred by
absolute judicial immunity. See Stump v. Sparkman,
435 U.S. 349, 355-56 (1978); Christensen v. Ward,
916 F.2d 1462, 1473-76 (10th Cir. 1990);
Hunnicutt v. Sewell, 147 N.M. 272, 277-78, 219 P.3d
529, 534-45 (Ct. App. 2009). It is well settled that the
doctrine of judicial immunity is applicable in actions, such
as the case at bar, with 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims as well
as state law claims. Van Sickle v. Holloway, 791
F.2d 1431, 1434-35 (10th Cir.1986); Collins on Behalf
of Collins v. Tabet, 111 N.M. 391, 396, 806
P.2d 40, 45 (1991). Absolute immunity bars all suits for
money damages for acts made in the exercise of judicial
discretion. Guttman v. Khalsa, 446 F.3d 1027, 1033
(10th Cir.2006). The United States Supreme Court has
recognized absolute immunity for officials whose special
functions or constitutional status requires complete
protection from suit. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S.
800, 807 (1982). The purpose of absolute judicial
“to benefit the public, ‘whose interest is that
the judges should be at liberty to exercise their functions
with independence and without fear of consequences.' The
Supreme Court has recognized that ‘the loser in one
forum will frequently seek another, charging the participants
in the first with unconstitutional animus.' Therefore,
absolute immunity is necessary so that judges can perform
their functions without harassment or intimidation.”
Van Sickle v. Holloway, 791 F.2d at 1434-35.
only allegations against Judge Sanchez are that he
“gave me a guilty plea without due process.”
(Doc. 1 at 2). Skaggs seeks to recover damages against Judge
Sanchez for acts that were unquestionably made in the
exercise of judicial discretion. Any claims against Judge
Sanchez are barred by absolute judicial immunity.
Guttman, 446 F.3d at 1033.
also names Eric Scramlin, in his capacity as District
Attorney, as a Defendant. (Doc. 1 at 1-2). Prosecutors are
entitled to immunity in the performance of their
prosecutorial functions. Miller v. Spiers, 434
F.Supp.2d 1064 (2006); Johnson v. Lally, 118 N.M.
795, 796, 887 P.2d 1262, 1263 (Ct. App. 1994). The common law
has long recognized prosecutors must be given immunity from
the chilling effects of civil liability. Burns v.
Reed, 500 U.S. 478, 485, 111 S.Ct. 1934, 114 L.Ed.2d 547
(1991); Griffith v. Slinkard, 146 Ind. 117, 44 N.E.
1001, 1002 (1896); Collins, 111 N.M. at 396, 806
P.2d at 45. Prosecutors are absolutely immune from damages
for their advocacy and activities “intimately
associated with the judicial phase of the criminal
process.” Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409,
430 (1976). Skaggs similarly makes no factual allegations
against Defendant Scramlin other than that he “gave me
a guilty plea without due-process and other
violations.” (Doc. 1 at 2). Therefore, Skaggs makes no
allegations of conduct that is outside the performance of
prosecutorial functions and the claims against Defendant
Scramlin will also be dismissed.
Skaggs further seeks to proceed against Public Defender Bryon
Collopy. (Doc. 1 at 2). Section 1983 states:
“Every person who, under color of any statue,
ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State,
Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects or causes to
be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other
person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of
any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the
Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured
in an action at law . . .”
42 U.S.C. § 1983 (emphasis added). The U.S. Supreme
Court has held that public defenders cannot be sued under
§ 1983 because they do not act under color of state law.
See, Polk County. v. Dodson,454 U.S. 312, 315, 102
S.Ct. 445, 70 L.Ed.2d 509 (1981). A public defender does not
act under color of state law when performing a lawyer's
traditional functions as counsel to a defendant in a criminal
proceeding. Polk, 454 U.S. at 325. Plaintiff's
allegations against Defendant Collopy relate to his
representation of Defendant in the criminal proceedings ...