United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
the Court is Plaintiff's Pro Se Civil Rights
Complaint (Doc. 1). Plaintiff is incarcerated, pro
se, and proceeding in forma pauperis. He
asserts 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 claims against the judge,
prosecutor, and defense counsel who were involved in his
state criminal case. Having reviewed the matter sua
sponte under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the Court concludes
that Plaintiff cannot successfully sue those individuals. The
Court therefore must dismiss the Complaint with prejudice.
2014, Plaintiff pled guilty to child abuse and aggravated
assault against a household member in New Mexico's Fourth
Judicial District Court (No. D-412-CR-2014-0134).
See Doc. 1 at 8, 11. The state court sentenced him
to four and a half years imprisonment. Id. at 9, 12.
Plaintiff alleges that District Attorney Thomas Clayton
knowingly used false information to obtain a conviction.
Id. at 2. Plaintiff further alleges that Judge
Abigail Aragon and defense counsel Arthur Bustos failed to
correct the false information. Id. at 1-3. The
Complaint raises claims under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983.
Id. at 1. Plaintiff seeks damages equal to $1, 800
for each day of incarceration and $150 per year for lost
wages. Id. at 6. He also asks the Court to prosecute
Defendants and vacate the conviction. Id.
Governing Initial Review
Court has discretion to dismiss an in forma pauperis
complaint sua sponte under Section 1915(e)(2)
“at any time if … the action … is
frivolous or malicious; [or] fails to state a claim on which
relief may be granted.” The Court may also dismiss a
complaint sua sponte under Rule 12(b)(6) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure if “it is patently
obvious that the plaintiff could not prevail on the facts
alleged, and allowing [plaintiff] an opportunity to amend
[the] complaint would be futile.” Hall v.
Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991)
(quotations omitted). The plaintiff must frame a complaint
that contains “sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to ‘state a claim for 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.”
Plaintiff is pro se, his “pleadings are to be
construed liberally and held to a less stringent standard
than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.”
Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110. While pro se
pleadings are judged by the same legal standards that apply
to represented litigants, the Court can overlook the
“failure to cite proper legal authority, …
confusion of various legal theories, … poor syntax and
sentence construction, or … unfamiliarity with
pleading requirements.” Id.
“A cause of action under section 1983 requires the
deprivation of a civil right by a [qualifying]
‘person' acting under color of state law.”
McLaughlin v. Bd. of Trustees, 215 F.3d 1168, 1172
(10th Cir. 2000). The plaintiff must allege that each
government official, through the official's own
individual actions, has personally violated the Constitution.
See Trask v. Franco, 446 F.3d 1036, 1046 (10th Cir.
1998). There must also be a connection between the official
conduct and the constitutional violation. Fogarty v.
Gallegos, 523 F.3d 1147, 1162 (10th Cir. 2008);
Trask, 446 F.3d at 1046.
these standards, Plaintiff's complaint does not state a
cognizable constitutional claim. Judge Aragon is absolutely
immune from a civil rights suit based on actions taken in her
judicial capacity. See Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9,
11 (1991). “[I]mmunity applies even when the judge is
accused of acting maliciously and corruptly.”
Id. (quoting Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547,
554 (1967)). The only exception is when a judge “acts
clearly without any colorable claim of jurisdiction.”
Snell v. Tunnell, 920 F.2d 673, 686 (10th Cir.
1990). As a state District Judge, Judge Aragon had
jurisdiction over the state criminal proceeding,
notwithstanding any allegations of wrongdoing. Consequently,
Plaintiff cannot sue Judge Aragon.
claims against District Attorney Clayton fail for similar
reasons. District attorneys are entitled to absolute immunity
in Section 1983 suits for activities within the scope of
their prosecutorial duties. See Imbler v. Pachtman,
424 U.S. 409, 420-24 (1976). “[I]nitiating and pursuing
a criminal prosecution” constitute “activities
which are intimately associated with the judicial
process.” Snell, 920 F.2d 686 (10th Cir. 1990)
(quotations omitted). Immunity attaches to these activities
even where, as here, the plaintiff alleges that the
prosecutor knowingly presented false evidence to the Court.
See Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478 (1991) (applying
immunity where prosecutor presented false statements in the
probable cause affidavit). Further, even if Clayton was not
immune, a claim for malicious prosecution is only viable
where the underlying criminal action terminated in the
plaintiff's favor. See Wilkins v. DeReyes, 528
F.3d 790, 799 (10th Cir. 2008). Because Plaintiff pled guilty
in his underlying case, he cannot claim Clayton is
responsible for any wrongful conviction. The claims against
Clayton therefore fail.
the last Defendant, Arthur Bustos, subject to liability in
this case. As noted above, a plaintiff can only recover in a
Section 1983 action where the defendant was “acting
under color of state law.” McLaughlin, 215
F.3d at 1172. The Supreme Court has held that public
defenders and private defense attorneys do not act under
color of state law within the meaning of Section 1983.
See Polk Cty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 316 (1981);
Anderson v. Kitchen, 389 Fed.Appx. 838, 841 (10th
Cir. 2010) (applying the rule to private defense counsel).
even if Plaintiff could successfully sue Defendants, any
claim for damages is barred under Heck v. Humphry,
512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994). Heck held that the federal
court must dismiss any Seciton 1983 damages claim that, if
resolved in the plaintiff's favor, would necessarily
imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence.
Id. at 487. Plaintiff's request to be
compensated for each day of incarceration, based on the
wrongful conduct of a judge, prosecutor, or public defender,
necessarily attacks the criminal proceedings. See e.g.,
Baldwin v. O'Connor, 466 Fed.Appx. 717, 717 (10th
Cir. 2012) (Heck barred § 1983 monetary claims
“alleging violations of . . . constitutional rights by
. . . the deputy district attorney who prosecuted [plaintiff]
and the district-court judge who presided in his
case”); Murphy v. Willmore, 752 Fed.Appx. 653,
656 (10th Cir. 2018) (same).
these reasons, the complaint fails to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted. The Court will dismiss the
Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).