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Pearson v. Hartley

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

January 11, 2018

CLINTON JAMES PEARSON, JR., AIS #155536, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN HARTLEY, et al., Defendants.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          Susan Russ Walker United States Magistrate Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION[1]

         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is pending before the court on a complaint filed by Clinton James Pearson, Jr., on October 21, 2017. Pearson is an indigent Alabama inmate currently incarcerated at the William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility on concurrent life sentences for three first degree robbery convictions imposed upon him by the Circuit Court of Montgomery, Alabama on March 3, 1997. See Pearson v. Bullard, et al., 2:02-CV-924-WHA-SRW (M.D. Ala. 2003).[2]

         Pearson complains that during his 1997 state criminal proceedings the trial court failed to refer him for an out-patient mental health evaluation. Doc. 1 at 3. Pearson also challenges (1) the jurisdiction of the trial court to impose judgment and sentence upon him for his three robbery convictions, (2) the sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions, [3] and (3) the representation provided by trial counsel. Id. Pearson names John Hartley, his trial counsel; Ellen Brooks, the District Attorney at the time of his convictions; and the Attorney General for the State of Alabama as defendants. He seeks acquittal on the robbery convictions and monetary damages. Id. at 4.

         Upon review of the complaint, the court concludes that dismissal of this case prior to service of process is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), (ii) and (iii).[4]

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Attorney John Hartley

         Pearson alleges that his trial counsel, John Hartley, violated his constitutional right to effective representation during the state criminal proceedings when Hartley did not obtain an out-patient mental health evaluation for him and failed to challenge the jurisdiction of the trial court to render judgment and impose sentence. Doc. No. 1 at 3. In accordance with applicable federal law, these allegations entitle Pearson to no relief from this court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         An essential element of a § 1983 action is that a person acting under color of state law committed the asserted constitutional deprivation. American Manufacturers Mutual Ins. Company v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 119 S.Ct. 977, 985, 143 L.Ed.2d 130 (1999); Willis v. University Health Services, Inc., 993 F.2d 837, 840 (11th Cir. 1993).

To state a [viable] claim for relief in an action brought under § 1983, [a plaintiff] must establish that [he was] deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and that the alleged deprivation was committed under color of state law. . . . [T]he under-color-of-state-law element of § 1983 excludes from its reach “‘merely private conduct, no matter how discriminatory or wrongful, '” Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991, 1002, 102 S.Ct. 2777, 73 L.Ed.2d 534 (1982) (quoting Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1, 13, 68 S.Ct. 836, 92 L.Ed. 1161 (1948))… . [Consequently, ] state action requires both an alleged constitutional deprivation “caused by the exercise of some right or privilege created by the State or by a rule of conduct imposed by the State or by a person for whom the State is responsible, ” and that “the party charged with the deprivation must be a person who may fairly be said to be a state actor.” Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 937, 102 S.Ct. 2744, 73 L.Ed.2d 482 (1982); see Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 156, 98 S.Ct. 1729, 56 L.Ed.2d 185 (1978).”

American Manufacturers, 526 U.S. at 49-50, 119 S.Ct. at 985 (footnote omitted) (emphasis in original).

         The law is well-settled that an attorney who represents an individual does not act under color of state law. Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312 (1981); Mills v. Criminal District Court No. 3, 837 F.2d 677, 679 (5th Cir. 1988) (“[P]rivate attorneys, even court-appointed attorneys, are not official state actors and … are not subject to suit under section 1983.”). Since the conduct about which Pearson complains was not committed by a person acting under color of state law, the claims presented against defendant Hartley lack an arguable basis in law and are therefore subject to summary dismissal as frivolous in accordance with the directives of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i).

         B. District Attorney Ellen Brooks and the Attorney General

         “A prosecutor is entitled to absolute immunity for all actions he [or she] takes while performing his function as an advocate for the government.” Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 273 (1993); Jones v. Cannon, 174 F.3d 1271, 1281 (11th Cir. 1999) (“A prosecutor enjoys absolute immunity from allegations stemming from the prosecutor's function as advocate.”); Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, 555 U.S. 335, 342 (2009) (In a § 1983 action, “the immunity that the law grants prosecutors [for actions intimately associated with initiation, prosecution and punishment in a criminal case] is ‘absolute.'”); Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 420 (1976) (“[A] prosecutor enjoys absolute immunity from § 1983 suits for damages when he acts within the scope of his prosecutorial duties.”); Rowe v. Fort Lauderdale, 279 F.3d 1271, 1279 (11th Cir. 2002) (“A prosecutor is entitled to absolute immunity for all actions he takes while performing his function as an advocate for the government.”). The absolute immunity afforded prosecutors protects against “impair[ing] the performance of a central actor in the judicial process.” Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 343 (1986). Absolute immunity from ...


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