United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division
RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE
F. MOORER UNITED STATES MAGISTRAGE JUDGE
Jonathan Berry [“Berry”], an inmate incarcerated
at the Houston County Jail in Dothan, Alabama, files this 42
U.S.C. § 1983 action challenging the constitutionality
of an amended sentence imposed upon him in 2016 by Judge
Larry Anderson for his convictions on three counts of
distribution of a controlled substance. Berry requests
damages for the alleged violation of his constitutional
rights and seeks dismissal of his cases, fines, and
restitution. Doc. 1.
review, the court concludes dismissal of the complaint prior
to service of process is appropriate under 28 U.S.C.§
to Berry, he signed a plea agreement in December of 2013 to
serve a concurrent term of sixty-five months on three drug
offense convictions, but Judge Anderson forced the district
attorney to scratch through the original sixty-five months
term and sentenced Berry to ninety-seven months imprisonment
with two sentences to run concurrently and one sentence to
run consecutively. Berry states Judge Anderson's actions
resulted in a total term of imprisonment of sixteen years and
two months. Berry contends such conduct violated his
constitutional rights because he should have served no more
than a concurrent term of twenty months before he completed
his sentence based on the original plea deal and based on
sentencing guidelines. Judge Anderson, Berry maintains, then
admitted to violating Berry's constitutional rights
regarding his 2013 sentence and in 2016 amended Berry's
sentence to a term of forty months imprisonment. Berry
complains, however, that the amended sentence imposed by
Judge Anderson in 2016 violates his constitutional rights
because it still exceeds the terms of the original plea
agreement by requiring him to serve an additional twenty
The Request for Monetary Damages. Berry's claims
against Judge Anderson entitle him to no relief in his cause
of action. The allegations Berry makes against Judge Anderson
emanate from actions taken by this defendant in his judicial
capacity during state court proceedings over which he had
jurisdiction. The law is well settled that a state judge is
absolutely immune from civil liability for acts taken
pursuant to his judicial authority. Forrester v.
White, 484 U.S. 219, 227-229 (1988); Paisey v.
Vitale in and for Broward County, 807 F.2d 889 (11th
Cir. 1986); Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349
(1978). In light of the foregoing, Berry's claims for
monetary damages against Judge Anderson are “based on
an indisputably meritless legal theory” and are
therefore due to be summarily dismissed under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(iii). Neitzke v. Williams, 490
U.S. 319, 327 (1989).
Request for Declaratory/Injunctive Relief from State
Court Action. To the extent Berry seeks declaratory
and/or injunctive relief from final orders issued by Judge
Anderson, this court lacks jurisdiction to render such
judgment in an action filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
“The Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents . . .
lower federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over cases
brought by ‘state-court losers' challenging
‘state-court judgments rendered before the district
court proceedings commenced.' Exxon Mobil Corp. v.
Saudi Basic Industries Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284, 125
S.Ct. 1517, 161 L.Ed.2d 454 (2005).” Lance v.
Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 460 (2006). Although
“Rooker-Feldman is a narrow doctrine, ”
it remains applicable to bar Berry from proceeding before the
court as this case, with respect to any claims challenging a
final order issued by a state court, is “‘brought
by [a] state-court loser complaining of injuries caused by
state-court judgments rendered before the district court
proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and
rejection of those judgments.' 544 U.S. at 284, 125 S.Ct.
[at] 1517.” Lance, 546 U.S. at 464. Moreover,
a § 1983 action is inappropriate either to compel or to
appeal a particular course of action by a state court.
Datz v. Kilgore, 51 F.3d 252, 254 (11th Cir. 1995)
(§ 1983 suit arising from alleged erroneous decisions of
a state court is merely a prohibited appeal of the state
court judgment); see also Rolleston v. Eldridge, 848
F.2d 163 (11th Cir. 1988).
light of the foregoing, the court concludes that summary
dismissal of any requests seeking declaratory or injunctive
relief against Judge Anderson regarding matters associated
with Berry's state court criminal case is appropriate
under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i). See Clark,
915 F.2d 636; see also Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327.
The Challenge to Plaintiff's Conviction
Berry seeks to challenge the validity of the amended sentence
imposed upon him in 2016 by the Circuit Court for Houston
County, Alabama, such claims go to the fundamental legality
of his confinement and provide no basis for relief at this
time. Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641, 646 (1997);
Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994); Preiser
v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973). In
Heck, the Supreme Court held that a claim for
damages challenging the legality of a prisoner's
conviction or confinement is not cognizable in a 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 action “unless and until the [order
requiring such confinement] is reversed, expunged,
invalidated, or impugned by the grant of a writ of habeas
corpus” and complaints containing such claims must
therefore be dismissed. 512 U.S. at 483-489. The Court
emphasized that “habeas corpus is the exclusive remedy
for a [confined individual] who challenges the fact or
duration of his confinement and seeks immediate or speedier
release, even though such a claim may come within the literal
terms of § 1983” and concluded that Heck's
complaint was due to be dismissed as no cause of action
existed under section 1983. Id. at 481. The Court
rejected the lower court's reasoning that a section 1983
action should be construed as a habeas corpus action.
Balisok, the Court further concluded that an
inmate's “claim[s] for declaratory [and injunctive]
relief and money damages, . . . that necessarily imply the
invalidity of the punishment imposed, is not cognizable under
§ 1983 . . .” unless the inmate can demonstrate
that the challenged action has previously been invalidated.
520 U.S. at 648. The Court determined this is true not only
when a prisoner challenges the judgment as a substantive
matter but also when “the nature of the challenge to
the procedures could be such as necessarily to imply the
invalidity of the judgment.” Id. at 645. The
Court reiterated the position taken in Heck that the
“sole remedy in federal court” for a prisoner
challenging the constitutionality of her confinement is a
petition for writ of habeas corpus. Id. The Court
“reemphasize[d] . . . that a claim either is cognizable
under § 1983 and should immediately go forward, or is
not cognizable and should be dismissed.” Id.
the circumstances of this case, Heck and its progeny
bar Berry's use of any federal civil action, other than a
petition for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. §
2254, to mount a collateral attack on the validity of his
state court criminal conviction and sentence. 512 U.S. at 489
(“We do not engraft an exhaustion requirement upon
§ 1983, but rather deny the existence of a cause of
action. Even a prisoner who has fully exhausted [all]
available state remedies has no cause of action under §
1983 unless and until the conviction or sentence is reversed,
expunged, invalidated, or impugned by the grant of a writ of
habeas corpus.”); Abella v. Rubino, 63 F.3d
1063, 1066 n.4 (11th Cir. 1995) (“Heck
clarifies that Preiser is a rule of cognizability,
not exhaustion.”). Consequently, to the extent the
claims presented by Berry seek to challenge the
constitutionality of his state court conviction and/or
amended sentence imposed in 2016, such claims are not
cognizable in this cause of action at this time and are,
therefore, subject to summary dismissal under 28 U.S.C.