United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
KEITH WATKINS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
pro se complaint, Plaintiff, a state inmate, alleges
that his federal constitutional and statutory rights were
violated when he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment upon
revocation of his probation and denied placement in an
alternative treatment program available for disabled
veterans. Before the court is the Recommendation of the
Magistrate Judge, who after screening under 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B), has recommended summary dismissal of
Plaintiff's complaint on several grounds, including
statute of limitations, the favorable-termination rule
announced in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994),
and absolute judicial and prosecutorial immunity. (Doc. #
10.) Plaintiff has filed objections to the Recommendation.
(Doc. # 13.) Based upon a de novo review of those
portions of the Recommendation to which objection is made, 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Recommendation is due to be
adopted and Plaintiff's objections are due to be
overruled. Three of those objections are addressed in this
Plaintiff argues that the Magistrate Judge erroneously found
that the statute of limitations barred his claims arising
from his request in March 2016 for a transfer of his criminal
case to a veterans' treatment court. However, the
formidable obstacle to Plaintiff's claims is not the
statute of limitations, but rather Heck's
the rule the Supreme Court announced in Heck, when a
plaintiff brings a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 suit for monetary
damages that “would necessarily imply the invalidity of
his conviction or sentence, ” the suit “must be
dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the
conviction or sentence has already been invalidated.”
512 U.S. at 487. The purpose of the Heck rule is
“to limit the opportunities for collateral attack on
state court convictions because such collateral attacks
undermine the finality of criminal proceedings and may create
conflicting resolutions of issues.” Abella v.
Rubino, 63 F.3d 1063, 1065 (11th Cir. 1995).
decade after its decision in Heck, the Supreme Court
expanded Heck's favorable-termination rule to
any type of relief under § 1983 “if success in
that action would necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of
confinement or its duration.” Wilkinson v.
Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 (2005). Lower courts,
including the Eleventh Circuit, have extended the logic of
Heck to other federal statutes, as well as to civil
rights suits against federal officers. See Abella,
63 F.3d at 1065 (holding that “the Heck rule
applies to Bivens damages claims”) (referring
to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of
Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971)); Hines v. Wise,
No. CV 16-461-CG-N, 2016 WL 7743035, at *11 (S.D. Ala. Dec.
5, 2016) (applying Heck's favorable-termination
rule to claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985 and 1986
“when the validity of the conviction or sentence is
challenged”), report and recommendation
adopted, No. CV 16-461-CG-N, 2017 WL 126130 (S.D. Ala.
Jan. 11, 2017). And one district court has deduced that
Heck's reasoning precludes “a
plaintiff's reliance on any other federal statute . . .
if the sole injury for which plaintiff seeks redress is his
conviction [or sentence].” Robinson v.
Ashcroft, 357 F.Supp.2d 142, 145 (D.D.C. 2004) (citing
Williams v. Hill, 74 F.3d 1339 (D.C. Cir. 1996)).
gravamen of Plaintiff's complaint is that his sentence of
imprisonment on his probation revocation violates a panoply
of federal laws because his case should have been transferred
to veterans' treatment court, where he could have
participated in a diversion program offering mental health
treatment. He alleges that he made two requests for a case
transfer - in March 2016 and again in November 2017 - and
that those requests were denied. Plaintiff elaborates, for
instance, that Circuit Judge Henry Binford improvidently
rejected a recommendation from a Department of Veterans
Affairs' employee that, in lieu of incarceration,
Plaintiff “be placed in a specific mental health
specialized program” (Doc. # 1, at 12), and that Judge
Binford conspired “to send [him] to a prison system,
” rather than for treatment in a “specialized
program” offered by the Veterans Affairs. (Doc. # 1, at
Plaintiff's attempt to rely on 42 U.S.C. §§
1983, 1985(3) and other federal statutes, the logic of
Heck and its progeny mandates dismissal because
Plaintiff does not claim any injury apart from his sentence
of incarceration. And the nature of the relief Plaintiff
seeks for his injury - e.g., money damages flowing
from his allegedly wrongful incarceration and a “right
to jurisdiction transfer of case for participation in”
the veterans' treatment court (Doc. # 1, at 22) - would
“necessarily imply the invalidity” of
Plaintiff's probation-revocation sentence. Heck,
512 U.S. at 487.
Magistrate Judge explained why Heck's
favorable-termination rule bars Plaintiff's claims that
arose in November 2017. (Doc. # 10, at 13-16.) That analysis
applies equally to Plaintiff's claims arising from the
denial of his earlier request in March 2016 for a transfer of
his case to veterans' treatment court. Plaintiff has not
alleged or argued that his sentence has been invalidated as
required to avoid Heck's bar. Additionally, the
decisions upon which Plaintiff relies are distinguishable
because, in those cases, the plaintiffs' discrimination
claims did not arise out of a criminal conviction and
sentence. In other words, the Heck rule was not at
issue. See, e.g., Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel.
Zimring, 527 U.S. 581, 593-94 (1999) (addressing
disability-discrimination claims brought by individuals who
were voluntarily confined for treatment in psychiatric units
and were denied placement in community-based programs).
Plaintiff will not be permitted to circumvent
Heck's bar by repackaging his § 1983 claims
under other federal anti-discrimination statutes.
Accordingly, Plaintiff's claims are barred by
Heck's favorable-termination rule.
Heck forecloses Plaintiff's claims, it is
unnecessary to address the statute-of-limitations issue,
either as argued by Plaintiff or as analyzed by the
Magistrate Judge. That is because the statute of limitations
on a claim that is subject to Heck's bar does
not start to run until the conviction or sentence is
invalidated. See Heck, 512 U.S. at 489 (observing
that a § 1983 cause of action does not accrue until the
plaintiff can show that his conviction or sentence has been
Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge's conclusion
that Judge Binford and District Attorney Douglas Valeska are
immune from Plaintiff's claims for monetary damages.
Plaintiff attempts to cast the actions of Judge Binford and
Mr. Valeska that foreclosed his participation in
veterans' treatment court or other alternative sentencing
program as administrative decisions falling outside the scope
of absolute judicial and prosecutorial immunity. It is true
that neither judges nor prosecutors are entitled to absolute
judicial or prosecutorial immunity for administrative acts.
See Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 228 (1988)
(“Administrative decisions, even though they may be
essential to the very functioning of the courts, have not . .
. been regarded as judicial acts.”); Buckley v.
Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 273 (1993) (“A
prosecutor's administrative duties . . . that do not
relate to an advocate's preparation for the initiation of
a prosecution or for judicial proceedings are not entitled to
absolute immunity.”). That said, “[a] judge
enjoys absolute immunity from suit for judicial acts
performed within the jurisdiction of his court, ”
McCullough v. Finley, 907 F.3d 1324, 1330 (11th Cir.
2018), and when a judge sentences a defendant, he or she is
engaged in a judicial act. See Id. at 1331
(“ordering incarceration is a normal judicial
function”) (citation omitted). Also, “prosecutors
have been held absolutely immune to carry out such advocacy
actions as . . . making sentence recommendations.”
Van De'r Vaa'rte Young v. Grensky, No.
1:17-CV-01630-CL, 2017 WL 4896089, at *2 (D. Or. Oct. 30,
2017) (citing Brown v. Cal. Dep't of Corrs., 554
F.3d 747, 750-51 (9th Cir. 2009)); see also LaPine v.
Savoie, No. 2:14-CV-145, 2014 WL 5460825, at *7 (W.D.
Mich. Oct. 27, 2014) (“[P]rosecuting Plaintiff for
violations of his probation and making sentencing
recommendations are intimately associated with a
prosecutor's role as an advocate.”).
the complaint's allegations against Judge Binford and Mr.
Valeska focus on their denial of his request to participate
in a diversion program as an alternative to incarceration.
(See, e.g., Doc. # 1, at 9 (“Douglas Valeska
and Judge Henry Binford denied [Plaintiff's]
participation” in veterans treatment court and other
pretrial deferment or diversion programs.); Doc. # 1, at 12
(Judge Binford “agreed to revoke” Plaintiff's
probation and sentence him to prison after Mr. Valeska told
Judge Binford that other Defendants “were afraid of
[Plaintiff]” and protested Plaintiff's entry into a
pretrial diversion program.).) These actions about which
Plaintiff complains are integral to a judge's sentencing
decision and to a prosecutor's role as an advocate and
officer of the court in preparation for and in relation to a
Plaintiff's allegations that Judge Binford and Mr.
Valeska acted with discriminatory intent does not strip them
of immunity. (Doc. # 10, at (See, e.g., Doc. # 1, at
21 (Mr. Valeska and Judge Binford engaged in
“discriminatory actions . . . direct[ed] to felony
offenders who are disabled veterans and service
members.”).) The function of sentencing is no less
judicial where the judge harbors illicit motives. See
McCullough, 907 F.3d at 1331 (“A judge enjoys
absolute immunity for judicial acts regardless of whether he
made a mistake, acted maliciously, or exceeded his
authority.”). Similarly, “as with judicial
immunity, allegations of malicious intent do not overcome a
prosecutor's absolute immunity.” LaPine,
2014 WL 5460825, at *7; see also Elder v. Athens-Clarke
Cty., Ga., 54 F.3d 694, 695 (11th Cir. 1995) (“If
prosecutorial immunity means anything, it means that
prosecutors who take on the thankless task of public
prosecution . . . [are] not answerable to every person
wrongfully prosecuted who can find a lawyer willing to allege
that the prosecutor filed charges in bad faith, or for evil
motives, or as a conspirator.”).
de novo review, the court finds that the Magistrate
Judge correctly applied the tests for absolute and
prosecutorial immunity and reached the correct result. (Doc.
# 10, at 6-8, 10-11.) Accordingly, as the Magistrate Judge
concluded, Judge Binford is entitled to absolute judicial
immunity for damages liability and that Mr. Valeska similarly
is shielded from damages liability based on absolute
and finally, Plaintiff objects that the Magistrate Judge did
not allow him to amend his complaint. However, an amendment
would be futile because Plaintiff has not demonstrated that
there are any facts upon which he could rely to support his
claims challenging the legality of the state court's
sentencing decision. See Hall v. United Ins. Co. of
Am., 367 F.3d 1255, 1262 (11th Cir. 2004)
(“[D]enial of leave to amend is justified by futility
when the complaint as amended is still subject to
dismissal.”) (citation and internal ...