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Humphries v. Department of Corrections

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

November 17, 2014


Richard G Humphries, Plaintiff, Pro se, SEATTLE, WA.


JAMES P. DONOHUE, United States Magistrate Judge.

On July 1, 2014, plaintiff Richard Humphries submitted to the Court for filing a civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 together with an application to proceed with this action in forma pauperis . Plaintiff alleged in his complaint that false statements had been used against him at a sentencing modification hearing in King County Superior Court which resulted in the imposition of a 13 month sentence. ( See Dkt. 1.) Plaintiff identified as defendants in his complaint Jacob Ward, a Community Corrections Officer employed by the Washington Department of Corrections, defense attorney Brian Todd, and Sue Williams and Paula Bellesen, the individuals who allegedly made the false statements. ( See id .) Plaintiff requested declaratory and injunctive relief, and damages. ( See id .) Plaintiff also requested that criminal penalties be imposed against the named defendants for alleged violations of federal criminal law. ( See id .)

On July 28, 2014, this Court issued an Order granting plaintiff leave to proceed with this action in forma pauperis and his original complaint was filed. ( See Dkts. 3 and 4.) On the same date, this Court issued an Order declining to serve plaintiff's original complaint and granting him leave to file an amended complaint curing deficiencies identified in his original pleading. (Dkt. 8.) The Court explained in its Order declining to serve plaintiff's complaint that Brian Todd, Sue Williams, and Paula Bellesen were not state actors for purposes of bringing suit under § 1983, and that plaintiff therefore could not proceed against those individuals in this action. (Id. at 2-3.) The Court also explained, with respect to defendant Jacob Ward, that in order to proceed against Mr. Ward plaintiff would have to make clear the federal rights he believes were violated by the conduct of Mr. Ward and he would have to allege specific facts in support of the claimed violations. (Id. at 3.)

On October 29, 2014, plaintiff filed an amended complaint in which he once again asserts a claim against Community Corrections Officer Jacob Ward, but omits the claims previously asserted against Brian Todd, Sue Williams, and Paula Bellesen. Plaintiff also asserts claims against two new defendants, King County Superior Court Judge Gregory Canova and King County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel Satterberg. Plaintiff's specific allegations appear to be that (1) Mr. Ward solicited statements from Paula Bellsen and Sue Williams which were either false or unlawfully obtained, and then presented the statements at plaintiff's DOSA revocation hearing, (2) Judge Canova accepted the statements as truthful and sentenced plaintiff to 13 months confinement in violation of his right to due process, and (3) Mr. Satterberg accepted and presented the statements to the court resulting in the revocation of plaintiff's DOSA sentence. (Dkt. 11 at 3-4.)

A review of plaintiff's amended pleading reveals that it contains deficiencies similar in nature to those identified in plaintiff's original pleading. Specifically, two of the three defendants named in plaintiff's amended complaint are simply not viable defendants in this civil rights action. The United States Supreme Court has also held that, in light of common law immunity principles, persons who perform official functions in the judicial process are absolutely immune from liability for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325, 334-36, 103 S.Ct. 1108, 75 L.Ed.2d 96 (1983). Prosecutors have specifically been accorded absolute immunity from § 1983 claims for acts done within the scope of their official duties. Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 96 S.Ct. 984, 47 L.Ed.2d 128 (1976) . " If the prosecutor acts as an advocate 'in initiating a prosecution and in presenting the State's case, ' absolute immunity is warranted." Ybarra v. Reno Thunderbird Mobile Home Village, 723 F.2d 675, 678 (9th Cir. 1984) (quoting Imbler, 424 U.S. at 430-431). Given the nature of plaintiff's claims, King County Superior Court Judge Gregory Canova and King County Prosecutor Daniel Satterberg are immune from liability in this action.

As to the remaining defendant, Jacob Ward, plaintiff fails to clearly identify the federal rights he believes were violated by the conduct of Mr. Ward or to allege sufficient facts to demonstrate that Mr. Ward personally participated in causing him any harm of federal constitutional dimension. Plaintiff asserts that Mr. Ward " solicited and put into production" statements from Ms. Bellesen and Ms. Williams, and he suggests that the statements were false, or were obtained in violation of federal law, or perhaps both. Plaintiff makes a reference to due process in the statement of his claim against Mr. Ward, but it is utterly unclear whether that reference even pertains to the conduct of Mr. Ward and none of the facts alleged illuminate the reference.

The Supreme Court has made clear that a statement of a claim must be sufficient to " give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957). And, the factual allegations of a complaint must be " enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). In addition, a complaint must allege facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). Plaintiff's claim against Mr. Ward is not sufficiently clear nor is it supported by sufficient facts, to allege any viable claim for relief against Mr. Ward.

When a complaint is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief, the Court may dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint before service of process under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) (2) (B). Because Judge Canova and Mr. Satterberg are immune from liability in this action, and because plaintiff has not adequately alleged any cause of action against Mr. Ward, this Court recommends that plaintiff's amended complaint, and this action, be dismissed, without prejudice, pursuant to § 1915(e) (2) (B).

Objections to this Report and Recommendation, if any, should be filed with the Clerk and served upon all parties to this suit by no later than December 8, 2014. Failure to file objections within the specified time may affect your right to appeal. Objections should be noted for consideration on the District Judge's motion calendar for the third Friday after they are filed. Responses to objections may be filed within fourteen (14) days after service of objections. If no timely objections are filed, the matter will be ready for consideration by the District Judge on December 12, 2014.

This Report and Recommendation is not an appealable order. Thus, a notice of appeal seeking review in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit should not be filed until the assigned ...

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