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Studdard v. Lawrence

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

June 26, 2015

STEVE A. STUDDARD
v.
JOHN M. LAWRENCE, ET AL

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

MARK L. HORNSBY, Magistrate Judge.

In accordance with the standing order of this court, this matter was referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for review, report and recommendation.

STATEMENT OF CLAIM

Before the court is a civil rights complaint filed by pro se plaintiff Steve A. Studdard ("Plaintiff"), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This complaint was received and filed in this court on December 19, 2014. Plaintiff is incarcerated at the Bossier Parish Minimum Security Facility in Plain Dealing, Louisiana. He names Assistant District Attorney John M. Lawrence and the Bossier Parish District Attorney's Office as defendants.

Plaintiff claims he was not arraigned and the bill was not filed timely within 60 days. Plaintiff claims he therefore should have been released of his bond obligations. He claims his bond was excessive because he was only a passenger in the vehicle and no drugs were found on his person. He claims he was not read his Miranda rights or told what he was being charged with until he arrived at the prison.

Accordingly, Plaintiff seeks relief of his bond obligation, monetary compensation, and dismissal of his pending charges.

For the following reasons, Plaintiff's civil rights complaint should be dismissed.

LAW AND ANALYSIS

Bossier Parish District Attorney's Office and Assistant District Attorney John M. Lawrence

Plaintiff alleges no specific claims against the Bossier Parish District Attorney's Office or Assistant District Attorney John M. Lawrence. Prosecutors have absolute immunity when acting in a quasi-judicial mode. Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 106 S.Ct. 984, 47 L.Ed.2d 128 (1976); Geter v. Fortenberry, 849 F.2d 1550 (5th Cir. 1988). The Fifth Circuit has repeatedly recognized the purpose of the immunity defense is to protect public officials from undue interference with their duties and from disabling threats of liability. Geter, 849 F.2d at 1552. Absolute immunity is immunity from suit rather than from liability. Elliot v. Perez, 751 F.2d 1472 (5th Cir. 1985). The Fifth Circuit "has likewise accepted the premise that the protected official should be sheltered from trial and pre-trial preparation as well as liability." Id. at 1478.

The conduct challenged unequivocally falls within the authority of the District Attorney and Assistant District Attorney as quasi-judicial officers of the court and in the ordinary exercise of their quasi-judicial duties.

Accordingly, Plaintiff's civil rights complaint against the Bossier Parish District Attorney's Office and Assistant District Attorney John M. Lawrence should be dismissed as frivolous.

Habeas

Plaintiff seeks to have the charges against him dismissed and his immediate release from incarceration. Although Plaintiff submitted his claim on the standardized civil rights complaint form, it is incumbent upon this court to determine preliminarily whether the facts alleged establish a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 of the Civil Rights Act, or whether the claim is one which must be pursued initially in a habeas corpus proceeding. This determination is made by focusing on "the scope of relief actually sought." Alexander v. Ware, 417 F.2d 416, 419 (5th Cir. 1983); Serio v. Members of the La. State Bd. of Pardons, 821 F.2d 1112, 1117 (5th Cir. 1987).

When a claimant challenges the very fact or duration of his physical confinement and seeks an immediate release or speedier release from confinement as relief, he must pursue his claim through an application for writ of habeas corpus. See Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500, 93 S.Ct. 1827 (1973). In accordance with this guideline, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit adopted a "per se rule barring consideration of claims under [42 U.S.C.] § 1983 that directly or indirectly challenge the constitutionality of the state conviction or sentencing decision under which the claimant is currently confined." Serio, 821 F.2d at 1117 (citing Fulford v. Klein, 529 F.2d 377, 381 (5th Cir. 1976), adhered to en banc, 550 F.2d 342 (1977)). Plaintiff is challenging the charges against him and his current incarceration and his claims clearly fall within the strictures of this guideline.

However, habeas relief is unavailable to Plaintiff at this time. Upon examination of Plaintiff's complaint, it is evident that he is a pretrial detainee. This court will therefore consider his claim as one for relief under 28 U.S.C. §2241. Eligibility to proceed under Section 2241 depends upon the fulfillment of two prerequisites. The statute itself requires that petitioner must be "in custody" in order to seek habeas relief. Once petitioner has met this prerequisite, he must then show that he has exhausted available state remedies. Braden v. 30th Judicial Circuit Court of Kentucky, 410 U.S. 484, 93 S.Ct. 1123, 35 L.Ed.2d 433 (1983). The exhaustion requirement is a judicial abstention policy developed "to protect the state courts' opportunity to confront and resolve initially any constitutional issues arising within their jurisdictions as well as to limit federal interference in the state adjudicatory process." Dickerson v. State of Louisiana, 816 F.2d 220, 225 (5th Cir. 1987).

Furthermore, pretrial habeas relief is not a tool which can be used to derail or interfere with a state's criminal process. Braden v. 30th Judicial Circuit Court of Kentucky, 410 U.S. 484, 93 S.Ct. 1123, 35 L.Ed.2d 442 (1973). Absent exceptional circumstances, this court is not authorized to interfere with state trial court proceedings. Braden, supra.

Plaintiff has not presented his claims to the appropriate state courts for review and determination. Therefore, Plaintiff has not exhausted available state remedies prior to filing his petition in this court.

CONCLUSION

Because Plaintiff filed this proceeding in forma pauperis, if this court finds Plaintiff's complaint to be frivolous, it may dismiss the complaint as such at any time, before or after service of process, and before or after answers have been filed. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e); Green v. McKaskle, 788 F.2d 1116, 1119 (5th Cir. 1986); Spears v. McCotter, 766 F.2d 179 (5th Cir. 1985). District courts are vested with extremely broad discretion in making a determination of whether an in forma pauperis (IFP) proceeding is frivolous and may dismiss a claim as frivolous if the IFP complaint lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Hicks v. Garner, 69 F.3d 22 (5th Cir. 1995); Booker v. Koonce, 2 F.3d 114 (5th Cir. 1993); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989).

Accordingly;

IT IS RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's civil rights complaint be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE as frivolous and for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) and his claim for habeas relief be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE for failure to exhaust state court remedies.

OBJECTIONS

Under the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 636(b)(1)(C) and Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 72(b), parties aggrieved by this recommendation have fourteen (14) days from service of this report and recommendation to file specific, written objections with the Clerk of Court, unless an extension of time is granted under Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 6(b). A party may respond to another party's objections within fourteen (14) days after being served with a copy thereof. Counsel are directed to furnish a courtesy copy of any objections or responses to the District Judge at the time of filing.

A party's failure to file written objections to the proposed findings, conclusions and recommendation set forth above, within fourteen (14) days after being served with a copy shall bar that party, except upon grounds of plain error, from attacking on appeal the unobjected-to proposed factual findings and legal conclusions accepted by the district court. See Douglas v. U.S.A.A., 79 F.3d 1415 (5th Cir. 1996) (en banc).

An appeal may not be taken to the court of appeals from a final order in a proceeding under Section 2254 unless a circuit justice, circuit judge, or district judge issues a certificate of appealability. 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c); F.R.A.P. 22(b). Rule 11 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Proceedings for the U.S. District Courts requires the district court to issue or deny a certificate of appealability when it enters a final order adverse to the applicant. A certificate may issue only if the applicant has made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right. Section 2253(c)(2). A party may, within fourteen (14) days from the date of this Report and Recommendation, file a memorandum that sets forth arguments on whether a certificate of appealability should issue. THUS DONE AND SIGNED, in chambers, at Shreveport, Louisiana, on this the 26th day of June 2015.


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