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Walton v. Derosier

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lake Charles Division

February 5, 2018

JASON WALTON DOC # 477576
v.
JOHN F. DEROSIER, ET AL.

         SECTION P

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KATHLEEN KAY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before the court are the civil rights complaint [doc. 1] and Amended Motion for Production [doc. 7] filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by plaintiff Jason Walton, who is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis. This matter has been referred to the undersigned for review, report, and recommendation in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636 and the standing orders of this court.

         I.

         Background

         Walton alleges that John F. DeRosier, District Attorney for the 14th Judicial District, Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, and Carla Sigler and Kaitlyn Abshire, employees of the Calcasieu Parish District Attorney's Office (“CPDAO”), have violated his rights under “Brady, and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment” by withholding exculpatory evidence and public records. Doc. 1, p. 3. Specifically, he states that he requested files from the CPDAO three years ago so that he could prepare his application for post-conviction relief, and that that these files contain material evidence supporting his claim of actual innocence. Id. However, he maintains that the custodian of records at the CPDAO is arbitrarily and capriciously withholding the files. Id. He now seeks relief through this suit, requesting that the CPDAO be ordered to turn over his file and that he be awarded damages as well as court costs and attorney's fees. Id. at 4.

         We conducted an initial review of Walton's complaint and noted that it was deficient in a number of respects, chiefly for his failure to allege a constitutional violation based on either Brady v. Maryland, 83 S.Ct. 1194 (1963) or a denial of access to the courts. Doc. 5. Through that order Walton was given until January 29, 2018 to amend his complaint and correct the deficiencies identified. See Id. That date has passed and Walton has not filed an amended complaint. Instead, on or about January 24, 2018, he submitted an “Amended Motion for Production of Specific Documents Under Particularized Need, ” in which he expands on his constitutional arguments. Doc. 7; see doc. 7, att. 1 (providing filing date). Accordingly, we review that motion to complete the frivolity review begun under our previous order.

         II.

         Law & Analysis

         A. Frivolity Review

         Walton has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis in this matter. Accordingly, his complaint is subject to screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), which provides for sua sponte dismissal of the complaint or any portion thereof if the court determines that it is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(iii).

         A complaint is frivolous if it lacks an arguable basis in law or fact. Gonzalez v. Wyatt, 157 F.3d 1016, 1019 (5th Cir. 1998). A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted if it is clear the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief. Doe v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist., 153 F.3d 211, 215 (5th Cir. 1998). When determining whether a complaint is frivolous or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, the court must accept plaintiff's allegations as true. Horton v. Cockrell, 70 F.3d 397, 400 (5th Cir. 1995) (frivolity); Bradley v. Puckett, 157 F.3d at 1025 (failure to state a claim).

         B. Section 1983

         Federal law provides a cause of action against any person who, under the color of law, acts to deprive another person of any right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Thus the initial question is whether the plaintiff has alleged that his constitutional rights have been violated. If no constitutional violation has been alleged, there is no cognizable claim that would entitle plaintiff to relief. In order to hold the defendants liable, a plaintiff must allege facts to show (1) that a constitutional right has been violated and (2) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law; that is, that the defendant was a state actor. West v. Atkins, 108 S.Ct. 2250, 2254-55 (1988).

         C. Theories of the Complaint

         In our previous order we stated:

Walton's claims are premised on the theory that Brady v. Maryland, 83 S.Ct. 1194 (1963), in which the Supreme Court held that the prosecution's withholding of exculpatory evidence during a criminal trial violated the defendant's Fourteenth Amendment right to due process, also creates post-conviction rights for the defendant. However, the Supreme Court considered and rejected this argument in District Attorney's Office for Third Judicial District v. Osborne, 129 S.Ct. 2308 (2009). Instead, the Court held, the states have more flexibility in determining what rights are required on post-conviction relief and a state's post-conviction framework only violates the convicted offender's right to due process if the consideration of the offender's claim within that framework “offends some principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental, ” or “transgresses any recognized principle of fundamental fairness in operation.” Id. at 2320-21 (internal quotations omitted). Walton has not alleged the manner in which he made his requests or the reasons offered for denial. Accordingly, he has not provided sufficient information to plead a due process violation under this high standard.
Walton's allegations may also be construed as a claim of denial of access to the courts. However, such a claim requires an actual injury, which a complainant cannot demonstrate without showing the existence of an arguable and non-frivolous underlying action. Mendoza v. Strickland, 414 Fed. App'x 616, 619 (5th Cir. 2011) (citing Christopher v. Harbury, 122 S.Ct. 2179 (2002)). Walton's conclusory assertions of actual ...

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