United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
OPINION AND ORDER
TIMOTHY L. BROOKS DISTRICT JUDGE.
a civil rights action filed Plaintiff Royce Dee Keebler under
the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff proceeds
pro se and in forma pauperis. He is
incarcerated in the Benton County Detention Center (BCDC).
Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) modified the IFP statute,
28 U.S.C. § 1915, to require the Court to screen
complaints for dismissal under § 1915(e)(2)(B). The
Court must dismiss a complaint, or any portion of it, if it
contains claims that: (a) are frivolous or malicious; (b)
fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or
(c) seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from
such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
to the allegations of the Complaint (Doc. 1), Plaintiff has
been incarcerated on state criminal charges since October 24,
2015. He states he has a total of seven criminal charges
filed against him including one that has been pending since
November 2, 2014. He names as Defendants those associated
with his criminal case, Judge Bridges, Prosecuting Attorney
Jay Sexton, and Public Defender Nathan Smith, and the
psychologist, Dana Hartsfew who performed a mental evaluation
to determine if Plaintiff is capable of assisting in his
defense. With respect to Dana Hartsfew, Plaintiff alleges she
has her own practice on the square in Fayetteville.
contends his constitutional rights have been violated in the
following ways: (1) certain questions during his mental
evaluation were designed to get him to incriminate himself;
(2) although he has been appointed an attorney, Plaintiff
alleges that Nathan Smith has been of no assistance at all;
(3) he has been denied Due Process; (4) he has been denied a
speedy trial; (5) he has been denied the right to appear in
person at court instead of by video; (6) he has not been
allowed to obtain "witnesses in [his] favor;" (7)
he has not been given the opportunity to confront the
witnesses against him; (8) his bond is excessive; (9) he has
not been provided any information about his case; (10) he is
being unlawfully detained; and (11) Judge Bridges has
unlawfully entered not guilty pleas on Plaintiffs behalf thus
acting as both the Judge and Plaintiffs attorney. As relief,
the Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages.
the PLRA, the Court is obligated to screen a case prior to
service of process being issued. A claim is frivolous when it
"lacks an arguable basis either in law or fact."
Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). A
claim fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted
if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). However, the
Court bears in mind that when "evaluating whether a pro
se plaintiff has asserted sufficient facts to state a claim,
we hold 'a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded,
. .. to less stringent standards than formal pleadings
drafted by lawyers.'" Jackson v. Nixon, 747
F.3d 537, 541 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)).
claims are subject to dismissal. First, Judge Paul Bridges is
immune from suit. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11
(1991) ("Judicial immunity is an immunity from suit, not
just from ultimate assessment of damages."); see
also Duty v. City of Springdale, 42 F.3d 460, 462 (8th
Cir. 1994). "Judges performing judicial functions enjoy
absolute immunity from § 1983 liability."
Robinson v. Freeze, 15 F.3d 107, 108 (8th Cir.
1994). "A judge will not be deprived of immunity because
the action he took was in error, was done maliciously, or was
in excess of his authority." Stump v. Sparkman,
435 U.S. 349, 356-57 (1978).
immunity is overcome in two situations: (1) if the challenged
act is nonjudicial; and (2) if the action, although judicial
in nature, was taken in the complete absence of all
jurisdiction. Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11. It is clear
from the allegations of the complaint that neither situation
Prosecuting Attorney Jay Sexton is immune from suit. The
United States Supreme Court, in Imbler v. Pachtman,
424 U.S. 409, 427 (1976), established the absolute immunity
of a prosecutor from a civil suit for damages under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 "in initiating a prosecution and in
presenting the State's case." This immunity extends
to all acts that are "intimately associated with the
judicial phase of the criminal process." Id. at
430; see also Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259
(1993) (finding that a prosecutor acting as an advocate for
the state in a criminal prosecution is entitled to absolute
immunity while a prosecutor acting in an investigatory or
administrative capacity is only entitled to qualified
immunity); Brodnicki v. City of Omaha, 75 F.3d 1261
(8th Cir. 1996) (holding that county prosecutors were
entitled to absolute immunity from suit).
Public Defender Nathan Smith is not subject to suit under
§ 1983. A § 1983 complaint must allege that each
defendant, acting under color of state law, deprived
plaintiff of "rights, privileges or immunities secured
by the Constitution and laws" of the United States. 42
U.S.C. § 1983; DuBose v. Kelly, 187 F.3d 999
(8th Cir. 1999). Nathan Smith does not act under color of
state law while representing Plaintiff in his criminal
proceeding. Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 318
(1981) (public defender does not act under color of state law
when performing traditional functions as counsel).
Dana Hartsfew, a psychologist, does not act under color of
state law merely because she performed Plaintiffs mental
evaluation. Private individuals, not employed by a detention
center or a state agency, do not act under color of law
unless they are so connected with the state that their
conduct may be fairly attributed to the state itself.
Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 936
(1983). In this case, Plaintiff has alleged only that Dana
Hartsfew conducted his mental evaluation. There is no
allegation that she was employed by Benton County or that she
acted pursuant to a contract with Benton County. See,
e.g., West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42 (1988) (physician
acting pursuant to a contract with the state to provide
medical services acted under color of state law); Greffey
v. State of Ala. Dept. of Com, 996 F.Supp. 1368, 1379
(N.D. Ala. 1998) (psychologist employed by the State acts
under color of law). In fact, Plaintiff indicates Dana
Hartsfew was in private practice. See, e.g., Black v.
Delano Reg'l Med. Ctr., 2015 WL 4923224, *4 (E.D.
Cal. Aug. 18, 2015) (finding defendants are not employees of
the state and plaintiff "does not allege that there is
any contractual, or otherwise 'deeply intertwined, '
relationship between the hospitals and the prison. Therefore,
Plaintiff has failed to allege that Defendants acted under
color of state law.").
is no allegation that Benton County had any control, or
responsibility, for Dana Hartsfew's actions. See Blum
v. Yaretsky,457 U.S. 991, 1004 (1982) (no state action
when determinations "ultimately turn on medical
judgments made by private parties according to professional
standards that are not established by the State");
cf. Jensen v. Lane Cnty.,222 F.3d 570, 575 (9th
Cir. 2000) (relationship between county and private
psychiatric group providing mental evaluations was so
"deeply intertwined" that psychiatrist who signed
commitment order acted under color of state law for §
1983 purposes). Here, there are no allegations suggesting any
basis on which Dana Hartsfew can be held to be a state actor.
Therefore, she did not act under color of law. See, e.g.,
Pino v. Higgs,75 F.3d 1461, 1466-67 (10th Cir. 1996)
(private emergency room physician not acting under color of
state law for purposes of § 1983 when he examined,
detained, and certified plaintiff for transport under state
commitment statute); Dixon v. Baptist S. Med. Hosp.,