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Wallis v. Sherry

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division

March 20, 2018

LAURA WALLIS PLAINTIFF
v.
CHRISTINA SHERRY Public Defender, DANIEL SHUE Prosecuting Attorney, and JASON HUNTER Prosecuting Attorney DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          P. K. HOLMES, III CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         The case is before the Court for preservice screening under the provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court has the obligation to screen any complaint in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed her Complaint on November 27, 2017, in the Eastern District of Arkansas. (ECF No. 2). The case was transferred to this District on January 9, 2018. (ECF Nos. 7, 8).

         Plaintiff alleges her constitutional rights were violated when she was coerced into a guilty plea by her public defender, Christina Sherry. (ECF No. 2 at 4). Plaintiff further alleges the prosecutors, Defendants Shue and Hunter, should have been aware that she had already been convicted of a similar charge in Barling City Court. (ECF No. 2 at 4-5).

         Plaintiff proceeds against all Defendants in their official and personal capacities. (ECF No. 2 at 2). Plaintiff seeks “relief from these charges that are sending me to prison, ” as well as time served. (ECF No. 2 at 6).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under the PLRA, the Court is obligated to screen the case prior to service of process being issued. The Court must dismiss a complaint, or any portion of it, if it contains claims that: (1) are frivolous, malicious, or fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or, (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         A claim is frivolous if “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 Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “In 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)). Even a pro se Plaintiff must allege specific facts sufficient to support a claim. Martin v. Sargent, 780 F.2d 1334, 1337 (8th Cir. 1985).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff's claims against Public Defender Sherry are subject to dismissal. A public defender does not act under color of state law when performing a lawyer's traditional functions as counsel to indigent defendants in state criminal proceedings. Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 325 (1981). Thus, when the claim is merely that the public defender failed to adequately represent the client in his or her criminal proceedings, it does not state a cognizable claim under § 1983. See Gilbert v. Corcoran, 530 F.2d 820 (8th Cir. 1976) (conclusory allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel do not state a claim against public defenders under § 1983).

         Likewise, Plaintiff's claims against Prosecutors Shue and Hunter are subject to dismissal. The United States Supreme Court, in Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 431, (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." Id. at 427. 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) (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). Based on the allegations of the complaint, it is clear the prosecuting attorneys are entitled to absolute immunity. See also Brodnicki v. City of Omaha, 75 F.3d 1261 (8th Cir. 1996) (County prosecutors were entitled to absolute immunity from suit).

         For these reasons, IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiff's claims are ...


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