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Mendez v. Thomas

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

August 13, 2019

JOSE LUIS MENDEZ PLAINTIFF
v.
JOSEPH THOMAS, Translator; DETECTIVE JARED PENA, Fayetteville Police Department; JOHN THREET, Prosecuting Attorney; and HERBERT CHARLES SOUTHERN, Attorney DEFENDANTS

          OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY L. BROOKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Jose Luis Mendez, currently an Inmate of the Delta Regional Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction ("ADC"), has filed a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He proceeds pro se and in forma pauperis.

         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. § 1915(e)(2).

         I. BACKGROUND

         According to the allegations of the Complaint, on May 13, 2009, Mendez was convicted in the Washington County Circuit Court of rape, attempted murder, aggravated residential burglary, and aggravated assault. He was sentenced to a sixty-year (720 month) term of imprisonment.

         Mendez at the time spoke no English. His first language is Spanish. A translator who was employed by the prosecutor's office, Joseph Thomas, but who was not certified and had failed when he took the certification examination, was used to translate an interrogation of Mendez by Detective Pena. Thomas' translation indicated that Mendez had admitted his guilt. John Threet represented the prosecutor's office. Herbert Charles Southern represented Mendez.

         Mendez offered in evidence a competing translation of the interrogation by a certified interpreter/qualified translator named Nicholas Durand. When Mendez was asked during the interrogation if he tried to kill the victim, he responded by asking why he would try to kill her, and Pena then suggested, "Grabbing her by the neck?" In response to Pena's question, Mendez either said, "I did that"-which is the response that appears in Thomas's translation-or "I did not do that-which is the response that appears in Durand's translation. Obviously, the two translations of Mendez's statement of guilt were diametrically opposed.

         Mendez appealed his conviction to the Arkansas Supreme Court, and the Court found that Thomas was not a qualified translator and that his translation should not have been admitted into evidence. See Exhibit B; Mendez v. State of Arkansas, CR10-1241, 2011 WL 6275689 (Ark. Dec. 15, 2011) (appeal from Washington County Circuit Court No. CR2009-792-1). As the translation contained an admission of guilt, the Court found any error in the translation was not harmless error. Id. The conviction was reversed and remanded to the Washington County Circuit Court. Id. Mendez now alleges in the instant lawsuit that the Washington County Circuit Court did not act on the reverse-and-remand order.

         As relief, Mendez wants this Court to enter an order compelling the Washington County Circuit Clerk to follow the mandate of the Arkansas Supreme Court. Mendez also asks for compensatory and punitive damages.

         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; (2) fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or, (3) seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i-iii).

         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 Atl. 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)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Section 1983 requires proof of two elements: (1) the conduct complained of must be committed by a person acting under color of state law, and (2) the conduct must deprive the plaintiff of rights or ...


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