Appeals from the United States District Court For the Northern District of Texas. D/C DOCKET NO. 1:92-CV-137-C. JUDGE: Sam R. Cummings. D/C DOCKET NO. 3:93-CV-342-H. JUDGE: Barefoot Sanders. D/C DOCKET NO. 5:93-CV-082-C. JUDGE: SAM R. CUMMINGS
Before Politz, Chief Judge, Wiener and DeMOSS, Circuit Judges.
We have consolidated the captioned cases for appeal and publish our Disposition thereof for two purposes: (1) to inform the bench, bar, and public of the adoption of our Conference Calendar procedure in this circuit and to explain its operation;*fn1 and (2) to clarify the basis for and effect of the dismissal of in forma pauperis filings under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d).
The inexorable increase in appeals has mandated a constant review and refinement of appellate procedures in order to maintain an acceptable level of timely Dispositions.*fn2 One refinement has been the introduction of the Conference Calendar in which a panel of Judges meets, typically for four days, and resolves an average of 30 cases per day. Prior to the collegial conference, the panel members read the briefs and a bench memorandum prepared by staff counsel in each of the cases to be decided at conference. Each panel member personally reviews the records of one-third of the day's cases and takes the lead in the Discussion of those cases following a presentation by staff counsel. Prior to the conference a draft of the proposed per curiam opinion is reviewed and revised, as needed, by the Judge responsible for the record analysis. The panel thoroughly discusses the appellate issues and resolves same, making such changes as may be appropriate in the proposed opinion. With the aid of modern technology, all revisions are promptly completed and the opinions are approved, signed, and filed with the clerk of court.
Our Conference Calendar practice is now in its second year of operation. We plan sessions on alternate months and anticipate average dockets of 120 cases per session. Every active Judge on our court has served on at least one Conference Calendar panel and most have served on two or more. We are unanimous in our Conclusion that cases decided on the Conference Calendar receive a fully adequate allocation of quality judicial time and attention.
Danny R. Graves appeals the dismissal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d) of his section 1983 civil rights claim. We modify and affirm.
Graves, proceeding in forma pauperis, filed suit against Judge Jack Hampton, John Vance, the District Attorney for Dallas County, and Harris M. Samuel, a private citizen, alleging false imprisonment as a result of his prosecution and conviction for forgery. Finding all defendants immune from suit the district court invoked section 1915(d) and dismissed the complaint as frivolous.
Dismissal of an in forma pauperis petition under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d) is appropriate if the district court is "satisfied that the action is frivolous or malicious." An action is frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact."*fn3 We review a district court's section 1915(d) dismissal utilizing the abuse of discretion standard.*fn4
A claim is based upon an indisputably meritless legal theory if the defendants are immune from suit.*fn5 Graves advances three such claims. Judicial officers are entitled to absolute immunity from damage claims arising out of acts performed in the exercise of their judicial functions.*fn6 The claims against Judge Hampton are based upon his actions during Graves' criminal trial -- actions well within the ambit of the Judge's absolute immunity.
A criminal prosecutor also enjoys absolute immunity from section 1983 damage claims for presenting the state's case.*fn7 This immunity applies to the prosecutor's actions in initiating prosecution and in carrying the case through the judicial process.*fn8 Graves' claims against Vance are based on Vance's prosecution of Graves for forgery, actions obviously within the scope of the prosecutorial immunity.*fn9
Finally, the district court dismissed Graves' claims against Samuel because Graves did not allege any facts which would make Samuel a state actor. Graves alleges only that Samuel made a false statement against him. A witness is entitled to absolute immunity from section 1983 ...