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Potter v. Francis

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

January 17, 2018




         Plaintiff Christopher Potter, a Texas inmate, has filed this pro se civil rights action directly related to his state criminal judgments. This action has been referred to the undersigned United States magistrate judge for pretrial management under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and a standing order of reference from Chief Judge Barbara M. G. Lynn. The undersigned enters these findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendation that, for the following reasons and to the extent set out below, the Court should deny Potter's motion for summary judgment [Dkt. No. 6] and dismiss this action with prejudice.

         Applicable Background

         In 1999, Potter was convicted in two actions of aggravated sexual assault of a child under 14, and he was sentenced to a life sentence in both. See State v. Potter, Nos. F98-02395-HT & F98-02383-HT (283d Jud. Dist. Ct., Dallas Cty., Tex), aff'd, Nos. 05-99-00322-CR & 05-99-00323-CR, 2000 WL 1644597 (Tex. App. - Dallas Nov. 3, 2000, no pet. filed). Although his complaint and state court records reflect that Potter has neither petitioned the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for discretionary review, sought habeas relief, or otherwise attacked the validity of the criminal judgments, he brings this action against the judge who presided over his trial, law enforcement officers, court officers and employees, and an attorney - in each defendant's individual capacity - attacking his criminal convictions and sentences and seeking monetary damages. See Dkt. No. 3; see, e.g., Id. at 12 (“Potter seeks that the sentence judgment and conviction be ordered by the court to [unreadable], reversed to operate and be removed from all records, files and computers” and that he receive “monetary damages from all named Defendants[] $100, 000, 000 for compensation damages for Civil Rights, Constitutional Rights Violations, for special damages for false imprisonment and Violations of the Plaintiff's protected Civil and Constitutional Rights.”).

         Legal Standards

         A district court is required to screen a civil action brought by a prisoner - whether he is incarcerated or detained prior to trial - seeking relief from a governmental entity or employee. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), (c). On initial screening, the Court must identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, that:

(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or
(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

Id. § 1915A(b). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), also applicable here, a district court may summarily dismiss any complaint filed in forma pauperis - not limited to complaints filed by prisoners seeking relief from a governmental entity or employee - for the same reasons.

         Dismissal for failure to state a claim “turns on the sufficiency of the ‘factual allegations' in the complaint, ” Smith v. Bank of Am., N.A., 615 F. App'x 830, 833 (5th Cir. 2015) (per curiam) (quoting Johnson v. City of Shelby, Miss., 574 U.S., 135 S.Ct. 346, 347 (2014) (per curiam); emphasis added by Smith), and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted, ” Johnson, 135 S.Ct. at 346. Indeed, to survive dismissal under the now-familiar framework of Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), a plaintiff need only “plead facts sufficient to show” that the claims asserted have “substantive plausibility” by stating “simply, concisely, and directly events” that he contends entitle him to relief. Johnson, 135 S.Ct. at 347 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)-(3), (d)(1), (e)); see Harold H. Huggins Realty, Inc. v. FNC, Inc., 634 F.3d 787, 796 (5th Cir. 2011) (“A claim for relief is implausible on its face when ‘the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct.'” (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679)).

         The rationale that factual plausibility (as opposed to legal labeling) controls the failure-to-state-a-claim analysis has even more force in this case, as the Court “must construe the pleadings of pro se litigants liberally, ” Andrade v. Gonzales, 459 F.3d 538, 543 (5th Cir. 2006), “to prevent the loss of rights due to inartful expression, ” Marshall v. Eadison, 704CV123HL, 2005 WL 3132352, at *2 (M.D. Ga. Nov. 22, 2005) (citing Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980)); see United States v. Ayika, 554 F. App'x 302, 308 (5th Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (a court has a “duty to construe pro se [filings] liberally so that a litigant will not suffer simply because he did not attend law school or find a suitable attorney”); but see Smith v. CVS Caremark Corp., No. 3:12-cv-2465-B, 2013 WL 2291886, at *8 (N.D. Tex. May 23, 2013) (“[L]iberal construction does not require that the Court or a defendant create causes of action where there are none.”).

         In conducting the failure-to-state-a-claim analysis, “it is clearly proper ... to take judicial notice of matters of public record, ” Norris v. Hearst Trust, 500 F.3d 454, 461 n.9 (5th Cir. 2007); accord Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2008), such as adjudicative facts apparent from “state court criminal records, ” Land v. Stone, No. 3:10-cv-981-B-BK, 2010 WL 5538413, at *4 (N.D. Tex. Dec. 14, 2010) (citing Taylor v. Charter Med. Corp., 162 F.3d 827, 831 (5th Cir. 1998)); see also Fed. R. Evid. 201.


         Most of the defendants named are immune from the claims based on Potter's factual allegations ...

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