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Deshazo v. College Station Police Department

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

June 28, 2018

CHRISTOPHER WAYNE DESHAZO, Inmate #122439, Plaintiff,
v.
COLLEGE STATION POLICE DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANCY F. ATLAS SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The plaintiff, Christopher Wayne Deshazo (Inmate #122439), is presently in custody of the Brazos County Detention Center. Deshazo has filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his civil rights in connection with his arrest and prosecution on state court criminal charges that are pending against him. He has filed an amended version of his complaint [Doc. # 31], a summary of the offense report detailing the investigation by police [Doc. # 20], a declaration with exhibits in support [Doc. # 35], as well as motions for appointment of counsel, preliminary injunctive relief, discovery, and removal of his state court prosecution [Docs. # 26, # 29, # 36, # 39]. Because Deshazo is a prisoner who proceeds in forma pauperis, the Court is required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act the (“PLRA”) to scrutinize the pleadings and dismiss the case if it is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b), 1915(e)(2)(B). After reviewing all of the pleadings as required, the Court concludes that this case must be dismissed for reasons that follow.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Deshazo is in custody at the Brazos County Detention Center as the result of his arrest by officers with the College Station Police Department on charges of burglary of a habitation and assault, which were lodged against him by a woman named Myriah Del Rossi.[1] Records provided by Deshazo reflect that these charges were filed against him after he kicked in the door of her apartment and assaulted her.[2]The charges remain pending against Deshazo in the 272nd District Court for Brazos County, Texas.[3]

         Deshazo has filed this lawsuit against the College Station Police Department, prosecutors with the Brazos County District Attorney's Office, the 272nd District Court for Brazos County, his appointed criminal defense counsel E.R. “Ned” Turnbull, and Ms. Del Rossi.[4] Deshazo contends that Del Rossi lied about being assaulted and that she is liable for “slander” for making false statements to police.[5]Deshazo accuses the police of false arrest and the prosecutors assigned to his case of misconduct resulting in his wrongful imprisonment.[6] Deshazo also accuses his defense counsel of incompetence by allowing his civil rights to be violated.[7] Deshazo seeks compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $1 million for his false arrest and wrongful prosecution.[8]

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Claims of False Arrest by Police

         Deshazo does not state an actionable claim concerning his arrest by officers with the College Station Police Department. To prevail on his claim of false arrest, Deshazo must show that there was no probable cause to arrest him. See Haggerty v. Texas Southern Univ., 391 F.3d 653, 655 (5th Cir. 2004). “Probable cause exists ‘when the totality of the facts and circumstances within a police officer's knowledge at the moment of arrest are sufficient for a reasonable person to conclude that the suspect had committed or was committing an offense.'” Id. at 655-56 (quoting Glenn v. City of Tyler, 242 F.3d 307, 313 (5th Cir. 2001)). The accusations made by Del Rossi, as outlined in records that Deshazo provides, gave the officers probable cause to make his arrest.[9] See, e.g., Jones v. Sparta Comm. Hosp., 716 Fed.Appx. 547, 49 (7th Cir. 2018) (rejecting a claim of false arrest after concluding that domestic-battery accusations by the plaintiff's ex-wife constituted probable cause for his arrest). Because Deshazo does not demonstrate that probable cause was lacking, he fails to state a claim for false arrest or wrongful imprisonment against the police.

         B. Claims Against the Trial Court and Prosecutors

         Deshazo cannot recover damages from the 272nd District Court for Brazos County or the presiding judge in connection with the criminal proceedings referenced in the complaint. It is well established that judges are entitled to absolute immunity from claims arising out of acts performed in the exercise of their judicial functions. See Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 355 (1978); Boyd v. Biggers, 31 F.3d 279, 284 (5th Cir. 1994). The doctrine of absolute judicial immunity protects judges not only from liability, but also from suit. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991). Judicial immunity may be overcome only by showing that the actions complained of were non-judicial in nature or were taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction. See Id. at 11-12. Because Deshazo does not allege facts showing that the trial court engaged in any conduct that is not judicial in nature, he fails to overcome the state court's entitlement to immunity.

         For similar reasons, Deshazo cannot recover damages from the Brazos County District Attorney's Office or any of the prosecutors for their role in handling the criminal charges filed against him. Prosecutors are entitled to absolute immunity from civil rights claims for actions taken in the scope of their duties in initiating and pursuing a criminal prosecution. See Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, 555 U.S. 335, 343 (2009) (citing Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478, 492 (1991)); see also Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 431 (1976) (holding that prosecutors are absolutely immune from a civil suit for damages for initiating a prosecution and in presenting the state's case). To the extent that Deshazo's claims relate to the prosecution of the charges against him during his state court criminal proceedings, the Court must dismiss his claims for seeking monetary relief from defendants who are immune from such relief.

         C. Claims Against Defense Counsel

         In addition, Deshazo cannot maintain an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against his criminal defense counsel. To make a claim under § 1983 a plaintiff must demonstrate that a constitutional violation was “caused by the exercise of some right or privilege created by the State or by a rule of conduct imposed by the State or by a person for whom the State is responsible.” Lugar v. Edmundson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 936 (1982). This means that “the party charged with the deprivation must be a person who may fairly be said to be a state actor, ” that is, one who is in fact a state official, one who “has acted with or has obtained significant aid from state officials, ” or one whose “conduct is otherwise chargeable to the State.” Id.

         Criminal defense attorneys, even court-appointed ones, are not state actors for purposes of a suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Hudson v. Hughes, 98 F.3d 868, 873 (5th Cir. 1996) (citing Polk Cnty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 324-25 (1981); Mills v. Criminal Dist. Court No. 3, 837 F.2d 677, 679 (5th Cir. 1988)). Because a civil rights complaint made against a criminal defense attorney contains no state action, such a complaint fails to state a claim upon which ...


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