United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Galveston Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. Hanks Jr. United States District Judge.
John Paul, Jr. (#174114) filed this civil rights suit under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 while incarcerated at the Brazoria
County Detention Center. Paul proceeds pro se and
in forma pauperis. Because this case is governed by
the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), the
Court is required to scrutinize the pleadings and dismiss the
complaint in whole or in part if it is frivolous, malicious,
or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
28 U.S.C. § 1915A. After reviewing all of the pleadings
as required, the Court concludes that this case must be
DISMISSED for reasons that follow.
filed this civil action on March 20, 2019 in the Houston
Division Southern District of Texas. The Court in Houston
transferred the case to this judicial district (Dkt. 5).
Plaintiff's complaint brings claims against Jeri Yenne,
District Attorney for Brazoria County, and against Brazoria
County, in connection with his prosecution for possession of
a controlled substance in No. 83239-CR. On April 30, 2019,
Plaintiff filed a separate action, Paul v. Odi,
Civil Action No. 3:19-150, bringing claims against the
arresting officers in connection with the same criminal case,
complaint, Paul states that he was arrested by the West
Columbia Police Department on November 21, 2017 for a drug
offense and was indicted by the Brazoria County District
Attorney on January 25, 2018 (Dkt. 1, at 1). He further
states that he filed multiple pretrial motions, including
motions for dismissal and to suppress evidence, but that the
criminal court had not taken action on his motions at the
time he filed this suit (id. at 2). He alleges that
the delay in the criminal court violates his right to a
speedy trial and that various actions in the criminal
proceedings violated his constitutional rights (id.
at 4-7). He seeks relief in the form of “full dismissal
of the charges currently pending” in additional to
monetary damages and other relief (id. at 8).
available online criminal records regarding No. 83239-CR
reflect that on May 13, 2019, Paul pleaded guilty to
possession of a controlled substance and was sentenced to
four years in the Texas Department of Criminal
Justice-Correctional Institutional Division
(“TDCJ”). See State of Texas v. John Paul,
Jr., No. 83239-CR, 300th District Court of Brazoria
County, Texas (available at
(last visited June 21, 2019). Judgment was entered on May 28,
publicly available online records indicate that Paul is now
incarcerated in TDCJ rather than Brazoria County Jail. Paul
has not provided the Court with his new address as instructed
in the Court's prior order (Dkt. 10, at 3).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
required by the PLRA, the Court screens this case to
determine whether the action is frivolous, malicious, fails
to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks
monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such
relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. In reviewing the
pleadings, the Court is mindful of the fact that Plaintiff
proceeds pro se. Complaints filed by pro se
litigants are entitled to a liberal construction and,
“however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less
stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by
lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94
(2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Even
under this lenient standard a pro se plaintiff must
allege more than “‘labels and conclusions' or
a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)); see Patrick v. Wal-Mart,
Inc., 681 F.3d 614, 617 (5th Cir. 2012).
“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not
suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation
omitted). Additionally, regardless of how well-pleaded the
factual allegations may be, they must demonstrate that the
plaintiff is entitled to relief under a valid legal theory.
See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989);
McCormick v. Stalder, 105 F.3d 1059, 1061 (5th Cir.
alleges that his constitutional rights were violated in a
criminal proceeding in Brazoria County and requests that this
Court enter injunctive relief and order that the criminal
charges against him be dismissed. He also seeks monetary
relief. Although public records indicate that the trial court
entered judgment against Paul on May 28, 2019, the status of
an appeal by Paul, if any, is unclear.
extent Paul requests that this Court intervene in ongoing
state criminal proceedings, the Court must abstain under a
doctrine originating with Younger v. Harris, 401
U.S. 37 (1971). See Sprint Commc'ns, Inc. v.
Jacobs, 571 U.S. 69 (2013); Google, Inc. v.
Hood, 822 F.3d 212 (5th Cir. 2016). Younger
abstention applies in three “exceptional
categories” of state proceedings: ongoing state
criminal prosecutions; certain civil enforcement proceedings
akin to criminal prosecutions, and “pending civil
proceedings . . . . uniquely in furtherance of the state
courts' ability to perform their judicial
functions.” Sprint, 571 U.S. at 78 (internal
citation and quotation marks omitted). When a case falls into
these categories, the court potentially invoking
Younger considers “whether there is (1) an
ongoing state judicial proceeding, which (2) implicates
important state interests, and (3) provides an adequate
opportunity to raise federal challenges.”
Google, 822 F.3d at 222 (internal citations,
quotation marks, and alteration omitted). State criminal
proceedings pertaining to Paul implicate Texas's
important interests in enforcement of its criminal laws.
See RTM Media, L.L.C. v City of Houston,
584 F.3d 220, 228 & n.11 (5th Cir. 2009). Moreover, the
state court proceedings provide an adequate forum to raise
the federal constitutional claims Paul brings in this suit.
See Google, 822 F.3d at 222. Plaintiff's request
for injunctive relief therefore will be denied under
even if state proceedings are no longer ongoing, Paul's
claims for relief are barred. Under Heck v.
Humphrey, a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that bears
a relationship to a conviction or sentence is not cognizable
unless the conviction or sentence has been invalidated.
Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994). To
recover damages based on allegations of “harm caused by
actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or
sentence invalid, ” a civil rights plaintiff must prove
“that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on
direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid
by a state tribunal authorized to make such determinations,
or called into question by a federal court's issuance of
a writ of habeas corpus [under] 28 U.S.C. § 2254.”
Id. If a judgment in favor of a civil rights
plaintiff “would necessarily imply the invalidity of
his conviction or sentence, ” then the complaint
“must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate
that the conviction or sentence has already been
sues the district attorney and Brazoria County regarding
delays and alleged constitutional violations during his
criminal proceeding. Public court records do not reflect, and
Paul does not claim, that his sentence in Case Number
83239-CR has been invalidated or otherwise set aside. Absent
this showing, the rule in Heck precludes any claim
for damages, as well as any claim for declaratory or
injunctive relief. See Clarke v. Stalder, 154 F.3d
186, 189-91 (5th Cir. 1998) (en banc). Therefore, Paul's
civil rights claims are not cognizable under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 at this time and his claims must be dismissed with
prejudice. See Johnson v. McElveen, 101 F.3d ...