United States District Court, W.D. Texas, San Antonio Division
ELIZABETH S. ("BETSY") CHESTNEY UNITED STATES
the Court in the above-styled cause of action are
Plaintiff's pro se Application to Proceed in
District Court without Prepaying Fees or Costs and proposed
civil complaint, filed August 5, 2019 [#1]. The motion was
automatically referred to the undersigned upon filing, and
the undersigned has authority to enter this order pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). By his motion, Plaintiff seeks
leave to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”) based
on his inability to afford court fees and costs. Having
considered the motion and documentation provided by
Plaintiff, the Court will grant the motion to proceed IFP but
order Plaintiff to file a more definite statement before
ordering service on Defendants.
Motion to Proceed IFP
parties instituting any civil action, suit, or proceeding in
a district court of the United States, except an application
for a writ of habeas corpus, must pay a filing fee of $350,
as well as an administrative fee. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 1914(a). Plaintiff's motion to proceed IFP
includes his income and asset information, which indicates
that Plaintiff is unemployed but receives approximately $800
per month in disability payments. Plaintiff claims no assets
or savings and lists over $30, 000 in debts. The information
demonstrates that Plaintiff does not have sufficient monthly
resources available to pay the filing fee, and the Court will
grant the motion to proceed IFP.
More Definite Statement
to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e), the Court is empowered to screen
any civil complaint filed by a party proceeding IFP to
determine whether the claims presented are (1) frivolous or
malicious; (2) fail to state a claim on which relief may be
granted; or (3) seek monetary relief against a defendant who
is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B). Plaintiff's Complaint sues various
officers with the San Antonio Police Department, District
Attorney Brandon Ramsey, attorney Catherine Valenzuela, Bexar
County Judge Catherine Torres, and Deputy Director David
Baker, in their official capacities, for his wrongful arrest
and subsequent detention. (Orig. Compl. [#1-1] at 1-6.)
Plaintiff asserts his claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983, alleging that Defendants violated his civil rights
under color of law. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff contends
he was detained for ten months based on a falsified legal
document and the perjured testimony of District Attorney
Ramsey before a grand jury to obtain a false indictment.
(Id. at 6- 7.) Plaintiff accuses his attorney
Catherine Valenzuela of refusing to file anything on his
behalf in defense against the charges brought against him.
(Id. at 8.) Plaintiff seeks $250, 000 in
compensatory damages and $5, 000, 000 in punitive damages.
(Id. at 9.)
reviewed Plaintiff's Complaint, the Court has identified
several issues with Plaintiff's allegations, which may be
complete bars to his claims. The Court explains each of these
issues in turn.
Plaintiff's Complaint is likely time barred.
Plaintiff's Complaint is likely barred by the governing
statute of limitations, meaning Plaintiff's lawsuit was
filed too late for it to be considered by the Court.
Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that the Defendant officers
delivered papers to his house on May 19, 2015, threatening
him with jail time. (Id. at 6.) Plaintiff states he
was actually arrested on October 16, 2016, spent ten months
in jail, and was released on August 4, 2017. (Id. at
1983 does not prescribe a statute of limitations. Instead,
“[t]he statute of limitations for a suit brought under
§ 1983 is determined by the general statute of
limitations governing personal injuries in the forum
state.” Piotrowski v. City of Hous., 237 F.3d
567, 576 (5th Cir. 2001). Texas has a two-year statute of
limitations for personal injury claims. Tex. Civ. Prac. &
Rem. Code § 16.003(a); Piotrowski, 237 F.3d at
576. Under our law, the limitations period begins to run when
the plaintiff “knows or has reason to know of the
injury which is the basis of the action.” Burrell
v. Newsome, 883 F.2d 416, 418 (5th Cir. 1989) (citations
omitted). The plaintiff must know of the injury and the
causal connection between the defendant and the injury.
Piotrowski, 237 F.3d at 576.
Section 1983 claim of false arrest in violation of the Fourth
Amendment, where the arrest is followed by criminal
proceedings (as here), begins to run at the time a plaintiff
becomes detained pursuant to legal process. Wallace v.
Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 397 (2007). Plaintiff's
Complaint alleges his detention began on October 16, 2016,
almost three years prior to the filing of this lawsuit.
Accordingly, any claim of false arrest is time barred.
Insofar as Plaintiff is alleging false imprisonment under
Section 1983, this claim is also time barred, as such a claim
also accrues at the inception of Plaintiff's detention.
Villegas v. Galloway, 458 Fed. App'x 334, 338
(5th Cir. 2012).
Certain Defendants are likely immune from this suit.
enjoy judicial immunity from suit as to those acts taken in
their judicial capacity. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S.
9, 11 (1991). This immunity is not overcome by allegations of
bad faith or malice. Id. The only exceptions to this
immunity doctrine are where a judge takes nonjudicial
actions, i.e., actions not taken in the judge's judicial
capacity, or where a judge's actions (though judicial in
nature) are taken in complete absence of jurisdiction (the
judicial authority to hear and rule on a case). Mireles
v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11-12 (1991). Plaintiff's
Complaint appears to attempt to sue Bexar County Judge
Catherine Torres for her actions during his criminal case.
For these acts, Torres would enjoy immunity from suit unless
Plaintiff can allege additional acts suggesting an exception
to her immunity applies.
attorneys, like the district attorney named in this lawsuit,
also enjoy absolute immunity from suit in many circumstances.
“A prosecutor is absolutely immune for initiating and
pursuing a criminal prosecution, for actions taken in his or
her role as advocate for the state in the courts, or when his
or her conduct is intimately associated with the judicial
phase of the criminal process.” Loupe v.
O'Bannon, 824 F.3d 534, 539 (5th Cir. 2016)
(internal quotations omitted). See also Imbler v.
Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430-431 (1976). “On the
other hand, a prosecutor is afforded only qualified immunity
for acts performed in the course of ‘administrative
duties and those investigatory functions that do not relate
to an advocate's preparation for the initiation of a
prosecution or for judicial proceedings.'”
Loupe, 824 F.3d at 539 (quoting Buckley v.
Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 273 (1993)). Plaintiff's
Complaint does not suggest that District Attorney Brandon
Ramsey was performing administrative duties or ...