United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
LAKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
inmate Samuel Michael Lopez (TDCJ #2267576) has filed a
Prisoner's Civil Rights Complaint under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 ("Complaint") (Docket Entry No. 1), seeking
monetary damages for his wrongful conviction and imprisonment
in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice - Correctional
Institutions Di vision ("TDCJ"). Because Lopez is a
prisoner who proceeds in forma pauperis, the court
is required to scrutinize the claims and dismiss the
Complaint, in whole or in part, if it determines that the
Complaint "is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a
claim upon which relief may be granted" or "seeks
monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such
relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e) (2) (B). After considering all of the pleadings, the
court concludes that this case must be dismissed for the
reasons explained below.
is presently incarcerated by TDCJ at the Jester III Unit in
Richmond. Public records confirm that Lopez is
confined in TDCJ as the result of a recent conviction in
Montgomery County No. 18-06-07414. Lopez was convicted of
aggravated sexual assault of a child in that case and
sentenced to life imprisonment on May 15, 2019.
October 3, 2019, Lopez filed this civil rights action under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the following defendants: (1)
Assistant District Attorney Britteny Arron; (2) the
Montgomery County District Attorney's Office; and (3)
criminal defense attorney Benton Baker, who represented Lopez
in connection with the charges lodged against him in No.
18-06-07414. Lopez's primary claim is that
Ms. Arron improperly used several prior convictions to
enhance his punishment under the Texas habitual offender
statute, making him eligible for a life sentence. Lopez
contends further that Arron displayed "bias"
against his religious beliefs and violated his rights by
pursuing a racially discriminatory prosecution. He seeks
monetary damages and a new trial. The court concludes,
however, that the Complaint must be dismissed because Lopez
fails to articulate a claim upon which relief may be granted
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
sues the defendants in this case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
for wrongful conviction and imprisonment. "To state a
claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must (1) allege a
violation of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of
the United States and (2) demonstrate that the alleged
deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of
state law." Lefall v. Dallas Indep. Sch.
Dist., 28 F.3d 521, 525 (5th Cir. 1994) (citations
extent that Lopez seeks monetary damages for his wrongful
conviction under 1983, the Complaint must be dismissed for
failure to state a viable claim. It is well established that
prosecutors are entitled to absolute immunity from civil
rights claims for actions taken in the scope of their duties
in initiating a prosecution and presenting the state's
case. See Imbler v. Pachtman, 96 S.Ct. 984,
995 (1976). Therefore, Lopez cannot recover monetary damages
from the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office or
Ms. Arron for actions taken while pursuing his prosecution.
also well established that 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 Cty. 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,
Lopez fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted
as a matter of law against Benton Baker. See Hudson,
98 F.3d at 873; see also Biliski v. Harborth, 55
F.3d 160, 162 (5th Cir. 1995).
importantly, a prisoner cannot recover monetary damages based
on allegations of "unconstitutional conviction or
imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose
unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence
invalid," without first proving that the challenged
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."
Heck v. Humphrey, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 2372 (1994).
Because it is evident that Lopez's underlying conviction
has not been set aside or invalidated, his civil rights
claims are not cognizable under 42 u.s.c. § 1983.
See Johnson v. McElveen, 101 F.3d 423, 424 (5th Cir.
1996) (explaining that claims barred by Heck are
"dismissed with prejudice to their being asserted again
until the Heck conditions are met").
Accordingly, his Complaint will be dismissed with prejudice
as legally frivolous and for failure to state a claim under
42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Conclusion and Order
on the foregoing, the court ORERS as
Prisoner Civil Rights Complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
filed by Samuel Michael Lopez (Docket Entry ...