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 October 24, 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 any Defendant.
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, has no regular income or
savings, and is in debt for $16, 000 of unpaid child support.
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). After screening Plaintiff's proposed
Complaint and identifying several defects with
Plaintiff's allegations, the Court will give Plaintiff
the opportunity to file a more definite statement to
supplement his allegations and save his case from dismissal.
proposed Complaint alleges that he was assaulted and falsely
arrested by Officer Steve Christian on July 21, 2010 for
“abuse of 911 calls” after he called to report a
violation of a child custody order. (Proposed Compl. [#1-1]
at 6.) Plaintiff alleges that he again called 911 on February
23, 2011 and got “in a heated conversation” with
911 Officer Yvonne Jaramillo about the false arrest.
(Id. at 6-7.) Plaintiff states he was arrested that
same day and was ultimately indicted by Assistant District
Attorney Daryl Harris for making threats against Officer
Christian during the 911 call with Officer Jaramillo.
(Id. at 8; Indictment [#1-1] at 25.)
some of the facts related to Plaintiff's criminal case
are not clear, the exhibits attached to Plaintiff's
Complaint demonstrate that Plaintiff was in fact indicted;
Plaintiff challenged the indictment; and the indictment was
quashed for failure to provide Plaintiff with a speedy trial.
(Order [#1-1] at 23.) However, the State thereafter moved to
amend the indictment, and it appears the motion was granted
and the indictment was reinstated. (Mtn. to Amend Indictment
[#1-1] at 33.) Plaintiff alleges he was ultimately tried
before a jury and convicted of making a threat in violation
of Section 22.07 of the Texas Penal Code. (Proposed Compl.
[#1-1] at 9-10.) Plaintiff believes he was illegally
convicted, illegally sentenced, and illegally detained
because his indictment was quashed and his case should have
remained closed. (Id. at 21.) Plaintiff's
Proposed Complaint essentially challenges the legality of his
conviction, requests the expungement of his criminal record,
and seeks money damages as compensation for his illegal
arrest and detention. The only other specific allegations
made by Plaintiff against any Defendant are that District
Attorney Susan Reed improperly disclosed his confidential
personal information on national television; that Justice
Rebecca C. Martinez improperly affirmed his conviction; and
that his trial and appellate attorneys were ineffective.
(Id. at 8, 10.)
sues the State of Texas, Officer Christian, Officer
Jaramillo, the District Attorney and Assistant District
Attorney responsible for his indictment and prosecution
(Susan D. Reed and Daryl Harris), his criminal defense
attorney Brian Peplinksi, his appellate attorney Richard
Langlois, and various state court judges (Raymond Angelini,
Rebecca C. Martinez, Sandee Brayn Marion, and Catherine
Stone). Plaintiff's Complaint alleges Defendants violated
his civil rights; Plaintiff brings his Complaint under 42
U.S.C. § 1983. (Id. at 3.)
Complaint, as proposed, contains several defects that may be
complete bars to his claims. The Court addresses each of
these issues in turn.
The majority of named Defendants are absolutely immune from
most of the Defendants named in this action are immune from
suit in federal court. The Eleventh Amendment bars claims
against the State of Texas brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. Aguilar v. Tex. Dep't of Criminal
Justice, 160 F.3d 1052, 1054 (5th Cir. 1998).
Accordingly, the State of Texas cannot be a Defendant in this
suit. Nor can Plaintiff sue Judge Raymond Angelini, Justice
Rebecca C. Martinez, Justice Sandee Bryan Marion, or Chief
Justice Catherine Stone for his alleged wrongful conviction
and sentence. Judges enjoy judicial immunity from suit as to
those acts taken in their judicial capacity, and this
immunity is not overcome by allegations of bad faith or
malice. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991).
Because Plaintiff's Complaint attempts to sue various
state-court judges for acts taken in their judicial capacity,
these claims fail as a matter of law.
Attorney Susan D. Reed and Assistant Criminal District
Attorney Daryl Harris also enjoy immunity from
Plaintiff's Section 1983 suit. A district attorney is
absolutely immune in a civil rights suit for any action taken
pursuant to his or her role as prosecutor in preparing for
the initiation of judicial proceedings and in carrying the
case through the judicial process. See Kalina v.
Fletcher, 522 U.S. 118, 123-129 (1997); Imbler v.
Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430-31 (1976). This absolute
immunity covers a prosecutor's activities as an advocate,
i.e., “activities . . . intimately associated with the
judicial phase of the criminal process.”
Imbler, 424 U.S. at 430. Absolute immunity protects
prosecutors from all liability even when they act
“maliciously, wantonly or negligently.”
Morrison v. City of Baton Rouge, 761 F.2d 242, 248
(5th Cir. 1985). The only allegations that may not fall under
this immunity doctrine are the alleged statements by Reed on
national television. Statements to media do not qualify for
absolute immunity. Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S.
259, 278 (1993) (prosecutors' statements to the press
enjoy only qualified immunity).
Plaintiff's trial and appellate counsel are not state