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Phillips v. State

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, San Antonio Division

November 5, 2019

ROBERT PHILLIPS, Plaintiff,
v.
THE STATE OF TEXAS, STEVE CHRISTIAN, INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, SAPD OFFICER; YVONNE JARAMILLO, INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, 911 COMMUNICATION UNIT OFFICER; SUSAN D. REED, INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, CRIMINAL DISTRICT ATTORNEY; DARYL HARRIS, INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, ASSISTANT CRIMINAL DISTRICT ATTORNEY; JAMES BRIAN PEPLINSKI, INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, LEAD ATTORNEY; RAYMOND ANGELINI, INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, HONORABLE JUDGE, 187TH DISTRICT COURT; REBECCA C. MARTINEZ, INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, JUSTICE; SANDEE BRYAN MARION, INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, JUSTICE; CATHERINE STONE, INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, CHIEF JUSTICE; AND RICHARD E LANGLOIS, INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, APPELLANT ATTORNEY; Defendants.

          ORDER

          ELIZABETH S. ("BETSY") CHESTNEY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before 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.

         I. Motion to Proceed IFP

         All 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.[1] 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.

         II. More Definite Statement

         Pursuant 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.[2] 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.

         Plaintiff's 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.)

         Although 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.)

         Plaintiff 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.)

         Plaintiff's Complaint, as proposed, contains several defects that may be complete bars to his claims. The Court addresses each of these issues in turn.

         A. The majority of named Defendants are absolutely immune from suit.

         First, 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.

         District 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).

         B. Plaintiff's trial and appellate counsel are not state ...


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