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Phillips v. State

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

December 17, 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.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

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

         To the Honorable United States District Judge Xavier Rodriguez:

         This Report and Recommendation concerns the review of the pleadings pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e). All pretrial matters in this case have been referred to the undersigned for disposition pursuant to Rules CV-72 and 1(c) of Appendix C of the Local Rules of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas. The undersigned has authority to enter this recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that Plaintiff's claims be dismissed because Plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

         I. Analysis

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e), this Court may screen any civil complaint filed by a party proceeding in forma pauperis 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). A claim should be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted where a plaintiff's allegations fail to plead factual content that would allow a court to conclude that defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

         On November 5, 2019, the Court granted Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis but ordered that Plaintiff file a more definite statement to clarify some identified deficiencies in his proposed Complaint [#3]. The Court ordered that Plaintiff's Complaint be filed but that service be withheld pending the Court's review of the more definite statement. Plaintiff timely filed a response to the Court's Order on November 21, 2019 [#5]. Since that filing, Plaintiff has also filed a Notice of Appeal [#6], Notice of Evidence [#7], and Notice of Intervention Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2403(a) [#8]. For the reasons that follow, it is recommended that the District Court dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint under Section 1915(e).

         Plaintiff's Original Complaint, read in conjunction with his response to the Court's Order for a More Definite Statement, 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. (Compl. [#4] 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 [#4] 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 [#4] 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 [#4] 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. [#4] 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 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 Bryan 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.) In addition to Section 1983, Plaintiff's Response to the Court's Order for a More Definite Statement [#5] lists causes of action under numerous other civil and criminal statutes, including the Texas Penal Code and the federal statutes prohibiting treason and governing applications for a writ of habeas corpus. Although Plaintiff includes many statutes and causes of action in his pleading, he is essentially complaining of what he believes was an illegal prosecution and conviction. Plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         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).

         However, Plaintiff alleges Reed made these statements on February 25, 2011. Therefore, insofar as Plaintiff is attempting to allege a claim of defamation against Reed, this claim is barred by the governing statute of limitations, which is one year from the date the defamatory words are spoken and the injury occurs. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.002(a); Grogan v. Savings of America, Inc., 118 F.Supp.2d 741, 756 (S.D. Tex.), aff'd, 202 F.3d 265 (5th Cir. 1999).

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


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