United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Rosenthal Chief United States District Judge
August 30, 2019, Willie Darries filed this civil rights
action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Docket Entry No. 1). The
defendant, R.P. Cornelius, moved to dismiss under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on October 8, 2019. (Docket
Entry No. 9). Mr. Darries responded on November 6, 2019, and
on December 19, 2019, the court held oral argument. (Docket
Entry Nos. 11, 15). As stated on the record at the hearing,
after carefully reviewing the complaint, the motion, the
record, and the applicable law, the court grants the motion
to dismiss. The court also denies Mr. Darries's request
for a transcript of the December 19 hearing, (Docket Entry
No. 16). The reasons are explained below.
Darries sued Mr. Cornelius, his former defense attorney, for
violating his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights in
September 2013 by fraudulently “plead[ing] him
guilty” in Harris County criminal court. (Docket Entry
No. 1-2 at 1). Mr. Darries was convicted of attempting to
deliver a controlled substance. (Id.). Mr. Darries
alleges in this case that the Harris County judge exceeded
his authority by accepting Mr. Darries's guilty plea
without reviewing records from a psychiatric review ordered
by another judge. (Id. at 1-3). Mr. Darries alleges
that Mr. Cornelius fraudulently told the court that Mr.
Darries was competent because Mr. Cornelius had a
“personal vendetta” against him. (Id. at
2-4). Mr. Darries asks this court to enter an order to
prevent Mr. Cornelius from practicing law in any state and to
award Mr. Darries $10 million in punitive damages for pain
and suffering. (Docket Entry No. 1 at 11).
complaint includes an April 2014 affidavit by Mr. Cornelius
as an attachment. (Docket Entry No. 1-1). Mr. Cornelius
stated that he had represented Mr. Darries in multiple
criminal cases and that a court had ordered him to prepare
the affidavit to address “an allegation of ineffective
assistance of counsel.” (Id. at 1). Mr.
Cornelius wrote that he “never felt [Mr. Darries] was
incompetent, ” emphasizing that Mr. Darries “was
competent enough to file grievances; threaten to file
internal affairs complaints against [Harris County police]
officers; and plea bargain his cases with a clear
understanding of punishment levels and the differences
between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd
degree felonies, as well as state jail felonies and
misdemeanors . . . . He was a very skillful
negotiator.” (Id. at 2).
Cornelius moved to dismiss this lawsuit under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Docket Entry No. 9). He argues
that the § 1983 claim fails because Mr. Darries: did not
and cannot allege that Mr. Cornelius acted under color of
state law; asserted a “claim of legal malpractice
[that] is not cognizable under § 1983”; did not
contend “that he is actually innocent of the charges to
which he pled guilty”; and filed the lawsuit after the
period for filing had ended. (Id. at 1-6).
Darries replies that Mr. Cornelius acted under color of state
law for the purpose of § 1983 because he represented Mr.
Darries through Harris County's indigent defender
program. (Docket Entry No. 11 at 3-4). Mr. Darries also
contends that “there is no time limitation” on
his insanity defense, which should have prevented the Harris
County court from accepting his guilty plea in 2013. (Docket
Entry No. 11 at 2).
The Legal Standard for Granting a Motion to Dismiss
12(b)(6) allows dismissal if a plaintiff fails “to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Rule 12(b)(6) must be read in
conjunction with Rule 8(a), which requires “a short and
plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is
entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A complaint
must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Rule 8 “does
not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it
demands more than an unadorned,
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “A claim has facial
plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
“The plausibility standard is not akin to a
‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more
than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted
unlawfully.” Id. (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. at 556).
the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise
a claim of entitlement to relief, this basic deficiency
should be exposed at the point of minimum expenditure of time
and money by the parties and the court.” Cuvillier
v. Taylor, 503 F.3d 397, 401 (5th Cir. 2007)
(alterations omitted) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at
558). A court may dismiss an action under Rule 12(b)(6)
“where it is evident from the plaintiff's pleadings
that the action is [time-]barred and the pleadings fail to
raise some basis for tolling or the like.”
King-White v. Humble Indep. Sch. Dist., 803 F.3d
754, 758 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Jones v. Alcoa,
Inc., 339 F.3d 359, 366 (5th Cir. 2003)).
reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) may
consider “(1) the facts set forth in the complaint, (2)
documents attached to the complaint, and (3) matters of which
judicial notice may be taken under Federal Rule of Evidence
201.” Inclusive Cmtys Project, Inc. v. Lincoln
Prop. Co., 920 F.3d 890, 900 (5th Cir. 2019).
case is dismissed on two grounds. First, under § 1983,
Mr. Cornelius is not a state actor. The Supreme Court held
that “a public defender does not act under color of
state law when performing a lawyer's traditional
functions as counsel to a defendant in a criminal
proceeding.” Polk Cty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S.
312, 325 (1981); accord Davis v. Whyce, 763
Fed.Appx. 348, 349 (5th Cir. 2019).
Mr. Darries's deadline to file his complaint was in 2015,
two years after the claim arose in 2013 when Mr. Darries was
convicted. See Winfrey v. Rogers, 901 F.3d 483, 492
(5th Cir. 2018) (citing Gartrell v. Gaylor, 981 F.2d
254, 256 (5th Cir. 1993) and Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code
Ann. § 16.003(a)) (“[F]ederal courts look to [the
forum] state's statute of limitations for personal-injury
torts to decide when § 1983 claims toll . . . .
‘In Texas, the applicable limitations period is two
years [after the cause of action occurs].'”). This
lawsuit was ...