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Laxton v. Beraurdi

United States District Court, D. Utah

July 3, 2017

WILLIAM MILTON LAXTON, Plaintiff,
v.
FRANK BERAURDI, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION & DISMISSAL ORDER

          DEE BENSON, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff, William Milton Laxton, a former inmate of Tooele County Jail, filed this pro se civil rights suit, see 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 (2017), proceeding in forma pauperis. See 28 id. § 1915. His Complaint is now before the Court for screening. See Id. § 1915(e).

         SCREENING ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         This Court shall dismiss any claims in a complaint filed in forma pauperis if they are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief against an immune defendant. See Id. § 1915(e)(2)(B). "Dismissal of a pro se complaint for failure to state a claim is proper only where it is obvious that the plaintiff cannot prevail on the facts he has alleged and it would be futile to give him an opportunity to amend." Perkins v. Kan. Dep't of Corrs., 165 F.3d 803, 806 (10th Cir. 1999). When reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint the Court "presumes all of plaintiff's factual allegations are true and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1109 (10th Cir. 1991).

         Because Plaintiff is proceeding pro se the Court must construe his pleadings "liberally" and hold them "to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Id. at 1110. However, "[t]he broad reading of the plaintiff's complaint does not relieve [him] of the burden of alleging sufficient facts on which a recognized legal claim could be based." Id. While Plaintiff need not describe every fact in specific detail, "conclusory allegations without supporting factual averments are insufficient to state a claim on which relief can be based." Id.

         B. Plaintiff's Allegation

         Plaintiff's Complaint alleges what appears to be an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim against Frank Beraurdi, his defense counsel in his state criminal case.

         C. Improper Defendant -- State-Actor Requirement

         To establish a cause of action under § 1983, Plaintiff must allege (1) the deprivation of a federal right by (2) a person acting under color of state law (without immunity). Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980); Watson v. City of Kansas City, 857 F.2d 690, 694 (10th Cir. 1988).

         The Complaint names based on his role as Plaintiff's privately hired defense counsel. Defendant was thus not a state actor, as he must be for Plaintiff to assert a federal civil-rights claim against him. Thus, Plaintiff's claims against may not proceed here.

         D. Heck

         The Supreme Court explained in Heck “that a § 1983 action that would impugn the validity of a plaintiff's underlying conviction cannot be maintained unless the conviction has been reversed on direct appeal or impaired by collateral proceedings." Nichols v. Baer, No. 08-4158, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 4302, at *4 (10th Cir. Mar. 5, 2009) (unpublished) (citing Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994)). Heck keeps litigants "from using a § 1983 action, with its more lenient pleading rules, to challenge their conviction or sentence without complying with the more stringent exhaustion requirements for habeas actions." Butler v. Compton, 482 F.3d 1277, 1279 (10th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). Heck clarifies that "civil tort actions are not appropriate vehicles for challenging the validity of outstanding criminal judgments." 512 U.S. at 48.

         Plaintiff argues that Defendants violated his constitutional rights regarding state criminal proceedings. These arguments attack Plaintiff's underlying conviction and sentence. Heck requires that, when a plaintiff requests damages in a § 1983 suit, this Court must decide whether judgment in the plaintiff's favor would unavoidably imply that the conviction or sentence is invalid. Id. at 487. Here, it would. If this Court were to conclude that Plaintiff's constitutional right to effective ...


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