United States District Court, Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division
JORGE L. REYES, SR., Plaintiff,
MARGARET DEGLAU, et al, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION (DISMISSING WITH PREJUDICE 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ACTION)
HENRY E. HUDSONUNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Jorge Reyes, Sr., a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action. The matter is before the Court for evaluation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A.
A. Preliminary Review
Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") this Court must dismiss any action filed by a prisoner if the Court determines the action (1) "is frivolous" or (2) "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. The first standard includes claims premised upon '"indisputably meritless legal theory, '" or claims where the '"factual contentions are clearly baseless.'" meritless legal theory, '" or claims where the '"factual contentions are clearly baseless.'" Clay v. Yates, 809 F.Supp. 417, 427 (E.D. Va. 1992) (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989)). The second standard is analyzed under the familiar requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).
"A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint; importantly, it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Republican Party o/ N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing 5A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1356 (1990)). In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a plaintiffs well-pleaded allegations are taken as true and the complaint is viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993); see also Martin, 980 F.2d at 952. This principle applies only to factual allegations, however, and "a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "require[ ] only 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (second alteration in original) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Plaintiffs cannot satisfy this standard with complaints containing only "labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Id. (citations omitted). Instead, a plaintiff must allege facts sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, " id. (citation omitted), stating a claim that is "plausible on its face, " id. at 570, rather than merely "conceivable." Id. "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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 556). Lastly, while the Court liberally construes pro se complaints, Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), it will not act as the inmate's advocate and develop, sua sponte, statutory and constitutional claims the inmate failed to clearly raise on the face of his complaint. See Brock v. Carroll, 107 F.3d 241, 243 (4th Cir. 1997) (Luttig, J., concurring); see also Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).
B. Summary of Allegations
In a rambling and incoherent Complaint, Reyes alleges that Commonwealth's Attorneys Margaret Deglau and Frank LaRuffa committed various errors during his criminal prosecution. (Complaint, ECF No.1, ¶¶ 5-15.) Specifically, Reyes contends that Defendants: (1) violated his Fourteenth Amendment "right to due process by refusing to provide D.N. A testing [he] requested" of certain objects at the crime scene (Compl. at ¶ 5); (2) violated his right to due process by failing to preserve "potentially useful evidence" from the crime scene (id. at 9); and, (3) failed to notify him of his right to consular assistance in violation of the Vienna Convention after detectives, despite English being his second language, questioned him without a Spanish interpreter, (id. at 11). Reyes's Complaint lacks clarity as to when Defendants allegedly denied him evidence and failed to preserve evidence for trial.
Reyes demands vacation of his convictions, a new trial, reduction of his sentence, or three million dollars from each defendant. (Compl. at ¶ 16.) For the reasons stated below, Reyes's Complaint will be dismissed.
"[A] plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676. Reyes fails to mention Defendants in the body of the complaint, much less explain how they were personally involved in the deprivation of his constitutional rights. "Where a complaint alleges no specific act or conduct on the part of the defendant and the complaint is silent as to the defendant except for his name appearing in the caption, the complaint is properly dismissed, even under the liberal construction to be given pro se complaints." Potter v. Clark, 497 F.2d 1206, 1207 (7th Cir. 1974) (citing Brzozowski v. Randall, 281 F.Supp. 306, 312 (E.D. Pa. 1968)).
Moreover, assuming arguendo Reyes sufficiently alleged that Defendants had personal involvement in the deprivation of his constitutional rights, prosecutorial immunity bars Reyes's claims against Defendants. See Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430 (1976). Prosecutorial immunity extends to actions taken while performing "the traditional functions of an advocate, " Kalina v. Fletcher, 522 U.S. 118, 131 (1997) (citations omitted), as well as functions that are "intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process." Imbler, 424 U.S. at 430. To ascertain whether a specific action falls within the ambit of protected conduct, courts employ a functional approach, distinguishing acts of advocacy from administrative duties and investigative tasks unrelated "to an advocate's preparation for the initiation of a prosecution or for judicial proceedings." Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 273 (1993) (citation omitted); Carter v. Burch, 34 F.3d 257, 261-63 (4th Cir. 1994). Absolute immunity protects those "acts undertaken by a prosecutor in preparing for the initiation of judicial proceedings or for trial, and those which occur in the course of his role as an advocate for the State." Buckley, 509 U.S. at 273. Reyes fails to plead facts plausibly suggesting that Defendants' purported actions were taken outside of their roles as advocates for the state in his criminal prosecution. See Imbler, 424 U.S. at 430 (holding that prosecutorial immunity extends to prosecutor's actions "in initiating a prosecution and in presenting the State's case"); Carter v. Burch, 34 F.3d 257, 263 (4th Cir. 1994) (explaining that "although the trial had been completed, [the prosecutor's] functions in representing the State in ... post-conviction motions ... very much implicated the judicial process ...")
The premise of Reyes's claims, namely the notion that he may seek, through a civil suit, the vacation or alteration of his criminal convictions and sentence as well as monetary damages stemming from the purportedly improper incarceration, "is legally frivolous in light of Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), and related cases." Payne v. Virginia, No. 3:07cv337, 2008 WL 1766665, at *2 (E.D. Va. Apr. 17, 2008).
In Heck, the Supreme Court emphasized that civil tort actions are "not appropriate vehicles for challenging the validity of outstanding criminal judgments." Heck, 512 U.S. at 486. The Supreme Court then elaborated on a Plaintiffs burden in recovering damages ...