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Rogers v. Daly

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

October 18, 2013

DONALD P. ROGERS, Plaintiff,


DONALD W. MOLLOY, District Judge.

Plaintiff Donald P. Rogers brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In his Complaint, Mr. Rogers contends Public Defenders Christopher Daly and [Randi] Hood are civilly liable for alleged shortcomings in their defense of Rogers in a state criminal proceeding. Mr. Rogers further claims the City of Missoula and the County of Missoula are liable for generally failing to enforce criminal defendants' federal and state constitutional rights as they pertain to the obligations of public defenders. Mr. Rogers interprets his public defenders' alleged shortcomings as violations of his rights under the Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as his rights under the Constitution of the State of Montana.

As Mr. Rogers is a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis, the matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Lynch for screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915, 1915A. Judge Lynch issued Findings and Recommendations on Mr. Rogers' Complaint on September 3, 2013. Judge Lynch recommends Mr. Rogers' Complaint be dismissed with prejudice. Mr. Rogers timely filed Objections on September 11, 2013.

After reviewing Judge Lynch's Findings and Recommendations and Mr. Rogers' Objections, I agree with Judge Lynch's analysis and conclusions. Judge Lynch's Findings and Recommendations are adopted in full.


Mr. Rogers was charged in state court in Missoula County with sexual intercourse without consent, partner or family member assault, unlawful restraint, and four counts of violating a no-contact order. A jury found Mr. Rogers guilty on all charges and the state district court sentenced him to forty years at the Montana State Prison with twenty years suspended. Mr. Rogers appealed his conviction to the Montana Supreme Court. On August 13, 2013, the day after Rogers filed this action, the Montana Supreme Court reversed Rogers' conviction and remanded the case for a new trial on all charges.

Mr. Rogers' Complaint names as defendants Christopher Daly and Randi Hood, his public defenders in the state criminal proceedings against him. Mr. Rogers alleges Defendants Daly and Hood violated his constitutional rights by, among other things, failing to conduct various investigations, failing to request and inspect certain discovery materials, failing to maintain attorney-client confidentiality, failing to adequately communicate with Rogers, and offering to waive his right to appeal without his consent. Mr. Rogers also names as defendants the City and County of Missoula. Mr. Rogers alleges, effectively, that the City and County of Missoula violated his constitutional rights by failing to adequately enforce public defenders' constitutional duties to their clients. Mr. Rogers seeks compensatory damages of $1, 500, 000 and punitive damages of $1, 500 per day for each day he has been incarcerated. Mr. Rogers further requests declaratory and injunctive relief.

II. Standards

As a prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, Mr. Rogers' Complaint is subject to screening under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 & 1915A. The screening process requires the Court to dismiss the case if the Complaint is frivolous or malicious, the Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or the Complaint seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(13), 1915A(b).

"[A] complaint... is frivolous where it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, in accordance with Rule 12(b)(6), if it fails to satisfy the requirements of Rule 8(a)(2). Rule 8(a)(2) simply requires that a complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." The Supreme Court has interpreted this phrase in conjunction with Rule 12(b)(6) to mean that Rule 8(a)(2) requires a complaint to "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotations omitted).

However, the Supreme Court has relaxed pleading standards for pro se plaintiffs. "A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed... and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (internal quotations omitted) (citing cf. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(f) ("All pleadings shall be so construed as to do substantial justice")).

With these standards in mind, the Court reviewed Judge Lynch's Findings and Recommendation, and found no error. However, Mr. Rogers timely objected to Judge Lynch's Findings and Recommendations. When a party objects to any portion of Findings and Recommendations issued by a Magistrate Judge, the district court must make a de novo determination of that portion of the Magistrate Judge's report. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Commodore Bus. Mach. Inc., 656 F.2d 1309, 1313 (9th Cir.1981). Each of Mr. Rogers' Objections is addressed individually below. The Court notes, however, that collectively they appear to speak to Judge Lynch's report in its entirety. For that reason, Judge Lynch's Findings and Recommendations are reviewed de novo in their entirety and determined as follows.

Defendants Daly and Hood, when performing their duties as attorneys employed by the Montana Office of the State Public Defender, are not state actors within the ambit of an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Miranda v. Clark County, 319 F.3d 465, 468 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc) (citing Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 318-319 (1981)). The City of Missoula and the County Missoula have no supervisory control over public defenders, and therefore have no obligation to ensure public defenders protect their clients' constitutional rights. The Office of the State Public Defender is the entity that has supervisory control over public defenders. It is a state entity, however, not an entity of either the City or the County of Missoula. Hence, neither the City nor the County of Missoula has any control over public defenders and accordingly has no duty to enforce constitutional standards relevant to the conduct of public defenders. Even if Mr. Rogers named the Office of the State Public Defender, or the State of Montana, his claims would be barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Under the Eleventh Amendment, states are immune from suit unless they wave their immunity. See Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 664 (1974). The State of Montana has waived immunity only for tort claims brought in state court. Mont. Code Ann. § 2-9-101 et seq. In addition to lacking a proper defendant, Mr. Roger's Complaint challenges ongoing state criminal proceedings and is accordingly barred. Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 45 (1971).

Mr. Rogers individual Objections to Judge Lynch's Findings and Recommendation largely reiterate the allegations made in his Complaint and advance several inapposite ...

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