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Christenson v. Eastman

United States District Court, D. Montana, Helena Division

March 5, 2018

RICHARD CHRISTENSON, Plaintiff,
v.
MARIAH EASTMAN, Defendant.

          ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          JOHN JOHNSTON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Order and Findings and Recommendations of United States Magistrate Judge Plaintiff Richard Christenson, a prisoner proceeding without counsel, filed a motion to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. 1) and proposed complaint (Doc. 2). The motion to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted. The Complaint, however, fails to state a federal claim for relief and should be dismissed.

         I. Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis

         Mr. Christenson's motion to proceed in forma pauperis is sufficient to make the showing required by 28 U.S.C. §1915(a). (Doc. 1.) The request to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Because he is incarcerated, Mr. Christenson must pay the statutory filing fee of $350.00. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). Mr. Christenson submitted an account statement showing average monthly deposits of $468.83 over the six-month period immediately preceding the filing of his Complaint (August 12, 2017 - February 12, 2018). (Doc. 1-1.) Therefore, an initial partial filing fee of $93.77 will be assessed by this Order. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1)(B) (allowing an assessment in the amount of 20% of the prisoner's average monthly deposits). A separate order will direct the agency having custody of Mr. Christenson to collect the initial partial filing fee from his prison account and forward it to the Clerk of Court.

         Mr. Christenson will be required to pay the remainder of the fee in installments by making monthly payments of 20% of the preceding month's income credited to his prison trust account. The percentage is set by statute and cannot be altered. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2). Mr. Christenson must make these monthly payments simultaneously with the payments required in any other cases he has filed. Bruce v. Samuels, ___U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 627, 629 (2016). By separate order, the Court will direct the facility where Mr. Christenson is held to forward payments from Mr. Christenson's account to the Clerk of Court each time the account balance exceeds $10.00, until the filing fee is paid in full. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).

         II. Screening Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

         A. Standard

         Mr. Christenson is a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis so the Court must review his Complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and § 1915A. Sections 1915A(b) and 1915(e)(2)(B) require the Court to dismiss a complaint filed in forma pauperis and/or by a prisoner against a governmental defendant before it is served if it is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

         A complaint is frivolous if it “lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). “A case is malicious if it was filed with the intention or desire to harm another.” Andrews v. King, 398 F.3d 1113, 1121 (9th Cir. 2005). A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted if a plaintiff fails to allege the “grounds” of his “entitlement to relief.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quotation omitted). “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); cf. Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(e) (“Pleadings must be construed so as to do justice”).

         B. Analysis

         Mr. Christenson is bringing claims against his public defender Mariah Eastman. Mr. Christenson argues that Ms. Eastman failed to obtain his out of state mental health records while his criminal case was pending and refused to send him the state's discovery showing what exculpatory evidence the state proposed to use. He claims his Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights have been violated. (Complaint, Doc. 2.)

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). In Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312 (1981), the United States Supreme Court held that public defenders do not act “under color of state law” when performing traditional lawyer duties. Miranda v. Clark County, 319 F.3d 465, 468 (9th Cir. 2003)(en banc). Consequently, Mr. Christenson cannot state a federal claim against Ms. Eastman because she is not a state actor.

         In addition, to the extent that Mr. Christenson seeks to challenge his criminal conviction, his claims are barred by the doctrine set forth in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994). In Heck, the United States Supreme Court held that “in order to recover damages for an allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, ” or otherwise declared invalid, called into question by the issuance of a habeas writ, or expunged. Id.

[W]hen a state prisoner seeks damages in a section 1983 suit, the district court must consider whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence; if it would, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated. But if the district court determines that the plaintiff's action, even if successful, will not demonstrate ...

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