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Finley v. Donnahue

United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division

October 5, 2018

JOHN SHANNON FINLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
ELLEN DONNAHUE, JOHN W. LARSON, and LETA WOMACK, Defendants.

          ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          JEREMIAH C. LYNCH, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff John Finley, a prisoner proceeding without counsel, submitted a filing on September 18, 2018 which was liberally construed as a complaint. (Doc. 1.) On October 1, 2018 he filed a motion to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. 3) and an amended complaint (Doc. 4).[1] He alleges Defendants failed to provide him with a fair and unbiased criminal trial. The motion to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted. The Amended Complaint fails to name a proper Defendant and Finley's claims are barred by the doctrine set forth in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477(1994). This matter should be dismissed.

         I. Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis

         Finley's motion to proceed in forma pauperis is sufficient to make the showing required by 28 U.S.C. §1915(a). (Doc. 3.) The request to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). The initial partial filing fee is waived, and Finley may proceed with the case. See Bruce v. Samuels, 136 S.Ct. 627, 629 (2016)(“the initial partial filing fee may not be exacted if the prisoner has no means to pay it, § 1915(b)(4)”). He will, however, be required to pay the fee in installments and make 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). Finley must make these monthly filing-fee payments simultaneously with the payments required in any other cases he has filed. Id. By separate order, the Court will direct the facility where Finley is held to forward payments from Finley'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

         Finley 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

         1. Judicial Immunity

         Finley names state district court Judge John Larson as a Defendant in this matter. Judges are absolutely immune from damage liability for acts which are judicial in nature. Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 227-229 (1988); see also Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 355-57 (1978); Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 553-55 (1967). Judicial immunity applies to actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for acts committed within the scope of judicial duties, “even when such acts are in excess of their jurisdiction, and are alleged to have been done maliciously or corruptly.” Stump, 435 U.S. at 356. “[A] judge will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his authority; rather, he will be subject to liability only when he has acted in the clear absence of all jurisdiction.” Id. at 356-37; see also Forrester, 484 U.S. at 227 (a judicial act “does not become less judicial by virtue of an allegation of malice or corruption of motive”); Mireless v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 12 (1991).

         Finley claims Judge Larson acted with bias at all venues and hearings, engaged in procedural irregularities, would not allow evidence, and was aware that multiple witnesses were committing perjury. (Doc. 4 at 8.) These are all actions taken within Judge Larson's judicial duties for which Judge Larson is absolutely immune. As such, Finley's claims against Judge Larson must be dismissed. See Chavez v. Robinson, 817 F.3d 1162, 1167-68 (9th Cir. 2016) (noting that 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(iii) requires the court to dismiss an action “at any time” if it “seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.”);

         2. Prosecutorial immunity

         Finley next brings claims against Ellen Donnahue a state district attorney. For purposes of this Order, the Court assumes Ms. Donnahue was the prosecutor in Finley's criminal proceedings. He alleges Ms. Donnahue knowingly put a witness under oath that was committing perjury, helped fabricate evidence via testimony, tampered with witnesses, and fabricated physical evidence. (Doc. 4 at 8.) State prosecutors are absolutely immune when performing functions “intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process.” Imbler v. Pachtman, ...


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