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Curiel v. Personnel of Department of Justice

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 8, 2014

JAVIER CURIEL, Plaintiff,
v.
PERSONNEL (WORKERS) OF THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

GREGORY M. SLEET, District Judge.

The plaintiff, Javier Curiel ("Curiel"), a inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center ("VCC"), Smyrna, Delaware, filed this filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (D.I. 2.) He appears pro se and was granted permission to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. (D.I. 4) The court now proceeds to review and screen the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and§ 1915A(b)(1).

I. BACKGROUND

Curiel complains that his public defender "threatened him" to take a plea on several sex crimes with which he was charged, or Curiel would receive a lengthy sentence. Curiel pled guilty and was sentenced. He complains that his sentence is too lengthy due to racism.[1]

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This court must dismiss, at the earliest practicable time, certain in forma pauperis and prisoner actions that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim, or seek monetary relief from a may be granted pursuant to the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A, the court must grant Curiel leave to amend his complaint unless amendment would be inequitable or futile. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp. , 293 F.3d 103, 114 (3d Cir. 2002).

A well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere labels and conclusions. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544 (2007). The assumption of truth is inapplicable to legal conclusions or to "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action supported by mere conclusory statements." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678. When determining whether dismissal is appropriate, the court must take three steps: "(1) identify[] the elements of the claim, (2) review[] the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) look[] at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluat[e] whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged." Malleus v. George , 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). Elements are sufficiently alleged when the facts in the complaint "show" that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Deciding whether a claim is plausible will be a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.

III. DISCUSSION

A. State Actors

Curiel names as defendants the personnel/workers of the Public Defender's Office of the State of Delaware. When bringing a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must allege that some person has deprived him of a federal right, and that the person who caused the deprivation acted under color of state law. West v. Atkins , 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Public defenders do not act under color of state law when performing a lawyer's traditional functions as counsel to a defendant in criminal proceedings. Polk County v. Dodson , 454 U.S. 312 (1981).

The claims fail as a matter of law. They have no arguable basis in law or in fact and will be dismissed as legally frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and § 1915(A)(b)(l).

B. Prosecutorial Immunity

Curiel also names as defendants the personnel/workers of the Delaware Department of Justice, presumably those who prosecuted the criminal case against him. Prosecutors enjoy absolute immunity from liability for actions taken in connection with judicial proceedings. Odd v. Malone , 538 F.3d 202, 208 (3d Cir. 2008) (citations omitted), aff'd sub. nom., Schneyder v. Smith , 653 F.3d 313 (3d Cir. 2011). This generally means activities conducted in court, such as presenting evidence or legal arguments. Giuffre v. Bissell , 31 F.3d 1241, 1251 (3d Cir. 1994) (citing Imbler v. Pachtman , 424 U.S. 409, 430 (1976)). Prosecutorial activities outside the courtroom receive the same protection only if they are "intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process." Van de Kamp v. Goldstein , 555 U.S. 335, 341 (2009) (quoting Imbler , 424 U.S. at 430).

The allegations raised against the Department of Justice personnel are conclusory and do not meet the pleading requirements of Iqbal and Twombly. In addition, based upon the allegations it appears that the prosecutors have prosecutorial immunity. The claims fail and will be dismissed as frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and § 1915(A)(b)(l).

C. Habeas Corpus

To the extent that Curiel attempts to challenge his conviction and/or sentence, his sole federal remedy for challenging the fact or duration of his confinement is by way of habeas corpus. Preiser v. Rodriguez , 411 U.S. 475 (1973); see also Torrence v. Thompson , 435 F.Appx. 56 (3d Cir. 2011) (unpublished). Furthermore, a plaintiff cannot recover under§ 1983 for alleged wrongful incarceration unless he proves that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus. See Heck v. Humphrey , 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994).

Here, Curiel has not alleged or proven that his conviction or sentence was reversed or invalidated as provided by Heck. To the extent Curiel seeks damages for his current incarceration, his claim rests on an "inarguable legal conclusion" and is, therefore, frivolous. Neitzke , 490 U.S. at 326. The court will dismiss the claim as frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and § 1915A(b)(l).

IV. CONCLUSION

For the above reasons, the court will dismiss the complaint as frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and § 1915(A)(b)(l). Amendment of the claim would be futile. See Alston v. Parker , 363 F.3d 229 (3d Cir. 2004); Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp. , 293 F.3d 103, 111 (3d Cir. 2002); Borelli v. City of Reading , 532 F.2d 950, 951-52 (3d Cir. 1976).

An appropriate order will be entered.


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