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Knuth v. Arp

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 11, 2016

Nathan Daniel Knuth, Inmate No. P00178643, Plaintiff,
RANDALL C. ARP, Judge; RICK RAEMISH, D.O.C. Director; BRANDON SHAFFER, Chairman, Sate Board of Parole; EVANGELINE GRAZIANO, Parole Officer; STEVE JENSON, Deputy District Attorney; KATE KNOWLES, Deputy District Attorney; MARTHA ESKESEN, Private Attorney; KAUSHIKI CHOWDHURY, Public Defender; and JAMES ABER, James Aber, Alternate Defense Counsel, Defendants.

(The above civil action number must appear on all future papers sent to the court in this action. Failure to include this number may result in a delay in the consideration of your claims.)


GORDON P. GALLAGHER, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Nathan Daniel Knuth is a prisoner in the custody of the Jefferson County Detention Facility in Golden, Colorado. Plaintiff, acting pro se, initiated this action by filing a Prisoner Complaint alleging that his constitutional rights were violated. Plaintiff has been granted leave to proceed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1915.

The Court must construe the Complaint liberally because Plaintiff is a pro se litigant. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). However, the Court should not act as a pro se litigant's advocate. See Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff will be ordered to file an Amended Complaint.

In his Complaint, Plaintiff asserts claims related to ongoing court proceedings. Specifically, he claims that there was no probable cause to support felony charges asserted against him in 14CR572 in Jefferson County. Next, he claims that he was denied a prompt parole revocation hearing. Third, he claims that the Judge assigned to hear his state habeas corpus petition wrongly denied it on the merits. Fourth, he claims that the Judge assigned to 15cv161 intentionally misconstrued the merits of his habeas case. Fifth, he claims that the Jefferson County District Court and Office of the Public Defender have a policy of intentionally denying the accused their right to enter the plea of their choice. Next, he asserts that the Jefferson County District Judges have a policy of not ruling on pro se motions filed by represented parties. Next he takes issue with allowing the prosecution to amend criminal informations to add new offenses.Seventh, he alleges a policy of depriving criminal defendants their right to effective assistance of counsel. Eighth, he claims that the Colorado Department of Corrections has a policy of failing to comply with their statutory duty of promptly informing each prisoner, in writing, of the source and nature of any untried indictment, information, or criminal complaint against him of which the superintendent has knowledge as required by the Uniform Mandatory Disposition of Detainers Act, Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 16-14-102(2).

To state a claim for relief under § 1983, "a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States" by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). "The purpose of this requirement is to assure that constitutional standards are invoked only when it can be said that the State is responsible for the specific conduct of which the plaintiff complains." Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991 (1982). "The traditional definition of acting under color of state law requires that the defendant in a § 1983 action have exercised power possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law." West, 487 U.S. at 49 (internal quotation marks omitted). Private persons may be said to act "under color of' state law" if they are "jointly engaged with state officials in the challenged action." Dennis v. Sparks, 449 U.S. 24, 27-28 (1980). See also Lee v. Town of Estes Park, 820 F.2d 1112, 1114 (10th Cir.1987).

First, Plaintiff's request for release based on the alleged constitutional violations in his criminal proceedings must be addressed in a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. See Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 504 (1973). Habeas corpus claims may not be raised in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action. The Supreme Court has explained the role of habeas and civil rights actions as follows:

Federal law opens two main avenues to relief on complaints related to imprisonment: a petition for habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254, and a complaint under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, Rev. Stat. § 1979, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Challenges to the validity of any confinement or to particulars affecting its duration are the province of habeas corpus, Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500, 93 S.Ct. 1827, 36 L.Ed.2d 439 (1973); requests for relief turning on circumstances of confinement may be presented in a § 1983 action.

Muhammad v. Close, 540 U.S. 749, 750 (2004); see also Hill v. McDonough, 547 U.S. 573, 579 (2006). If Plaintiff wishes to pursue any habeas corpus claims he must file a separate habeas corpus action. Before seeking habeas corpus relief in federal court, Plaintiff must exhaust state court remedies. See Montez v. McKinna, 208 F.3d 862, 866 (10th Cir. 2000) (noting that state court remedies must be exhausted prior to seeking habeas corpus relief).

Second, Plaintiff's request for money damages based on the alleged constitutional violations in his criminal proceeding is barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994). Under Heck, the United States Supreme Court held that if a judgment for damages favorable to a prisoner in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action necessarily would imply the invalidity of a criminal conviction or sentence, the § 1983 action does not arise until the conviction or sentence is reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by an authorized state tribunal, or called into question by the issuance of a federal habeas writ. Here, there is an underlying conviction that would be subject to invalidation based on Plaintiff's prescribed medications and his associated inability to assist in his criminal proceeding and to enter a knowing and voluntary plea. See Butler v. Compton, 482 F.3d 1277, 1280 (10th Circuit 2007) (court found Heck was not implemented in this case but stated that when there is related underlying conviction there would be invalidation and Heck applies). If the Court were to find that Plaintiff was so medicated during his trial that he was incapable of entering a voluntary and knowing plea and to assist in his defense, as suggested by Plaintiff, that finding would necessarily imply the invalidity of the conviction and sentence.

Third, Defendants Judge Randall Arp, Steve Jenson, Kate Knowles, Martha Eskenson, Kaushiki Chowbury and Janes Aber are immune from suit for the reasons stated below.

Defendant Judge Randall Arp is absolutely immune from liability in civil rights suits when he acts in his judicial capacity, unless he act in the clear absence of all jurisdiction. See Morales v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11-12 (1991); Stump v. Scarman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-57 (1978); Hunt v. Bennett, 17 F.3d 1263, 1266-67 (10th Cir. 1994). Questions of competency are "intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process.'" See Wolf v. Scobie, 28 F.Appx. 545, 548 (7th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted)). Judge Arp was acting in his judicial capacity when he ruled on Plaintiff's state habeas proceedings; he was not acting in the clear absence of all jurisdiction.

Defendants Jenson and Knowls are entitled to absolute immunity in § 1983 suits for activities within the scope of their prosecutorial duties. See Ambler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 420-24 (1976); The Tenth Circuit has found that state prosecutors' "decisions to prosecute, their investigatory or evidence-gathering actions, their evaluation of evidence, their determination of whether probable cause exists, and their determination of what information to show the court" are activities intimately associated with the judicial process. See Nielander v. Bd. of County Comm'rs., 582 F.3d 1155, 1164 (10th Cir. 2009). Any part Defendants Knowls and Jenson played in negotiating a plea with Plaintiff is within the scope of their prosecutorial duties.

Defendants Martha Eskesn, Kaushiki Chowdbury and James Aber, whether private attorneys or public defenders, who represented Plaintiff, are not state actors under § 1983 and are not proper parties to this action. ...

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