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Samuels v. McDonald

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

February 9, 2018

BRANDE LEE SAMUELS, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
RYAN MCDONALD; ROBERT NIGH; STEVE KUNZWEILER; ISAAC SHIELDS; STUART SOUTHERLAND, Defendants - Appellees.

         D.C. No. 4:17-CV-00397-CVE-FHM (N.D. Okla.)

          Before BRISCOE, HOLMES, and MATHESON, Circuit Judges.

          ORDER AND JUDGMENT

          Scott M. Matheson, Jr. Circuit Judge

         Brande Lee Samuels appeals the district court's dismissal of his amended complaint that alleged claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against three Tulsa County public defenders and two prosecutors with the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office. The court dismissed the amended complaint without prejudice under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) for failure to state a claim. It granted Mr. Samuels leave to proceed in forma pauperis ("ifp") on appeal. Exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.

          Mr. Samuels brought his § 1983 action pro se while in custody at the Tulsa County Jail and awaiting trial.[1] The amended complaint alleged four claims:

(1)denial of the right to a fair and impartial trial process;
(2)ineffective assistance of counsel when appointed counsel failed to provide him with copies of discovery;
(3)ineffective assistance of counsel when appointed counsel failed to file and argue proper motions and challenge the voluntariness of his confession; and
(4)systematic abrogation of constitutional rights by the Tulsa County District Attorneys "by way of the Tulsa County District Court."

Mr. Samuels sought compensatory, punitive, and injunctive relief.

         The district court dismissed because (1) the public defenders did not act under color of state law, as § 1983 requires; and (2) the prosecutors were entitled to absolute immunity. The court pointed out that, if Mr. Samuels is convicted in his state criminal action, he may be able to make his constitutional arguments on direct appeal, in state post-conviction proceedings, or through a federal habeas corpus application.

         Mr. Samuels raises three issues on appeal.[2] "We review de novo the district court's decision to dismiss an ifp complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) for failure to state a claim." Kay v. Bemis, 500 F.3d 1214, 1217 (10th Cir. 2007).

         First, he argues that his amended complaint alleged sufficient factual detail. Aplt. Br. at 4-6.[3] This argument fails because, as we discuss below, he does not show that the facts he did allege overcome the reasons that the district court dismissed the amended complaint.

         Second, Mr. Samuels contests the district court's ruling that the defendant public defenders were not state actors under § 1983. Aplt. Br. at 7-9. The court relied primarily on Polk Cty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312 (1981), in which the Supreme Court said that "a public defender does not act under color of state law when performing a lawyer's traditional functions as counsel to a defendant in a criminal proceeding." Id. at 325. Mr. Samuels cites to the Eighth Circuit's decision in Dodson v. Polk Cty., 628 F.2d 1104 (8th Cir. 1980), which held "that an attorney in a county or state funded public defender's office ...


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