United States District Court, D. Maryland
L. Russell, III United States District Judge
before the Court are Plaintiff Luis Allen Sims' October
16, 2018 Complaint (ECF No. 1) and his Motion to Proceed in
Forma Pauperis (ECF No. 2). The Motion shall be granted. For
the reasons stated below, the Complaint shall be dismissed.
filed the Complaint in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(a)(1), which permits an indigent litigant to
commence an action in this court without prepaying the filing
fee. Based on Sims' reported financial situation, the
Court finds that he is indigent and may proceed without
prepaying the filing fee.
guard against possible abuses of this privilege, the statute
requires dismissal of any claim that is frivolous or
malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be
granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and (ii). This
court is mindful, however, of its obligation to construe
liberally self-represented pleadings, such as the instant
Complaint. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94
(2007). In evaluating such a complaint, factual allegations
are assumed to be true. Id. at 93 (citing Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)).
Nonetheless, liberal construction does not mean that the
Court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege
facts which set forth a cognizable claim. See Weller v.
Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990);
see also Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274,
1278 (4th Cir. 1985) (stating a district court may not
“conjure up questions never squarely
presented.”). In making this determination, A[t]he
district court need not look beyond the complaint's
allegations . . . [but] must hold the pro se complaint to
less stringent standards than pleadings drafted by attorneys
and must read the complaint liberally.” White v.
White, 886 F.2d 721, 722-723 (4th Cir. 1989).
was convicted of first-degree murder and related handgun
offenses. See State v. Sims, Case No. 190164007
(Balt. City Cir. Ct. 1990),
http://casesearch.courts.state.md.us/inquiry. He was
sentenced to a life term of incarceration plus 20 years
consecutive. Id. Sims' Complaint alleges the
Baltimore City Police Department and various people involved
in his case violated his civil rights and seeks damages under
42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Complaint must be dismissed
because it fails to state a claim on which relief can be
granted. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).
Complaint as against Defendants Stuart O. Simms and Shelby
Dickerson Moore must be dismissed because they are immune to
this kind of suit. Maryland's States Attorneys are
quasi-judicial officers who enjoy absolute immunity when
performing prosecutorial functions, as opposed to
investigative or administrative ones. See Imbler v.
Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 422-23 (1976); see also
Kalina v. Fletcher, 522 U.S. 118, 127 (1997);
Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 273 (1993);
Nero v. Mosby, 890 F.3d 106, 117-118 (4th Cir.
2018). Because absolute immunity is designed to protect
judicial process, the appropriate inquiry is whether a
prosecutor's actions are closely associated with judicial
process. See Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478, 479 (1991)
(citing Imbler, 424 U.S. at 422-23). The Court must
use a “functional approach” to “determine
whether a particular act is ‘intimately associated with
the judicial phase.'” Nero, 890 F.3d at
117 (quoting Imbler, 424 U.S. at 430). The Fourth
Circuit provided a list of covered functions in
Nero: “A prosecutor acts as an advocate when
she professionally evaluates evidence assembled by the
police, Buckley, 509 U.S. at 273, decides to seek an
arrest warrant, Kalina, 522 U.S. at 130, prepares
and files charging documents, id., participates in a
probable cause hearing, Burns, 500 U.S. at 493, and
presents evidence at trial, Imbler, 424 U.S. at
431.” 890 F.3d at 118.
alleges Simms and Moore, former Baltimore City State's
Attorneys involved in prosecuting Sims, each had knowledge
that his indictment was defective and that officers falsified
reports. (ECF No. 1 at 7-8). Because Simms and Moore were
performing prosecutorial functions covered by absolute
immunity when they obtained Sims' convictions, Sims'
claims against them are barred and must be dismissed.
Complaint against Defendant Morris Lee Kaplan, the attorney
who represented Sims at trial, must also be dismissed because
Kaplan did not act under color of state law. To state a claim
under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that “the
charged state actor (1) deprived plaintiff of a right secured
by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and (2)
that the deprivation was performed under color of the
referenced sources of state law found in the statute.”
Philips v. Pitt Cty. Mem'l Hosp. 572 F.3d. 176,
180 (4th Cir. 2009). The color-of-law requirement is
“synonymous with the more familiar state-action
requirement-and the analysis for each is identical.”
Id. (citing Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457
U.S. 922, 929 (1982)). “‘[M]erely private
conduct, no matter how discriminatory or wrongful[, ]'
fails to qualify as state action.” Philips,
572 F.3d. at 181 (citing Mentavlos v. Anderson, 249
F.3d 301 (4th Cir. 2001)). Further, “private activity
will generally not be deemed ‘state action' unless
the state has so dominated such activity as to convert it to
state action: Mere approval of or acquiescence in the
initiatives of a private party is insufficient.”
Id. (internal quotations omitted) (citing Wahi
v. Charleston Area Med. Ctr., 562 F.3d 599, 616 (4th
Cir. 2009)). Defense attorneys, whether appointed or
privately retained, do not act under color of state law when
performing a lawyer's traditional functions as counsel to
a defendant in a criminal proceeding. See Deas v.
Potts, 547 F.2d 800, 800 (4th Cir. 1976); see also
Hall v. Quillen, 631 F.2d 1154, 1155-56 (4th Cir. 1980);
Polk Cty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 453-54 (1981).
While an attorney who conspires with a state official to
violate constitutional rights does act under color of state
law, evidence of the conspiracy is required. See Tower v.
Glover, 467 U.S. 914, 920 (1984); Phillips v.
Mashburn, 746 F.2d 782, 785 (11th Cir. 1984) (plaintiff
must make more than naked assertion of conspiracy).
Sims asserts that Kaplan also knew about the allegedly
defective indictment and that Kaplan therefore knew that Sims
was illegally tried because the court had no jurisdiction.
(ECF No. 1 at 8). But Sims does not offer anything in support
of his assertion that Kaplan conspired with the state
officials. This claim is a naked assertion of conspiracy and,
because it does not properly plead that Kaplan acted under
color of state law, the Complaint against Kaplan must also be
Complaint as against the remaining Defendants, the Baltimore
City Police Department and the police officers who
investigated Sims, must be dismissed because his conviction
and sentence remain intact. In Heck v. Humphrey, the
Supreme Court held:
. . . in order to recover damages for alleged
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, 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, 28 U.S.C. § 2254. A claim for
damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence
that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under
§ 1983. Thus, when a state prisoner seeks damages in a
§ 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
512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994).
conviction has not been overturned or otherwise invalidated.
The Complaint's allegations, if allowed to proceed, would
go to the validity of the criminal judgment. Accordingly, the
claims against the Baltimore City Police Department, the
named police ...