United States District Court, D. Maryland
XINIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
McKinley Wootten, an inmate currently confined at the Dorsey
Run Correctional Facility in Jessup, Maryland, filed the
above-captioned civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U. S.C.
§ 1983. ECF No. 1. Wootten, proceeding pro se, alleges
that on March 19, 2013, Assistant State's Attorney, James
Leo Britt, forced him to plead guilty as a subsequent
offender carrying a twenty-five-year prison term in that he
threatened Wootten with prosecuting an offense carrying a
50-year-to-life sentence if Wootten rejected the plea. ECF
No. 1, p. 2. Wootten maintains that he did not qualify as a
subsequent offender under Maryland law. Id. Wootten
further contends that his attorney, Michael Richardson, and
the sentencing court, Judge Kathleen Beckstead, both knew the
25-year sentence was illegal when it was imposed. The Court
later corrected his sentence, prompting this civil action.
did not move for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, nor did
he pay the full civil filing fee. In light of his
incarcerated status, he shall be granted leave to proceed in
forma pauperis. However, for the following reasons the
Complaint is dismissed.
Wootten proceeds as an indigent claimant, the Court must
screen the complaint to determine whether it is
"frivolous, malicious or fails to state a claim upon
which relief may be granted or seeks monetary relief from a
defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915A(b). In making this determination, the court
"need not look beyond the complaint's
allegations," although the Court must "hold the pro
se complaint to less stringent standards than pleadings
drafted by attorneys and must read the complaint
liberally." See White v. White, 886 F.2d 721,
722-23 (4th Cir. 1989). With these principles as guidance,
the Court must dismiss the complaint.
with respect to the suit against the sentencing court, the
claim fails as a matter of law because a judge is immune from
suit. See Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 226-27
(1988). The doctrine of judicial immunity shields judges from
monetary claims arising from actions taken in their official
and individual capacities. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S.
9, 9-10 (1991) (per curiam). Although not absolute, judicial
immunity protects a judge from damages suits entirely, and
applies even where a judge commits "grave procedural
errors." Id. at 11
"judges of courts of superior or general jurisdiction
are not liable to civil actions for their judicial acts, 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 355-56; see also Dean v.
Shirer, 547 F.2d 227, 231 (4th Cir. 1976) (stating that
a judge may not be attacked for exercising judicial authority
even if done improperly). Importantly, this doctrine is
designed "not for the protection or benefit of a
malicious or corrupt judge, but for the benefit of the
public, whose interest it is that the judges should be at
liberty to exercise their functions with independence and
without fear of consequences." Pierson v. Ray,
386 U.S. 547, 553-54 (1967).
the Complaint allegations involve the judge acting in her
judicial capacity when she sentenced Wootten. No set of
facts, as alleged, take this claim outside the purview of
judicial immunity. Thus, this claim is dismissed.
claim against the Assistant State's Attorney is similarly
resolved. State prosecutors, as quasi-judicial officers,
enjoy absolute immunity when performing prosecutorial
functions, rather than 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, 118 (4th Cir.
2018); Springmen v. Williams, 122 F.3d 211 (4th Cir.
1997). A prosecutor is thus immune from suit arising from
actions taken in connection with judicial process. See
Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478, 479 (1991).
assess whether prosecutorial immunity applies, the Court
takes a "functional approach," assessing
"whether a particular act is 'intimately associated
with the judicial phase.'" Nero, 890 F.3d
at 118 (quoting Imbler, 424 U.S. at 430).
Accordingly, "a prosecutor acts as an advocate when she
professionally evaluates evidence assembled by the police,
decides to seek an arrest warrant, prepares and files
charging documents, participates in a probable cause hearing,
and presents evidence at trial." Nero, 890 F.3d
at 118 (internal citations omitted). This includes the
prosecutor's decisions on whether, when, or how to
prosecute any given case. See Lyles v. Sparks, 79
F.3d 372, 376-77 (4th Cir. 1996).
Wootten's allegations relate solely to the terms of his
plea offer. Any decisions surrounding the terms of a plea
offer remain central to a prosecutor's role.
Prosecutorial immunity applies, therefore, barring the
as to Wootten's defense attorney, the claims fail for a
different reason. A civil suit for money damages alleging
violations of a plaintiffs constitutional rights may only be
brought against persons who are acting under color of law.
See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Wootten's defense
attorney is not considered a state actor capable of being
sued civilly for constitutional violations. 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).
Nor can this Court plausibly infer from the Complaint that
the attorney was jointly engaged with state actors who
themselves were violating Wootten's constitutional rights
so that § 1983 liability ...