United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Pierre Barnett initiated this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 and filed a Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma
Pauperis. ECF Nos. 1, 2. Barnett alleges that Defendants
participated in the unlawful execution of a search warrant
pursuant to an illegal indictment, resulting in his unlawful
arrest and conviction in violation of the Fourth and
Fourteenth Amendments. ECF No. 1. For the following reasons,
Barnett's Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis
will be granted, but the Complaint must be dismissed.
April 7, 2017, after a jury trial in the Circuit Court for
Prince George's County, Maryland (“State
Court”), Barnett was convicted of involuntary
manslaughter, use of a handgun in the commission of a crime
of violence, and related firearm offenses. See State v.
Barnett, Crim. No. CT160845X (Cir. Ct. Pr. Geo. Co.). On
July 17, 2017, he was sentenced to incarceration for a period
of thirty-five years. Id. Respondent Marnitta King
was Barnett's counsel in the case. Id. The
matter is on appeal, id., and Barnett has also has
filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the State
Court, ECF No. 1 at 1-2.
20, 2019, Barnett filed a Complaint in this Court pursuant to
§ 1983 alleging that Respondents had violated his
constitutional rights during the course of the proceedings in
the State Court. ECF No. 1. Specifically, Barnett alleges
that Judge Philip Nichols signed a “fraudulent”
search warrant; Ms. King failed to ensure that his
constitutional rights were protected in the execution of the
search warrant and during criminal proceedings; the Prince
George's County Police Department and Detective Dougherty
violated his rights by executing “a bogus body
intrusion search warrant”; and Unknown Detective Badge
#2927 violated his right to due process when he wrote the
statement of charges which led to the issuance of the
indictment. Id. at 5, 7. As relief, Barnett asks for
“no less then [sic] a jury trial, ” punitive
damages, and injunctive relief to deter similar conduct in
the future. Id. at 14, 15.
28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1), an indigent litigant may
commence an action in this court without prepaying the filing
fee. Because Barnett is indigent, the Court will grant his
Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis.
guard against possible abuses of this privilege, however,
federal law requires dismissal of any claim that fails to
state a claim on which relief may be granted or seeks
monetary relief against a defendant immune from such relief.
28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), (iii). Against this
background, the Court is also mindful of its obligation to
liberally construe self-represented pleadings, such as the
instant complaint. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S.
89, 94 (2007). In evaluating such a complaint, the factual
allegations are assumed to be true. Id. at 93
(citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
555-56 (2007)). Nonetheless, liberal construction does not
mean that this court can ignore a clear failure in the
pleadings to allege facts which set forth a cognizable claim.
See 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”).
Applying this standard, the Complaint must be dismissed for
the following reasons.
Claims against Judge Nichols
cannot maintain an action against Judge Nichols because it is
prohibited by the doctrine of judicial immunity. See
Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 226-27 (1988)
(“If judges were personally liable for erroneous
decisions, the resulting avalanche of suits, most of them
frivolous but vexatious, would provide powerful incentives
for judges to avoid rendering decisions likely to provoke
such suits.”); Hamilton v. Murray, 648 Fed.
App'x 344, 344-45 (4th Cir. 2016) (“Judges possess
absolute immunity for their judicial acts and are subject to
liability only in the ‘clear absence of all
jurisdiction.'”) (quoting Stump v.
Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-57 (1978)). The doctrine of
judicial immunity shields judges from monetary claims against
them both in their official and individual capacities.
Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 9-10 (1991) (per
curiam). Judicial immunity is absolute immunity; it protects
a judge from any suit for damages based on judicial acts.
Id. at 11. An act is still judicial, and immunity
applies, even if the judge commits “grave procedural
errors.” Stump, 435 U.S. at 359. Barnett is
suing Judge Nichols for decisions Nichols made in his
capacity as a judge. Judge Nichols is therefore entitled to
judicial immunity. Accordingly, the Court will dismiss all
claims against Judge Nichols.
Claims against Ms. King
also fails to state a viable claim against Ms. King. In order
to bring a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must show
injury by a deprivation of rights, privileges, or immunities
secured by the United States Constitution by a person acting
under “color of state law.” See 42 U.S.C
§ 1983. An attorney, whether retained, court-appointed,
or a public defender, does not act under color of state law.
See Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 317-24
(1981); Hall v. Quillen, 631 F.2d 1154, 1155-56 (4th
Cir. 1980); Deas v. Potts, 547 F.2d. 800, 800 (4th
Cir. 1976). Barnett is suing Ms. King in her capacity as his
trial counsel, and as such, Ms. King is not a state actor.
Consequently, Barnett fails to state a claim against her upon
which relief can be granted. The claims against Ms. King will
remaining claims against the Prince George's County
Police Department, Detective Dougherty, Unknown Detective
Badge #2927, John Doe, and Jane Doe challenge the legality of
his conviction. Claims challenging the legality of a
conviction are not cognizable in a § 1983 action unless
and until the conviction is reversed, expunged, invalidated,
or impugned, so complaints containing such claims must be
dismissed without prejudice. Heck v. Humphrey, 512
U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994); see also Wilkinson v.
Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 (2005); Harvey v.
Horan, 278 F.3d 370, 375 (4th Cir. 2002) (noting that
Heck also applies to claims for injunctive relief).
To hold otherwise would permit a civil action to undermine
the finality of a criminal conviction. See Harvey,
278 F.3d at 374-75 (civil tort actions are “not
appropriate vehicles for challenging the validity of
outstanding criminal judgments”). Barnett's
Complaint appears to seek damages or injunctive relief based
on an allegedly improper conviction, so his ...