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Raab v. Lambros

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Northern Division

January 10, 2020

Joseph Malatamban Raab, Plaintiff,
v.
James P. Lambros et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          Paul L. Maloney United States District Judge

         This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996) (PLRA), the Court is required to dismiss any prisoner action brought under federal law if the complaint is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A. The Court must read Plaintiff's pro se complaint indulgently, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), and accept Plaintiff's allegations as true, unless they are clearly irrational or wholly incredible. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992). Applying these standards, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim.

         Discussion

         I. Factual allegations

         At the time Plaintiff filed his complaint, he was a pretrial detainee in the Chippewa County Jail. Since filing, Plaintiff has entered a plea (Supplement, ECF No. 8, PageID.56), and, apparently, awaits sentencing. Nonetheless, presently, he is still housed in the Chippewa County Jail. Plaintiff sues Judge James P. Lambros of the Chippewa Circuit Court, Chippewa County Prosecutor Robert Stratton, III, Chippewa County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Jillian Sadler, and Plaintiff's appointed defense counsel, Sara R. MacGregor.

         Plaintiff alleges that Judge Lambros, Prosecutor Sadler, and defense counsel MacGregor all conspired to, and actually did, violate his constitutional rights in connection with his criminal prosecution in the Chippewa County Circuit Court. Plaintiff seeks punitive damages in the amount of one million dollars from each Defendant.

         II. Failure to state a claim

         A complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it fails “‘to give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's allegations must include more than labels and conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”). The court must determine whether the complaint contains “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Although the plausibility standard is not equivalent to a “‘probability requirement,' . . . it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)); see also Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010) (holding that the Twombly/Iqbal plausibility standard applies to dismissals of prisoner cases on initial review under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b)(1) and 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)).

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the federal Constitution or laws. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Street v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 102 F.3d 810, 814 (6th Cir. 1996). Because § 1983 is a method for vindicating federal rights, not a source of substantive rights itself, the first step in an action under § 1983 is to identify the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994). Plaintiff contends that Defendants have violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process and, because Defendants were involved in the hearing on a denial of a motion to suppress, his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

         III. Defendant MacGregor

         In addition to alleging the violation of a right secured by the federal Constitution, to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff must show that the deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Dominguez v. Corr. Med. Servs., 555 F.3d 543, 549 (6th Cir. 2009); Street v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 102 F.3d 810, 814 (6th Cir. 1996). In order for a private party's conduct to be under color of state law, it must be “fairly attributable to the State.” Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 937 (1982); Street, 102 F.3d at 814. There must be “a sufficiently close nexus between the State and the challenged action of [the defendant] so that the action of the latter may be fairly treated as that of the State itself.” Skelton v. Pri-Cor, Inc., 963 F.2d 100, 102 (6th Cir. 1991) (citing Jackson v. Metro. Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 351 (1974)).

         Plaintiff cannot show that his court-appointed attorney acted under color of state law. In Polk Cty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312 (1981), the Supreme Court held that defense counsel perform a private, not an official, function:

In our system[, ] a defense lawyer characteristically opposes the designated representatives of the State. The system assumes that adversarial testing will ultimately advance the public interest in truth and fairness. But it posits that a defense lawyer best serves the public, not by acting on behalf of the State or in concert with it, but rather by advancing “the undivided interest of his client.” This is essentially a private function, traditionally filled by retained counsel, for which state office and authority are not needed.

454 U.S. at 318-19 (footnotes omitted). The Polk County Court further held that this is true even of the state-appointed and state-paid public defender. Id. at 321. The Court said that, once a lawyer undertakes the representation of an accused, the duties and obligations are the same whether the lawyer is privately retained, appointed, or serves in a legal aid or defender program. Id. at 323. The Court held that, even though a public defender is paid by the state, he or she does not act under color of state law in representing the accused. Id. at 325. Rather, defense counsel-whether privately retained or paid by the state-acts purely on behalf of the client and free from state control. Id. The Sixth Circuit has adhered to the holding in Polk County in numerous decisions. See, e.g., Floyd v. Cty. of Kent, 454 Fed.Appx. 493, 497 (6th Cir. 2012) (holding that, when performing traditional functions as counsel, a public defender is not a state actor); Powers v. Hamilton Cty. Pub. Defender, 501 F.3d 592, 611 (6th Cir. ...


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