United States District Court, D. South Carolina
June 30, 2015
Jason Thomas Boston, Plaintiff,
Solicitor Kimberly Barr; Officer Juan Ballard, Defendants.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
KAYMANI D. WEST, Magistrate Judge.
This is a civil action filed pro se by a state prison inmate. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e) (D.S.C.), the undersigned magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in such pro se cases and to submit findings and recommendations to the district court. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e); 1915A (as soon as possible after docketing, district courts should review prisoner cases to determine whether they are subject to summary dismissal).
I. Factual Background
Jason Thomas Boston ("Plaintiff") sues the Solicitor who prosecuted and the Sheriff's Investigator who investigated the Williamsburg County criminal case that resulted in his April 2, 2015 conviction for armed robbery, which is the conviction on which he is now incarcerated in the South Carolina Department of Corrections. State v. Boston, No. 2014A4510100207; see http://publicindex.sccourts.org/Williamsburg/PublicIndex/CaseDetails.aspx?County=45&CourtA gency=45001&Casenum=2014A4510100207&CaseType=C (last consulted June 22, 2015). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants tampered with jurors during his trial and coerced his co-defendant to testify against him and to change her story so that Plaintiff would be convicted. Compl. 3, ECF No. 1. Plaintiff also alleges that he did not commit the crime of which he was convicted and that he is being falsely imprisoned. Id. at 4-5. Plaintiff asks that Defendants be ordered to pay him $6.5 million and $500 for each day he has been incarcerated. Id. at 5. Although Plaintiff refers to a "pcr and an appeal, " id. at 4, it does not appear at this time that his armed-robbery conviction has been overturned.
II. Standard of Review
Under established local procedure in this judicial district, a careful review has been made of Plaintiff's pro se Complaint filed in this case. This review has been conducted pursuant to the procedural provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915, 1915A, and the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996, and in light of the following precedents: Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25 (1992); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324-25 (1989); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972); Nasim v. Warden, Md. House of Corr., 64 F.3d 951 (4th Cir. 1995); Todd v. Baskerville, 712 F.2d 70 (4th Cir. 1983); Boyce v. Alizaduh, 595 F.2d 948 (4th Cir. 1979).
Pro se complaints are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), and a federal district court is charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). When a federal court is evaluating a pro se complaint, the plaintiff's allegations are assumed to be true. De'Lonta v. Angelone, 330 F.3d 630, 630 n.1 (4th Cir. 2003). Nevertheless, the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that this Court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a claim currently cognizable in a federal district court. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990). Even under this less stringent standard, the Complaint filed in this case is subject to summary dismissal under the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
Plaintiff's Complaint is subject to summary dismissal based on the United States Supreme Court's decision in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). With respect to actions filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 such as the present one alleging constitutional violations and/or other improprieties in connection with state criminal charges, [*] the Court stated:
We hold that, in order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm 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 a 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 invalidated.
Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-87. In Heck the United States Supreme Court ruled that until a criminal conviction is set aside by way of appeal, PCR, habeas, or otherwise, any civil rights action based on the conviction and related matters will be barred.
As indicated above, Plaintiff's Williamsburg County conviction was entered only a few months ago, and, while he mentions an appeal and a PCR, he is still incarcerated and it does not appear that his conviction has been set aside. Plaintiff's allegations of jury tampering and other serious wrongdoing in connection with the investigation and prosecution of the armed-robbery charges, if true, would necessarily invalidate his conviction. Therefore, he cannot sue either of the Defendants based on their involvement in his prosecution and ultimate conviction unless and until he is successful at having the conviction overturned though a direct appeal, PCR, or habeas corpus.
Additionally, even if Heck did not bar this Complaint in its entirety as stated above, Plaintiff's Complaint would still be subject to partial summary dismissal as to Defendant Barr, a Williamsburg County Assistant Solicitor, under the established doctrine of prosecutorial immunity. In South Carolina, regional prosecutors are called Solicitors and Assistant Solicitors. See S.C. Const., art. V, § 24; S.C. Code Ann. § 1-7-310. Solicitors are elected by voters of a judicial circuit and have absolute immunity for their prosecution-related activities in or connected with judicial proceedings. Such protected activities include, but are not limited to, prosecutorial actions and decisions related to the prosecutor's participation in a criminal trial, bond hearings, grand jury proceedings, pre-trial motions hearings, and ancillary civil proceedings. See Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259 (1993); Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478 (1991); Hart v. Jefferson Cnty., No. CIV. 93-1350-FR, 1995 WL 399619 (D. Ore. June 15, 1995) (allegations by plaintiff of malicious motives on part of two prosecutors insufficient to overcome prosecutorial immunity). Of particular importance in this case is the fact that it is well settled in this Circuit that prosecutors are absolutely immune from liability for damages based on their decisions about "whether and when to prosecute, " Lyles v. Sparks, 79 F.3d 372, 377 (4th Cir. 1996), and whether to go forward with a prosecution. See Springmen v. Williams, 122 F.3d 211, 212-13 (4th Cir. 1997).
Plaintiff's allegations about the manner in which witness testimony was presented and jury matters were conducted during his trial go directly to Defendant Barr's clearly prosecutorial decisions about how to prosecute and present a case to a jury and whether to go forward with a prosecution. As stated above, such decisions are purely prosecutorial functions and they are absolutely immune from Plaintiff's claims. Springmen; Lyles. Thus, Plaintiff is not entitled to recover any damages from Defendant Barr based on her performance of these functions, and he fails to state a plausible claim for relief against her.
Accordingly, it is recommended that the district court dismiss the Complaint in this case without prejudice. See Brown v. Briscoe, 998 F.2d 201, 202-04 (4th Cir. 1993); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (as soon as possible after docketing, district courts should review prisoner cases to determine whether they are subject to summary dismissal).
IT IS SO RECOMMENDED.