United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF PARTIAL DISMISSAL
KEITH STARRETT, District Judge.
This case is before the Court sua sponte. Pro se Plaintiff Gene Gales, Jr., is a pretrial detainee at the Forrest County Jail, and he brings this action challenging his first trial for burglary, his current charge for the same burglary, and his present conditions of confinement. The Court has considered and liberally construed the pleadings. As set forth below, Defendants Judge Robert Helfrich, Zack Vaughn, Kassie Coleman, Patricia Burchell, the City of Hattiesburg, and Steven Pazos are dismissed. The remainder of this case shall proceed.
On September 6, 2012, Gales was tried in the Circuit Court of Forrest County for burglary of a non-dwelling, which charge, he claims, was false. Defendant Judge Robert Helfrich was the trial judge, and Defendants Zack Vaughn, Kassie Coleman, Patricia Burchell, and Steven Pazos were the prosecutors in that case. Defendant Craig Rose was Gales's defense counsel. Gales also alleges that Defendants Lou Ellen Adams, who is the Forrest County Circuit Court Clerk, and Peggy Lyon altered the trial transcript in some manner. Finally, he accuses Defendants Hattiesburg police officers Zack Rook, Grant Thomas, and Detective Casey Sims of giving perjured testimony in the first trial. The Mississippi Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, on November 26, 2013, because the indictment failed to allege the crime of burglary. This indictment was dismissed, and Gales was released. Gales contends that this first trial was therefore illegal and was the result of a "racially motivated" conspiracy by these Defendants. (Compl. at 4).
The Forrest County Grand Jury re-indicted Gales for the same alleged burglary in January of 2014. The indictment was allegedly signed by Vaughn and Adams. Approximately ten months later, Gales was arrested based on this new indictment. A new charge of grand theft auto was also added against him. Gales maintains that the second trial is likewise "racially motivated" and is placing him in double jeopardy. Id. at 6. He filed a motion to dismiss the second case on double jeopardy grounds, but Judge Helfrich has not ruled on that motion. Gales also claims that he has been denied a preliminary hearing, and he finally accuses Rose of not counseling with him on the second case and not withdrawing so another attorney may be appointed.
Gales awaits trial in the Forrest County Jail, in the custody of Defendant Sheriff Billy Magee. Gales contends that Magee is denying him dental and medical treatment. Gales claims that he has some bad teeth that need pulling because the nerves are exposed. He claims that he also has a severe dog bite and extremely low blood platelets, which he says could be cancer. Finally, the Sheriff is accused of not providing a law library at the jail.
Gales brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985 and the Mississippi Constitution. He seeks damages and an "immediate Spears hearing... to prevent this illegal act from on going [sic]." Id. at 4. Besides the Defendants already mentioned, Gales also sues the Forrest County Board of Supervisors and the "Hattiesburg City Counsel Members or City of Hattiesburg" ("City of Hattiesburg").
The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996, applies to prisoners proceeding in forma pauperis in this Court. The statute provides in part, "the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that... the action... (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). The statute "accords judges not only the authority to dismiss a claim based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, but also the unusual power to pierce the veil of the complaint's factual allegations and dismiss those claims whose factual contentions are clearly baseless." Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32 (1992). "[I]n an action proceeding under [28 U.S.C. § 1915, a federal court] may consider, sua sponte, affirmative defenses that are apparent from the record even where they have not been addressed or raised." Ali v. Higgs, 892 F.2d 438, 440 (5th Cir. 1990). "Significantly, the court is authorized to test the proceeding for frivolousness or maliciousness even before service of process or before the filing of the answer." Id. The Court has permitted Gales to proceed in forma pauperis in this action. His Complaint is subject to sua sponte dismissal under § 1915.
Gales brings his claims under §§ 1983 and 1985 and state law for the first trial, second trial, and present conditions of confinement. The Defendants are various trial participants, the Sheriff, Forrest County, and the City of Hattiesburg.
First, Gales accuses Judge Helfrich of presiding over the first trial, which was in violation of Gales's Fourteenth Amendment right to an indictment and due process. Judge Helfrich is also sued for not granting Gales's motion to dismiss the second case. He claims that both acts or omissions show that Judge Helfrich is racially discriminating against Gales.
The claims against Judge Helfrich are about actions taken in the course and scope of his role as judge over Gales's criminal cases. A judge enjoys absolute immunity from a civil action when performing within his judicial capacity. Hulsey v. Owens, 63 F.3d 354, 356 (5th Cir. 1995). "Absolute immunity is immunity from suit rather than simply a defense against liability, and is a threshold question to be resolved as early in the proceedings as possible.'" Id. (quoting Boyd v. Biggers, 31 F.3d 279, 284 (5th Cir. 1994)). Judicial immunity can be overcome only by a showing that the actions complained of were non-judicial in nature, or by showing that the actions were taken in the absence of all jurisdiction. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991).
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals announced a four factor test to determine whether a judge acted within the scope of his judicial capacity. Ballard v. Wall, 413 F.3d ...