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Craig v. Lawrence

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

January 20, 2017

HENRY LEE CRAIG, #76582 PLAINTIFF
v.
ANTHONY LAWRENCE, III, ANGEL MEYERS, BOBBY KNOCHEL, and KATHY KING JACKSON DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DISMISSING PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT

          HALIL SULEYMAN OZERDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court, sua sponte, for consideration of dismissal. Plaintiff Henry Lee Craig, an inmate of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, brings this pro se Complaint seeking injunctive relief. Craig is proceeding in forma pauperis. See Order [10]. The named Defendants are: Anthony Lawrence, III, District Attorney for Jackson County Mississippi; Angel Meyers, Assistant District Attorney for Jackson County; Bobby Knochel, Assistant District Attorney for Jackson County; and Kathy King Jackson, Circuit Court Judge for Jackson County. The Court, having liberally construed the pleadings in consideration with the applicable law, finds that this case should be dismissed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In 2011, Craig was convicted of murder in the Jackson County Circuit Court and sentenced to life imprisonment. Craig v. State, 110 So.3d 807, 808 (Miss. Ct. App. 2012). Attorneys Lawrence, Meyers, and Knochel prosecuted the case against Craig and Judge King presided over Craig's trial. Compl. [1] at 5 (CM/ECF pagination); Clerk's Docket at 1, Craig v. State, No. 2011-KA-01283 (Miss. Ct. App. 2012). Craig now complains that, in doing so, Defendants violated his constitutional and civil rights. Specifically, Craig claims that Defendants “concealed evidence of the crime of intimidation” by two FBI Agents “on May 11, 2011.” Compl. [1] at 5 (CM/ECF pagination). Craig further alleges that the Defendants conspired with “illegal jurors and illegal incompetent witness[es] on . . . May 11, 2011.” Am. Compl. [7] at 4 (CM/ECF pagination).[1]

         Craig brings this Complaint on forms available for prisoners suing under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and also states that he is filing his claims under §§ 1981, 1985, and 1986. Compl. [1] at 1. Craig seeks “injunctive relief, defamation relief, ” attorney's fees and “whatever relief this Court deems necessary and appropriate.” Am. Compl. [7] at 5 (CM/ECF pagination).

         II. DISCUSSION

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) (as amended), applies to prisoner proceedings in forma pauperis, and provides that “the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . (B) the action or appeal -- (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.” Since Craig is proceeding in forma pauperis, his Complaint is subject to the case screening procedures set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Having completed that screening, it is apparent that Craig's claims are barred by absolute immunity, by the applicable statute of limitations, and by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994).

         A. Defendants are entitled to absolute immunity.

         Judge Jackson, as Circuit Court Judge for Jackson County, enjoys absolute immunity from damages when performing acts within her judicial capacity. See Boyd v. Biggers, 31 F.3d 279, 284 (5th Cir. 1994). Claims of bad faith, malice, and corruption do not overcome absolute judicial immunity. See Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991) (citations omitted). Nor will a judge be deprived of immunity because the action she took was in error or in excess of her authority. See Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356 (1978).

         Judicial immunity can be overcome only by showing that the actions complained of were non-judicial in nature, or by showing that the actions were taken in the “clear absence of all jurisdiction.” Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11; Stump, 435 U.S. at 356-57. In determining whether a judge acted within the scope of her judicial capacity, the court considers four factors: “(1) whether the precise act complained of is a normal judicial function; (2) whether the acts occurred in the courtroom or appropriate adjunct spaces such as the judge's chambers; (3) whether the controversy centered around a case pending before the court; and (4) whether the acts arose directly out of a visit to the judge in his official capacity.” Ballard v. Wall, 413 F.3d 510, 515 (5th Cir. 2005) (citing Malina v. Gonzales, 994 F.2d 1121, 1124 (5th Cir. 1993)).

         Applying the four Ballard factors to Craig's allegations, it is clear that the actions of Judge Jackson were “judicial in nature.” Id. at 517. Likewise, there are no claims that Judge Jackson lacked jurisdiction to preside over criminal proceedings in the Circuit Court for Jackson County. See Miss. Code Ann. § 9-7-81 (circuit court has original jurisdiction over state felony prosecutions). Therefore, Judge Jackson is entitled to absolute immunity from the claims asserted in this case.

         Likewise, criminal prosecutors “enjoy absolute immunity from claims for damages asserted under § 1983 for actions taken in the presentation of the state's case.” Boyd, 31 F.3d at 285. This immunity extends to “all actions which occur in the course of the prosecutor's role as an advocate for the State.” Cousin v. Small, 325 F.3d 627, 632 (5th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks and punctuation omitted). “This broad immunity applies even if the prosecutor is accused of knowingly using perjured testimony.” Boyd, 31 F.3d at 285. The alleged actions taken by Lawrence, Meyers, and Knochel as advocates for the State of Mississippi in Craig's criminal case were “intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process, ” and therefore these Defendants are also entitled to absolute immunity from the claims asserted in this case. See Lampton v. Diaz, 639 F.3d 223, 226 (5th Cir. 2011).

         B. Plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations.

         “A district court ‘may raise the defense of limitations sua sponte . . . [and] [d]ismissal is appropriate if it is clear from the face of the complaint that the claims asserted are barred by the applicable statute of limitations.'” Stanley v. Foster, 464 F.3d 565, 568 (5th Cir. 2006) (quoting Harris v. Hegmann, 198 F.3d 153, 156 (5th Cir. 1999)). Since there is no federal statute of limitations for civil rights actions brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a federal court must borrow the forum state's general personal injury limitations period. See Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 240 (1989); see also Mitchell v. Crescent River Port Pilots Ass'n, 265 F. App'x 363, 367, 367 n.3 (5th Cir. 2008) (citations omitted) (holding state's personal injury limitation period applies to claims under §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985, but noting that § 1986 specifically includes a one-year statute of limitations). The applicable Mississippi statute of ...


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