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Craig v. Taylor

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

April 4, 2017

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

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DISMISSING PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT

          LOUIS GUIROLA, JR. CHIEF U.S. 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 monetary damages and injunctive relief. Craig is proceeding in forma pauperis. See Order [5].

         The named Defendants are: Michael Taylor, a witness during Craig's criminal proceedings; 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). Michael Taylor testified on behalf of the prosecution at Craig's criminal trial. Attorneys Lawrence, Meyers, and Knochel prosecuted the case against Craig and Judge King presided over Craig's trial. 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.[1] Specifically, Craig claims that Taylor was incompetent to testify and the prosecutors conspired to “conceal this ambush witness competency status from the trial court.” Mot. [14] at 6 (CM/ECF pagination).

         Craig brings this Complaint on forms available for prisoners suing under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and also cites § 1986. Compl. [1] at 10 (CM/ECF pagination). Craig seeks “compensatory relief, punitive relief, [and] injunctive relief.” Id. at 9 (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.

         “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.'” Hulsey v. Owens, 63 F.3d 654, 356 (5th Cir. 1995) (quoting Boyd v. Biggers, 31 F.3d 279, 284 (5th Cir. 1994)). Witnesses in grand jury proceedings and criminal trials are entitled to absolute immunity against § 1983 suits. Rehberg v. Paulk, 132 S.Ct. 1497, 1506 (2012). Insofar as Craig claims his rights were violated by Taylor's testimony during his criminal proceedings, Craig's claims are barred by absolute immunity. Id. at 1506-07; see also Mowbray v. Cameron Cnty., Tex., 274 F.3d 269, 277-78 (5th Cir. 2001) (finding absolute witness immunity bars § 1983 suits for conspiracy to commit perjury).

         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. ยง 9-7-81 (circuit court has original jurisdiction over state felony ...


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