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Goodwin v. Jones

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 27, 2016

TYLER B. GOODWIN, Plaintiff,



         I. Introduction

         On February 16, 2016, plaintiff Tyler B. Goodwin ("Goodwin"), a prisoner in custody at MCI Concord, filed a self-prepared civil rights complaint against a number of defendants including the Marshfield Police Department and its detective, the Plymouth District Attorney's Office and one of its criminal prosecutors, and purported victims/witnesses. The matter stems from Goodwin's criminal prosecution in Plymouth County for rape. After a jury trial, Goodwin was found to be not guilty. Among other things, Goodwin alleges in his complaint that the defendant police investigator and the Assistant District Attorney failed to investigate DNA evidence in connection with the rape, and, once it was discovered that the DNA evidence did not belong to him, the Assistant District Attorney continued to prosecute him. He also alleges the victims/witnesses made various false statements in connection with his criminal prosecution. He seeks monetary relief and an order prohibiting the defendants from retaliating against him.

         On March 16, 2016, this Court issued a Procedural Order (Docket No. 6) directing Goodwin to pay the $350.00 filing fee and the $50.00 administrative fee by April 6, 2016, or in the alternative, file a Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis along with his certified prison account statement. On March 25, 2016, Goodwin submitted an in forma pauperis motion (Docket No. 8) with his prison account statement as directed.

         On April 18, 2016, Goodwin filed a Motion to Appoint Counsel (Docket No. 9) on the grounds that he is unable to afford to pay for an attorney and that he suffers from a learning disability and has difficulties in understanding the law.

         II. Discussion

         A. The Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis

         Upon review of Goodwin's financial affidavit and prison account statement, this Court finds that he lacks funds to pay the filing and administrative fees for this action. Nevertheless, because he is a prisoner, he is obligated to pay the filing fee in installments pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (the in forma pauperis statute).

         Accordingly, Goodwin's Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis (Docket No. 8) is ALLOWED, and he is Ordered to pay an initial partial filing fee of $1.69, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1)(B); and the remainder of the fee $348.31 is to be assessed and collected in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).

         A copy of this Memorandum and Order shall be sent to the Treasurer's Office at MCI Concord to facilitate payments to this Court.

         B. The Complaint is Subject to Preliminary Screening

         Because Goodwin is a prisoner, the PLRA comes into play. The PLRA contains several provisions which grant this Court the authority to screen and dismiss prisoner complaints. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (proceedings in forma pauperis); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (screening of suits against governmental officers and entities). Section 1915 authorizes federal courts to dismiss actions in which a plaintiff seeks to proceed without prepayment of fees if the action lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact, Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989), or if the action fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and (iii). Section 1915A also authorizes the Court to review prisoner complaints in civil actions in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity, or officers or employees of a governmental entity, and to dismiss the action regardless of whether or not the plaintiff has paid the filing fee, if the complaint lacks an arguable basis in law or fact, fails to state a claim, or seeks relief from a defendant immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         In connection with this preliminary screening, Goodwin's pro se complaint is construed generously. Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Instituto de Educacion Universal Corp. v. U.S. Dept. of Education, 209 F.3d 18, 23 (1st Cir. 2000). Even under a broad reading, however, Goodwin's claims are subject to dismissal for the reasons set forth below.

         C. Claims Against Assistant District Attorny Jessica Elumba Are Not Cognizable

         Goodwin's claims that Assistant District Attorney Jessica Elumba ("ADA Elumba") failed to investigate the DNA evidence and continued to prosecute him even though the DNA evidence exonerated him. Based on reasonable inferences from the complaint, the claims against ADA Elumbra are barred because prosecutors " are entitled to absolute immunity when they engage in activities that are ‘intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process.'" Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430 (1976)[1]; Reid v. State of New Hampshire, 56 F.3d 332, 337 (1st Cir. 1995). Conduct falling within this category is not limited to conduct occurring in the courtroom. It includes actions where prosecutors are acting "in the course of [their] role as an advocate for the State, " including "acts undertaken by a prosecutor in preparing for the initiation of judicial proceedings or for trial . . . ." Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 273 (1993). "Those acts must include the professional evaluation of the evidence assembled by the police and appropriate preparation for its presentation at trial or before a grand jury after a decision to seek an indictment has been made." Id. It may include obtaining evidence for the initiation of criminal process. Imbler, 424 U.S. at 431 n.33. Moreover, "[a]bsolute immunity is not defeated by a showing that the prosecutor acted wrongfully or even maliciously, so long as the prosecutor is exercising quasi-judicial power and not merely operating in an investigatory or administrative role." Easton v. Gianetti, 1997 WL 220312 (N.D. Cal. 1997) (citing Imbler, 424 U.S. at 427 and n.27). On the other hand, prosecutors are entitled only to qualified immunity when they perform investigatory or administrative functions, or are essentially functioning as police officers or detectives. Buckley, 509 U.S. at 273-274.

         The distinction between the roles of "prosecutor" and "investigator" is not always clear. Imbler, 424 U.S. at 431 n.33. At some point, a prosecutor stops functioning as an officer of the court and loses absolute immunity, but this determination must be made on a case-by-case or function-by-function basis. To determine whether an action is "prosecutorial" (and thus entitled to absolute immunity), the United States Supreme Court has adopted a "‘functional approach, ' which looks to ‘the nature of the function performed, not the identity of the actor who performed it.'" Buckley, 509 U.S. at 269 (quoting Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478, 486 (1991)). If the nature of the function requires legal knowledge and the related exercise of discretion in whether and how to use the material (e.g., advocacy inside the courtroom or "quasi-judicial" activities related to the preparation for advocacy after criminal proceedings have begun), then absolute immunity is available. See Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, 129 S.Ct. 855, 861-862 (2009).[2]

         In this case, ADA Elumba's decision to prosecute Goodwin (presumably based on the victims/witnesses statements notwithstanding the lack of DNA evidence incriminating him) clearly falls within the purview of the absolute prosecutorial immunity doctrine. Moreover, Goodwin's amorphous allegation that ADA Elumba violated his civil rights in failing to investigate the DNA evidence does not set forth any underlying facts from which it could be inferred that she acted in a purely investigatory role rather than in a prosecutorial role with respect to the use DNA evidence. Thus, all of Goodwin's claims against ADA Elumba are subject to dismissal in their entirety.

         D. The Claims Against Detective Kimberly Jones ...

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