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Rosales-Martinez v. Palmer

United States District Court, D. Nevada

August 28, 2017

COLBY PALMER, et al., Defendants.



         I. SUMMARY

         This action concerns a convicted felon's Brady- and Giglio-based § 1983 claims as well as his Fifth Amendment-based § 1983 claim against the City of Reno, Reno Police Department, Washoe County District Attorney's office, and a variety of individuals, many of whom were associated with these three entities (collectively “Defendants”).[1] After granting in part and denying in part County Defendants' motion to dismiss (ECF No. 71) and City Defendants' motion to dismiss (ECF No. 77), and denying Defendant Heidi Poe's motion for a more definite statement (ECF No. 61), the Court ordered further briefing on the threshold issue of whether Plaintiff's claims are barred under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). (ECF No. 118.) The Court has reviewed Defendant Washoe County's Opening Brief in support of Heck Bar (“Opening Brief”) (ECF No. 121), Defendant Heidi Poe's Joinder to Washoe County's Brief (ECF No. 122), Defendants City of Reno, Rick Ayala, and Colby Palmer's (collectively, “the City of Reno”) Supplemental Brief in support of their motion to dismiss (“Supplemental Brief”) (ECF No. 123), and Plaintiff's corrected Omnibus Response to Defendants' various briefs (ECF No. 131).

         For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that Counts I and II of Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) are not Heck-barred but that Count III is Heck-barred.


         A thorough overview of the facts and procedural history leading up to specific Defendants' motions to dismiss and motion for more definite statement may be found in the Dismissal Order. (ECF No. 115 at 2-4.)[2] There, the Court stated, “The denial of these previous three motions (ECF Nos. 61, 71, 77) is without prejudice to these Defendants to reassert the arguments that the Court did not address after the Court resolves the threshold question of whether Plaintiff's § 1983 claims are barred under Heck v. Humphrey.” (ECF No. 115 at 11.) This Court then ordered that pro bono counsel be appointed for Plaintiff in order to resolve this threshold issue which may bar Plaintiff's claims. (ECF No. 116, 117.)

         Plaintiff asserts three claims for relief. Count I alleges that Defendants violated Plaintiff's rights under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), by “willfully or with deliberate indifference or reckless disregard for their obligations to Plaintiff under Brady” suppressing evidence of Cortez's criminal history. (ECF No. 57 at 20.) Count II alleges that Defendants violated Plaintiff's rights under Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150 (1972), by being deliberately indifferent to or recklessly disregarding evidence that Plaintiff could have been used to impeach prosecution witnesses who described Cortez as a model probationer. Count III alleges that the “sentence imposed by the state court pursuant to [Plaintiff's] guilty plea to the Nevada crime of unlawful giving away of a controlled substance violates the constitutional guarantee against multiple punishments” because the sentence of time served was unconstitutional “to the extent that the sentence exceeded the 36 months that [Plaintiff] had fully served for that same crime.” (Id. at 23-24.) Plaintiff specifically states in the FAC that he is not challenging his guilty plea or the conviction for the crime of unlawful giving away of a controlled substance pursuant to that plea or the 36 months he served for that crime. (Id. at 24.) Rather, he is challenging his sentence of time served as unconstitutional to the extent it exceeds the 36-month sentence originally imposed for the crime of unlawful giving away of a controlled substance. (Id. at 24-25.)


         As a preliminary matter, after the Ninth Circuit issued its opinion reversing this Court's first dismissal order (ECF No. 42), Plaintiff filed a petition for rehearing on the issue of whether all four or only three of the counts in his original conviction had been vacated. (ECF No. 131-4 at 4.)[3] The Ninth Circuit denied Plaintiff's petition for rehearing but ordered that “[t]he issues raised in the petition may be raised before the district court on remand.” (ECF No. 43 at 1; ECF No. 131-5 at 2.) A review of the record clearly shows that all four counts of Plaintiff's 2004 conviction (“first conviction”) were vacated, and therefore Plaintiff's first conviction was vacated in its entirety.[4]

         A. Relevant Law

         In Heck v. Humphrey, the Supreme Court held that “in order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions 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 determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus[.]” 512 U.S. at 486-87 (footnote omitted). However, “if the district court determines that the plaintiff's action, even if successful, will not demonstrate the invalidity of any outstanding criminal judgment against the plaintiff, the action should be allowed to proceed, in the absence of some other bar to the suit.” Id. at 487 (emphasis in original and footnotes omitted).

         Brady dictates “that the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process where the evidence is material to either guilt or to punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution.” 373 U.S. at 87. Evidence is considered “material” where “there is a reasonable probability that, had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” United States v. Bagley, 473 U.S. 667, 682 (1985). The rule also applies to evidence “known only to police investigators and not to the prosecutor.” Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419, 438 (1995). Giglio violations are an outgrowth of Brady. In Giglio, the Supreme Court found that the reliability of a given witness may be determinative of an accused's guilt or innocence; therefore, the failure to disclose evidence that may be used to impeach the witness's credibility falls within the ambit of “material evidence” under Brady. See Giglio, 405 U.S. at 154.

         The appropriate remedy for a Brady or Giglio violation is usually a new trial. US v. Kohring, 637 F.3d 895, 913 (9th Cir. 2011). As a result, when a state prisoner alleges a Brady or Giglio violation under § 1983, a determination by the district court that the prisoner was denied his right to exculpatory or impeachment evidence and thus denied his right to a fair trial would necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of the prisoner's conviction that resulted from those violations. See Skinner v. Switzer, 562 U.S. 521, 536-37 (2011). Therefore, Heck requires that Brady- or Giglio-based § 1983 claims be brought only after the conviction allegedly caused by the Brady and Giglio violations has been invalidated. See Jackson v. Barnes, 749 F.3d 755, 760 (9th Cir. 2014).

         B. ...

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