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Lippert v. McFarland

United States District Court, D. Idaho

December 9, 2019

JOANNA McFARLAND, Attorney at Law, Defendant.



         The Complaint of Plaintiff Robert S. Lippert was conditionally filed by the Clerk of Court due to his status as a prisoner and pauper. (Dkts. 1, 7.) A “conditional filing” means that Plaintiff must obtain authorization from the Court to proceed. All prisoner and pauper complaints seeking relief against a government entity or official must be screened by the Court to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 & 1915A. The Court must dismiss any claims that state a frivolous or malicious claim, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         After reviewing the Complaint, the Court has determined that this entire action is subject to dismissal for failure to state a federal claim upon which relief can be granted.


         1. Standard of Law

         A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A complaint fails to state a claim for relief under Rule 8 if the factual assertions in the complaint, taken as true, are insufficient for the reviewing court plausibly “to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         Plaintiffs are required to state facts, and not just legal theories, in a complaint. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). In Iqbal, the Court made clear that “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. at 678. In other words, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). If the facts pleaded are “merely consistent with a defendant's liability, ” the complaint has not stated a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         To state a plausible claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the civil rights statute, a plaintiff must allege a violation of rights protected by the Constitution or created by federal statute proximately caused by conduct of a person acting under color of state law. Crumpton v. Gates, 947 F.2d 1418, 1420 (9th Cir. 1991).

         2. Summary of Allegations

         Plaintiff is an Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC) prisoner. He asserts that he filed a Rule 35 motion for dismissal of illegal sentence in the Idaho state district court in 2016. Attorney Joanna McFarland was appointed to represent him in the matter in March 2018. Plaintiff asserts that McFarland did not follow his instructions to pursue his Rule 35 motion on the grounds asserted therein, but instead filed her own version of the motion, which was based on completely unrelated grounds. McFarland then delayed telling Plaintiff his motion had been denied. Plaintiff alleges that McFarland did little or nothing to represent him in the case and “flagrantly disregarded her duty to her client, Mr. Lippert.” Dkt. 1-2, p. 18. In addition, he alleges that McFarland falsified public records and prepared false evidence for use in his case-both violations of the Idaho Criminal Code.

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested in writing that the Idaho Supreme Court bring criminal charges against McFarland for her actions and omissions committed in Plaintiff's Rule 35 case. The Idaho Supreme Court informed Plaintiff that it does not process criminal complaints, and that he should contact the prosecutor's office in the geographical area where the crime occurred. Dkt. 1-1, p. 9.

         3. Discussion of Claims Against McFarland

         In West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42 (1988), the United States Supreme Court held that that criminal defense attorneys-even if they are acting as public defenders paid by the government-are not considered “state actors” under § 1983 because, in their unique function, they are not acting on behalf of the State:

Indeed, Polk County v. Dodson, [454 U.S. 312 (1981)] … is the only case in which this Court has determined that a person who is employed by the State and who is sued under § 1983 for abusing his position in the performance of his assigned tasks was not acting under color of state law. The Court held that “a public defender does not act under color of state law when performing a lawyer's traditional functions as counsel to a defendant in a criminal proceeding.” 454 U.S., at 325, 102 S.Ct., at 453. In this capacity, the Court noted, a public defender differs from the typical government employee and state actor. While performing his duties, the public defender retains all of the essential attributes of a private attorney, including, most importantly, his “professional independence, ” which the State is constitutionally obliged to respect. Id., at 321-322, 102 S.Ct., at 451. A criminal lawyer's professional and ethical obligations require him to act in a role independent of and in opposition to the State. Id., at 318- 319, 320, 102 S.Ct., at 450. The Court accordingly concluded that when representing an indigent defendant in a state criminal proceeding, the public ...

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