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Brande Lee Samuels v. Ryan McDonald, Robert Nigh, Steve Kunzeiler, Isaac Shields, Stuart Southerland
Northern District of Oklahoma Federal Courthouse
Case Number: 17-5098
Judge: Scott M. Matheson, Jr.
Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit on appeal from the Northern District of Oklahoma (Tulsa County)
Plaintiff's Attorney: Not Available
Defendant's Attorney: Not Available
Description: Brande Lee Samuels appeals the district court’s dismissal of his amended
complaint that alleged claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against three Tulsa County public
defenders and two prosecutors with the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office. The
court dismissed the amended complaint without prejudice under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) for failure to state a claim. It granted Mr. Samuels leave to proceed in
forma pauperis (“ifp”) on appeal. Exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we
United States Court of Appeals
February 9, 2018
Elisabeth A. Shumaker
Clerk of Court
Mr. Samuels brought his § 1983 action pro se while in custody at the Tulsa County
Jail and awaiting trial.1 The amended complaint alleged four claims:
(1) denial of the right to a fair and impartial trial process;
(2) ineffective assistance of counsel when appointed counsel failed to provide
him with copies of discovery;
(3) ineffective assistance of counsel when appointed counsel failed to file and
argue proper motions and challenge the voluntariness of his confession; and
(4) systematic abrogation of constitutional rights by the Tulsa County District
Attorneys “by way of the Tulsa County District Court.”
Mr. Samuels sought compensatory, punitive, and injunctive relief.
The district court dismissed because (1) the public defenders did not act under
color of state law, as § 1983 requires; and (2) the prosecutors were entitled to
absolute immunity. The court pointed out that, if Mr. Samuels is convicted in his
state criminal action, he may be able to make his constitutional arguments on direct
appeal, in state post-conviction proceedings, or through a federal habeas corpus
1 According to the Tulsa County District Court public docket for State v.
Samuels, No. CF-2016-1849, Mr. Samuels’s trial is scheduled to begin on August 28,
2018, on charges of shooting with intent to kill, Okla. Stat. tit. 21, § 652, and felon in
possession of a firearm, Okla. Stat. tit. 21, § 1283. Fed. R. Evid. 201(b)(2); see
United States v. Smalls, 605 F.3d 765, 768 n.2 (10th Cir. 2010) (recognizing a court
may take judicial notice of docket information from another court); Estate of
McMorris v. C.I.R., 243 F.3d 1254, 1258 n.8 (10th Cir. 2001) (same); see also United
States v. Mercado, 412 F.3d 243, 247 (1st Cir. 2005) (stating “we can take judicial
notice of state court records”).
Mr. Samuels raises three issues on appeal.2 “We review de novo the district
court's decision to dismiss an ifp complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) for
failure to state a claim.” Kay v. Bemis, 500 F.3d 1214, 1217 (10th Cir. 2007).
First, he argues that his amended complaint alleged sufficient factual detail.
Aplt. Br. at 4-6.3 This argument fails because, as we discuss below, he does not show
that the facts he did allege overcome the reasons that the district court dismissed the
Second, Mr. Samuels contests the district court’s ruling that the defendant
public defenders were not state actors under § 1983. Aplt. Br. at 7-9. The court
relied primarily on Polk Cty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312 (1981), in which the Supreme
Court said 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.” Id. at 325. Mr. Samuels cites to the Eighth Circuit’s decision in
Dodson v. Polk Cty., 628 F.2d 1104 (8th Cir. 1980), which held “that an attorney in a
county or state funded public defender's office acts under color of state law in
representing indigent defendants.” Id. at 1106. But the Supreme Court reversed this
holding in its Polk County decision.
2 Because Mr. Samuels is pro se, we liberally construe his filings but do not act
as his advocate. Yang v. Archuleta, 525 F.3d 925, 927 n.1 (10th Cir. 2008). As the
district court noted, pro se plaintiffs bear “the burden of alleging sufficient facts on
which a recognized legal claim could be based.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106,
1110 (10th Cir. 1991).
3 Starting on the fourth page, every page of Mr. Samuels’s brief contains a
heading that says “Page 3.” Our citations to his brief refer to the actual pages as if
they had been numbered consecutively.
In Dodson, the Supreme Court did “not suggest that a public defender never
acts” under color of state law, such as “making hiring and firing decisions” or
perhaps “while performing certain administrative and possibly investigative
functions.” 454 U.S. at 324-25. And in Tower v. Glover, 467 U.S. 914 (1984), the
Court refined Polk County, recognizing that a public defender acts “under color of
state law” when conspiring with state officials to deprive a client of constitutional
rights. Id. at 920; see also Hunt v. Bennett, 17 F.3d 1263, 1268 (10th Cir. 1994). But
nothing in Mr. Samuels’s amended complaint alleged that the public defender
defendants were acting outside their traditional functions as counsel or conspiring
with state officials. The remaining authority cited in Mr. Samuels’s brief does not
call the district court’s ruling into question.
Third, Mr. Samuels contests dismissal of his claims against the prosecutor
defendants, pointing out that they are not entitled to immunity for administrative
functions. Aplt. Br. at 10. But, as the district court said, a state prosecutor is
absolutely immune to a suit for civil damages based on the prosecutor’s performance
of functions “intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process.”
Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430-31 (1976).
Prosecutorial immunity covers pretrial advocacy functions, including the
preliminary hearing, which is the focus of Mr. Samuels’s amended complaint against
the prosecutors. ROA Doc. 13 at 6. See Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478 (1991);
Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259 (1993); Kalina v. Fletcher, 522 U.S. 118
(1997); Mink v. Suthers, 482 F.3d 1244, 1258-63 (10th Cir. 2007). Mr. Samuels’s
amended complaint lacks allegations that the prosecutor defendants acted outside
their prosecutorial functions, and his brief’s extended discussion of various points
and authorities does not cure this deficiency. See Aplt. Br. at 10-16.4
* * *
4 The amended complaint’s request for relief lists “Compensatory relief -
$25,000 punitive relief - $125,000 Injuctions [sic] – As this Honorable Court sees in
the interest of justice to correct constitutional violations.” ROA Doc. 13 at 5.
Although the prosecutors’ immunity bars the § 1983 claim for money damages, they
may be sued for injunctive relief. See Supreme Court of Virginia v. Consumers
Union of U.S., Inc., 446 U.S. 719, 736-737 (1980); Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522
(1984); Lemmons v. Law Firm of Morris and Morris, 39 F.3d 264, 267 (10th Cir.
1994). Absolute immunity does not extend to “their official actions.” Hafer v. Melo,
502 U.S. 21, 29 (1991). Mr. Samuels, however, makes no argument on appeal that
his amended complaint against the defendant prosecutors should survive as to its
request for injunctive relief. Indeed, the portion of his brief on prosecutorial
immunity emphasizes “damages against the individual defendants,” Aplt. Br. at 14,
not injunctive relief. We will not consider a ground to reverse that has not been
argued. See United States v. Fisher, 805 F.2d 982, 991 (10th Cir. 2015).
Outcome: For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the district court’s judgment. We deny
Mr. Samuels’s motions to amend and to remand as moot. As previously noted, the
district court granted him leave to proceed ifp on appeal, and we remind him of his obligation to continue making partial payments until the entire filing fee is paid.