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El-Amin v. Downs

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 9, 2017

SALEEM EL-AMIN, Plaintiff,
APRIL DOWNS et al/, Defendants.



         Plaintiff, a prisoner appearing pro se, has sued his former criminal defense attorney, April Downs, for legal malpractice, and the complaint also includes a claim against the District of Columbia under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The claims against both defendants are based on a decision rendered by the D.C. Superior Court judge who presided over plaintiff's criminal trial. Downs and the District of Columbia have each moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The District invokes judicial immunity, which the Court finds to be inapplicable, [1] and it also argues that under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), plaintiff cannot maintain this civil lawsuit without first invalidating his conviction. See District of Columbia's Mem. in Support of Mot. Dismiss at 8-10 [Dkt. # 22]. Downs invites this Court to “decline to assert its jurisdiction . . . in light of the parallel local cases” in D.C. Superior Court and also contends that plaintiff has failed to state a claim of “Legal Malpractice or Breach of Fiduciary Duty . . . concerning the dismissal of a count against [him] in the course of his criminal trial.” Def. Downs's Mot. to Dismiss ¶¶ 2, 4 [Dkt. # 27].

         For the reasons explained below, the Court finds that the complaint fails to state a claim against either defendant. So the Court will grant each defendant's motion and will deny plaintiff's pending motions as moot.[2]


         In May 2014, plaintiff was charged with armed robbery. In July 2014, the grand jury returned a superseding indictment adding a second count of assault with a dangerous weapon (“ADW”). See Downs's Mem. at 2 and Ex. A, Superior Court Docket [Dkt. # 27, 27-1]. In September 2014, a jury trial was held in D.C. Superior Court before Judge William M. Jackson. Downs was plaintiff's court-appointed counsel. Id. Based on the facts adduced at trial, the trial judge determined that the assault with a dangerous weapon was simply a lesser included offense of armed robbery. Therefore, he dismissed the separate ADW charge on September 16, 2014, and declined Downs's request to instruct the jury on that charge. Downs's Mem. at 5 and Ex. A. Plaintiff was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced on November 14, 2014 to a prison term of ten years. Id.

         Plaintiff filed this action in January 2017 and the operative Amended Complaint [Dkt.# 13] in March 2017.[3] Plaintiff alleges the following:

On 9/16/2014, employee of the District of Columbia a District of Columbia Superior Court Judge who makes final decisions for the District of Columbia D.C. Code Ann. 11-900 under “color of state law” D.C. Code Ann 11-101(2)(b) deprived me of my due process right of the reasonable doubt standard when he removed the ADW element of Armed Robbery from jury fact-finding role protected by the Fifth Amend[ment].[4]

Am. Compl. at 2-3. Plaintiff faults Downs for allegedly “agree[ing] not to report the District of Columbia Superior Court Judge ‘under State law' D.C. Code Ann. 11-101(2)(b) violated my due process when he removed ADW from jury fact finding role.” Id. at 3. Plaintiff seeks $5.1 million from the District and $1 million from Downs. Am. Compl. at 8; see Opp'n to Mot. to Dismiss at 2 [Dkt. # 34] (plaintiff confirms that he does not “want injunctive relief”).


         In evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must “treat the complaint's factual allegations as true . . . and must grant plaintiff ‘the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.' ” Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000), quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979) (citations omitted). Nevertheless, the court need not accept inferences drawn by the plaintiff if those inferences are unsupported by facts alleged in the complaint, nor must the court accept plaintiff's legal conclusions. Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002); see Warren v. District of Columbia, 353 F.3d 36, 39-40 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (differentiating unacceptable conclusions of law from acceptable conclusions of fact).

         “To survive a [Rule 12(b)((6)] motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face . . . . A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (a plaintiff's “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . .”) (citations omitted). While “[a] pro se complaint . . . must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers . . . even a pro se complaint must plead factual matter that permits the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct.” Atherton v. District of Columbia Off. of Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681-82 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (internal quotations marks and citations omitted).


         1. Hec ...

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