United States District Court, District of Columbia
BERMAN JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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,
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].
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.
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.
filed this action in January 2017 and the operative Amended
Complaint [Dkt.# 13] in March 2017. Plaintiff alleges the
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
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”).
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).
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).