United States District Court, District of Columbia
KETANJI BROWN JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
1998, a jury found plaintiff Dante Lizalde guilty of
conspiring to distribute and to possess with intent to
distribute cocaine, conspiring to import cocaine, and aiding
and abetting the possession of cocaine with intent to
distribute; as a result of these convictions, Lizalde was
sentenced to three concurrent terms of 292 months of
imprisonment. See Lizalde v. United States, No.
07-cv-5082, 2007 WL 4373287, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 10, 2007).
Lizalde's conviction was affirmed on direct appeal,
United States v. Lizalde, 38 Fed.Appx. 657 (2d Cir.
2002), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 1059 (2002), and his
motions seeking collateral relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255
were denied. See Lizalde, 2007 WL 4373287, at *1-2;
Lizalde v. United States, Nos. 13-3038, 13-4390 (2d
Cir. Dec. 16, 2013).
pro se, Lizalde has filed the instant Complaint against
Attorney General William Barr and President Donald Trump, as
well as three of the attorneys who represented him in his
prior criminal proceedings (collectively,
“Defendants”). (See Compl., ECF No. 1.)
See also United States v. Lizalde, No. 97-cr-0649-12
(E.D.N.Y.). Lizalde alleges that, during the course of
his trial, his defense attorneys and the government conspired
to “drag him to a court's hearing where he was
compelled to be a witness against himself” (Compl. at
1), and that jury's verdict is “NULL AND
VOID” because the jury “never found Lizalde
guilty of the drug type nor the drug amount”
(id. at 2; see also Id. at 4 (asserting
that “[t]he government, in conspiracy with
Lizalde's attorney[s], kept Lizalde under slavery for
almost 20 years, without any remedy”)). Lizalde further
asserts that Defendants have violated his constitutional
rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
(See Id. at 4.) As a remedy for these alleged
violations, Lizalde seeks an award of compensatory and
punitive damages. (See Id. at 5.)
sua sponte review of Lizalde's complaint, this
Court has determined that the pleading is subject to
dismissal under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(a) and
12(b)(6), for the reasons stated below.
the sufficiency of a complaint is tested by a motion brought
under Rule 12(b)(6), which tests whether a plaintiff has
properly stated a claim” upon which relief can be
granted. Bauer v. Marmara, 942 F.Supp.2d 31, 37
(D.D.C. 2013) (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S.
232, 236 (1974)). “However, if the complaint's
failure to state a claim for the purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) is
patent, it is practical and fully consistent with
plaintiffs' rights and the efficient use of judicial
resources for the court to act on its own initiative and
dismiss the action.” Shaw v. Ocwen Loan Servicing,
LLC, No. 14-cv-2203, 2015 WL 4932204, at *1 (D.D.C. Aug.
18, 2015) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
Furthermore, under Rule 8(a), a court may dismiss a complaint
that does not “contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).
Plausibility “is not akin to a probability requirement,
but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a
defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted). The plausibility
standard is satisfied “when the plaintiff pleads
factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.” Id. (citation omitted).
said, it is well established that pro se pleadings are
entitled to liberal interpretation. See Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). “However, this
consideration does not constitute a license for a plaintiff
filing pro se to ignore the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure or expect the Court to decide what claims a
plaintiff may or may not want to assert.” Jarrell
v. Tisch, 656 F.Supp. 237, 239 (D.D.C. 1987). Indeed,
district courts have discretion to dismiss a pro se
plaintiff's complaint sua sponte where there is
simply “no factual or legal basis for alleged
wrongdoing by defendants, ” such that it is
“‘patently obvious' that the plaintiff cannot
prevail on the facts alleged in the complaint.”
Perry v. Discover Bank, 514 F.Supp.2d 94, 95 (D.D.C.
2007) (quoting Baker v. Director, U.S. Parole
Comm'n, 916 F.2d 725, 726-27 (D.C. Cir. 1990)).
first to Lizalde's claim for damages under the United
Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this Court
finds that it is patently obvious that this claim fails as a
matter of law because “[t]his declaration is merely a
nonbinding resolution, not a treaty. It is not and does not
purport to be a statement of law or of legal
obligation.” Haitian Refugee Ctr., Inc. v.
Gracey, 600 F.Supp. 1396, 1406 (D.D.C. 1985) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted), aff'd sub nom.
Haitian Refugee Ctr. v. Gracey, 809 F.2d 794 (D.C. Cir.
1987). “It is plain, therefore, that this declaration
provides no right of action for the plaintiff.”
Id.; see also Ficken v. Rice, No.
04-cv-1132, 2006 WL 123931, at *5-6 (D.D.C. Jan. 17, 2006)
(dismissing claims seeking damages based on violation of the
U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights because
“[t]hough the U.N. Declaration may be considered
evidence of customary international law, it is not legally
binding or self-executing” (citation omitted)).
respect to Lizalde's demand for monetary damages from the
Attorney General and the President for purported violations
of his constitutional rights stemming from his allegedly
invalid trial and convictions, this Court finds that any such
claim- whether viewed as a claim for individual capacity
damages under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of
Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), or an
official capacity damages claim-necessarily fails under the
Supreme Court's ruling in Heck v. Humphrey, 512
U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994). In Heck v. Humphrey, the
plaintiff brought an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
against prosecutors and police investigators involved in his
criminal prosecution, alleging that the prosecutors and
police had engaged in unlawful conduct that led to his arrest
and unconstitutional conviction. 512 U.S. at 479. The Supreme
Court noted that “the hoary principle that civil tort
actions are not appropriate vehicles for challenging the
validity of outstanding criminal judgments applies to §
1983 damages actions that necessarily require the plaintiff
to prove the unlawfulness of his conviction or
confinement[.]” Id. at 486. And the Court
specifically 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 . . . 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
Id. at 486-87 (footnote omitted); see also
Williams v. Hill, 74 F.3d 1339, 1340-41 (D.C. Cir. 1996)
(per curiam) (applying the rule announced in Heck to
Bivens actions). Accordingly, when faced with a
civil action against a federal defendant related to a prior
criminal proceeding, “the district court must consider
whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would
necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or
sentence; if it would, the complaint must be dismissed unless
the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence
has already been invalidated.” Heck, 512 U.S.
Lizalde's constitutional claims necessarily implicate the
validity of his convictions and sentence, and he does not
plead in his complaint that his convictions or sentence have
been reversed or otherwise invalidated. Therefore, consistent
with binding Supreme Court precedent, his constitutional
claims for damages against the President and the Attorney
General necessarily fail. See, e.g., Johnson v.
Williams, 699 F.Supp.2d 159, 171 (D.D.C. 2010),
aff'd sub nom. Johnson v. Fenty, No. 10-5105,
2010 WL 4340344 (D.C. Cir. Oct. 1, 2010); Jones v.
Yanta, No. 07-1172, 2008 WL 2202219, at *1 (D.D.C. May
with respect to Lizalde's claims against his three former
defense counsel for alleged constitutional violations, it is
clear that “[t]here can be no violation of the
Constitution without governmental action. . . and
governmental action requires that the party charged with the
deprivation must be a person or entity who may fairly be said
to be a governmental actor.” Woytowicz v. George
Washington Univ., 327 F.Supp.3d 105, 115 (D.D.C. 2018)
(internal quotation marks, citation, and alterations
omitted); see also Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v.
Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49-50 (1999). And the law is
likewise clear that that criminal defense attorneys,
regardless of whether they are retained counsel, public
defenders, or court-appointed, are not governmental actors
for purposes of constitutional claims. ...