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Kurka v. Probst

United States District Court, D. Alaska

February 2, 2015

WALTER KURKA, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN PROBST, et al., Defendants.

ORDER RE MOTION TO DISMISS AND MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

SHARON L. GLEASON, District Judge.

This is an action by Walter Kurka, a self-represented litigant, asserting federal constitutional violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as state law defamation and malicious prosecution claims against Alaska State Trooper John Probst and Assistant District Attorney Benjamin Jaffa.[1] At Docket 45 is Defendant Probst's Motion for Summary Judgment. At Docket 47 is Defendant Jaffa's Motion to Dismiss. Kurka filed an opposition to both motions at Docket 58. Defendants filed a combined Reply at Docket 65. Oral argument on both motions was held on August 4, 2014. For the following reasons, the Court will grant each of the Defendants' motions.

BACKGROUND

This litigation arises out of Trooper Probst's investigation of a report filed by Kurka and the subsequent filing of criminal charges against Kurka. Kurka was charged with two counts of Making A False Report in violation of AS 11.56.800(a)(1) and (2) on May 23, 2011.[2] On August 9, 2011, Jaffa, the Assistant District Attorney assigned to the case, filed a dismissal of the charges pursuant to Alaska Criminal Rule 43(a).[3]

While the criminal case was still pending, on June 20, 2011, Kurka filed a complaint in Alaska Superior Court against the State of Alaska, asserting constitutional violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as a defamation claim.[4] The state moved to dismiss. In an Order dated October 10, 2011, the trial court granted the state's motion, holding that the state was immune from the defamation claim and not a "person" subject to suit under § 1983. The trial court also denied Kurka's motion to amend his complaint to raise claims against Probst and Jaffa, holding that "[a]llowing the amendment would be futile as Trooper Probst and Assistant District Attorney Jaffa enjoy official immunity."[5] Kurka appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. That Court reversed and remanded as to Kurka's claims against Probst and Jaffa. The Supreme Court held that Kurka should have been permitted to amend his complaint to add a claim for malicious prosecution and that the trial court should not have found qualified immunity for Probst or Jaffa from the face of the proposed amended complaint on a motion to dismiss.[6] On remand, Kurka filed an amended complaint in state court against Jaffa and Probst alleging federal constitutional violations pursuant to § 1983, as well as state law defamation and malicious prosecution claims.[7] On February 19, 2013, Jaffa and Probst filed a Notice of Removal to this Court based on federal question jurisdiction in light of the § 1983 claims.[8]

DISCUSSION

I. Jurisdiction

The Court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

II. Assistant District Attorney Benjamin Jaffa's Motion to Dismiss

Jaffa moves to dismiss Kurka's claims against him pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), which permits a party to seek dismissal of an action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court must "accept factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe the pleadings in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party."[9] To survive a 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.'"[10] "Plausibility requires pleading facts, as opposed to conclusory allegations or the formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, and must rise above the mere conceivability or possibility of unlawful conduct that entitles the pleader to relief."[11] All reasonable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party.[12] A court should not look to "whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims."[13]

A. Federal Claims

In his motion, Jaffa asserts that he is entitled to absolute immunity for the § 1983 claims pursuant to the United States Supreme Court's decision in Imbler v. Pachtman and its progeny. In Imbler, the Supreme Court held that a prosecutor was absolutely immune from suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 when initiating a prosecution or prosecuting the state's case.[14] The Supreme Court found that these "activities were intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process, and thus were functions to which the reasons for absolute immunity apply with full force."[15] The Supreme Court also held in Imbler that absolute immunity extends to suits for malicious prosecution brought under federal law.[16] More recently, in Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, the Supreme Court held that "acts undertaken by a prosecutor in preparing for the initiation of judicial proceedings or for trial, and which occur in the course of his role as an advocate for the State, are entitled to the protection of absolute immunity."[17] Courts in this circuit have observed that even an alleged "improper motive" does not negate absolute immunity for prosecutors.[18] Jaffa maintains that "filing a criminal complaint and prosecuting the case are actions performed by Jaffa in his role as an advocate for the State of Alaska" and are thus acts for which he is entitled to absolute immunity.[19]

Kurka's opposition primarily reiterates and expands on the allegations in his Amended Complaint. His main arguments against Jaffa's assertion of absolute immunity appear to be that (1) "Jaffa willfully and with intent did not bother to understand the evidence presented to him, "[20] and (2) there is an exception to absolute immunity for malicious prosecution.[21]

Defendants' combined Reply acknowledges Kurka's allegations that Jaffa "willfully and with intent did not bother to understand the evidence."[22] Nonetheless, pursuant to established Supreme Court precedent, even if Kurka were to prove that Jaffa acted willfully or maliciously, the prosecutor's immunity is absolute. Moreover, absolute prosecutorial immunity extends to Kurka's claims that Jaffa failed to adequately investigate the evidence ...


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