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Doe v. United States

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 10, 2019

JANE DOE, ET AL, Plaintiff,


          Robert A. Richardson United States Magistrate Judge

         Pro Se plaintiffs, both referred to in the Complaint as Jane Doe, bring this action against the United States of America as well as eight unidentified John Does.[1] Pending before the court is plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. (Dkt. #2). Based on the financial information submitted by plaintiffs, the motion is GRANTED. However, the undersigned recommends that the action be dismissed without prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         I. Legal Standard

         28 U.S.C. § 1915, which governs in forma pauperis status, also allows the court to review and dismiss the underlying action, if necessary. Under subsection (e) a court “shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action . . . (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989).

         Under §1915(e), an action is frivolous, “if it has no arguable basis in law or fact, as is the case if it is based on an ‘indisputably meritless legal theory.'” Montero v. Travis, 171 F.3d 757, 760 (2d Cir. 1999) (quoting Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327). The “term ‘frivolous,' when applied to a complaint, embraces not only the inarguable legal conclusion, but also the fanciful factual allegation.” Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 325. An action fails to state a claim to relief if it lacks

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 . . . . The plausibility standard . . . asks for more than a sheer probability that a defendant has acted unlawfully.

Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         Because “most pro se plaintiffs lack familiarity with the formalities of pleading requirements, [the court] must construe pro se complaints liberally.” Lerman v. Bd. of Elections, 232 F.3d 135, 140 (2d Cir. 2000) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Therefore, pro se complaints “are held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980)(citation internal quotation marks omitted). “In evaluating [a plaintiff's] complaint, [the court] must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in [the plaintiff's] favor.” Cruz v. Gomez, 202 F.3d 593, 596-97 (2d Cir. 2000).

         II. Discussion

         Plaintiffs have submitted a 47-page complaint that articulates grievances against the United States District Courts in both the District of Connecticut and the District of Columbia. The main allegation contained in the complaint is that plaintiffs have been discriminated against because of race and disability and have not been provided meaningful access to the courts. The complaint discusses previous litigation filed by plaintiffs and their brother. The complaint takes issue with rulings from and conduct by the Honorable Janet C. Hall and the Honorable Robert N. Chatigny. Plaintiffs argue that previous rulings from within this District have denied them access to the court and are judicial abuses. Specifically, plaintiffs allege that various judges have abused their power, are unfit to serve as judges, have discriminated against the plaintiffs based on race and financial status, and have conspired to obstruct justice. (Compl. at 10-19.) Plaintiffs seek injunctive and declaratory relief as well as actual and punitive damages in the amount of $5, 000, 000.00. (Compl. at 46.)

         The plaintiffs complaint names the United States of America and John Does 1-8 as defendants. (Compl. at 1.) Considering the contents of the complaint, it appears that the only identified individuals who could be the John Doe defendants mentioned in the caption of the complaint are federal judges or members of the clerk's office. In addition, there is no indication in the complaint of any behavior by any judge which is outside of his or her official duties. “Judges are immune from suit for exercising their judicial authority. The classification of a judge's actions as judicial or nonjudicial is a question of law for the court.” Patterson v. Rodgers, 708 F.Supp.2d 225, 236 (D. Conn. 2010); see also Whitnum v. Emons, No. 3:15-CV-959 (SRU), 2015 WL 5010623, at *2 (D. Conn. Aug. 24, 2015) (“Absolute immunity is enjoyed by judges for all acts that are judicial in nature.”). As the United States Supreme Court stated in Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 362 (1978), “the relevant cases demonstrate that the factors determining whether an act by a judge is a ‘judicial' one relate to the nature of the act itself, i.e., whether it is a function normally performed by a judge, and to the expectations of the parties, i.e., whether they dealt with the judge in his judicial capacity.” Even when the Court construes plaintiffs' complaint liberally, plaintiffs do not allege any conduct by any judge that could be construed as outside of his or her official capacity or not performed in the normal course of his or her duties. Each of the acts alleged in the complaint involves a function that is normally performed by a judge and each such act was performed while the plaintiffs were dealing with the judge in his or her official capacity. See Stump, Id. The complaint alleges that the judges engaged in the following conduct: issuing rulings which are unfair, legally incorrect, or not supported by the law, including but not limited to rulings regarding judicial immunity and/or sovereign immunity (Doc. #1 pp, 4-5, 6, 10, 13-17, 24, 26, 33, 34); failing to cite precedent when issuing decisions (Doc. #1, p. 18); allegedly failing to process complaints until ordered to do so by an appellate court (Doc. #1, p. 6); failing to liberally construe John Doe complaints (Doc. #1, p. 10); misconstruing plaintiff's complaints (Doc. #1, p.16); forcing plaintiffs to amend their complaints (Doc. #1, p. 11); improperly reviewing In Forma Pauperis Complaints (Doc. #1, p. 11 and 41); holding the plaintiffs to a higher standard of pleading than required by law (Doc. #1, p. 11, 41); dismissing plaintiffs' complaints (Doc. #1, p 6, 12-13, 22, 41, 43); failing to grant discovery to the plaintiffs (Doc. #1, pp. 12, 15); not issuing rulings in a timely manner (Doc. #1, pp. 15, 19, 23-26); failing to appoint counsel for the plaintiffs (Doc. #1, pp. 29, 34); allegedly refusing to enforce the laws that the plaintiffs have cited and relied upon in their complaints (Doc. #1 pp. 5, 14); allegedly failing to remain neutral (Doc. #1, p. 13); allegedly being disrespectful at a hearing (Doc. #1, p. 29); refusing to recuse from cases (Doc. #1, p. 25); unfairly scheduling and canceling hearings (Doc. #1, pp. 17, 37); improperly pressuring plaintiffs during settlement negotiations (Doc. #1, p. 27); believing or relying upon witnesses who, according to the plaintiffs, were lying (Doc. #1, p. 28); and allegedly making improper statements in court (Doc. #1, p.6). Additionally, while it is not entirely clear if the plaintiffs are making any claims against the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the complaint also asserts that the Second Circuit Court has remanded cases to biased judges and failed to remove such biased judges. (Doc. #1, pp. 27, 43).

         None of the conduct alleged in the complaint could be construed as outside of a judge's official capacity or not being performed in the normal course of a judge's duties. See, Tucker v. Outwater, 118 F.3d 930, 933 (2d Cir.1997) (a judge “will be subject to liability only when he [or she] has acted in the clear absence of all jurisdiction”) (quotation and citation omitted) (emphasis in original); see also Whitnum v. Emons, No. 3:15-CV-959 (SRU), 2015 WL 5010623, at *2 (D. Conn. Aug. 24, 2015); see also Skipp v. Conn. Judicial Branch, No. 3:14-CV-00141 (JAM), 2015 WL 1401989, at *7 (D. Conn. Mar. 26, 2015) (finding that “[n]o exception to judicial immunity applies . . . [where] the allegations against the judges relate to actions taken in their capacity as judges, rather than to actions in their personal or non-judicial capacity or to actions taken in the complete absence of jurisdiction.”). Even when construed liberally, the complaint does not allege any conduct by any judge that would be sufficient to avoid judicial immunity. Accepting the allegations as true, some of the alleged conduct would be inappropriate and improper but not outside of each judge's capacity as a judge. Even if there are allegations of an improper motive, the United States Supreme Court has stated in Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 227 (1988), that a judicial act “does not become less judicial by virtue of an allegation of malice or corruption of motive.” See also Stump, 435 U.S. at 356-57 (“A judge will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his authority; rather, he will be subject to liability only when he has acted in the ‘clear absence of all jurisdiction.'”) (quoting Bradley v. Fisher, 13 Wall 335, 351 (1872)); Bliven v. Hunt, 418 F.Supp.2d 135, 137 (E.D.N.Y. 2005)(“Judges are absolutely immune from liability for judicial acts, however erroneous the act and however evil the motive.”).[2]

         Any claims against judges, styled against John Does or otherwise, should be dismissed based on judicial immunity. Additionally, if plaintiffs are attempting to sue John Does other than the federal judges whose actions are outlined in the complaint, the undersigned recommends dismissal of those claims as well. “Ordinarily, a plaintiff may proceed against fictitiously named defendants only if it appears that the claims are otherwise proper . . . and the plaintiff will be able to obtain the names of the unnamed defendants through the discovery process.” Gilhooly v. Armstrong, No. 3:03CV1798(MRK)(WIG), 2006 WL 322473, at *2 (D. Conn. Feb. 9, 2006); see also Bliven, 418 F.Supp.2d at 138 (dismissing unnamed judges or members of court staff who assisted in the performance of judicial functions, based on immunity, but stating that even if their conduct did not fall within the scope of immunity, the complaint was devoid of allegations as to who the individual defendants were or how they were involved). After thoroughly reviewing the complaint and documents that are cross referenced in the complaint, the Court is unable to identify any reference to any conduct that is attributed to any John Does who are not protected by immunity.[3]

         Likewise, to the extent that plaintiffs attempt to bring claims against the United States of America under the Federal Tort Claims Act, those too must be dismissed. “The United States shall be entitled to assert any defense based upon judicial or legislative immunity which otherwise would have been available to the employee of the United States whose act or omission gave rise to the claim.” 28 U.S.C. § 2674. As referenced above, the alleged acts or omissions that form the basis of ...

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