Russell v. Clifton, No. 3:2012cv00648 - Document 3 (D. Nev. 2013)

Court Description: ORDER granting 1 Motion/Application for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis. The Clerk shall file and docket plaintiff's complaint [1-1]. Plaintiff's complaint is dismissed without prejudice with leave to amend within thirty days. Signed by Magistrate Judge Valerie P. Cooke on 6/3/13. (Copies have been distributed pursuant to the NEF - DN)
Download PDF
Russell v. Clifton Doc. 3 1 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 2 DISTRICT OF NEVADA 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 RUSSELL, ) ) Plaintiff, ) ) v. ) ) JUDGE DAVID CLIFTON and ) JUDGE DAVID HARDY, ) ) Defendants. ) ____________________________________) 3:12-cv-00648-LRH-VPC REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE June 3, 2013 12 13 Before the court is plaintiff’s application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, 14 accompanied by his pro se complaint, which was filed on December 11, 2012 (#1; #1-1). 1 The court 15 has thoroughly reviewed the record, and grants plaintiff’s application to proceed in forma pauperis 16 (#1), but dismisses plaintiff’s complaint (#1-1) without prejudice to renew. 17 I. 18 Plaintiff’s Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis 19 In plaintiff’s application and financial affidavit, plaintiff indicates that he has no monthly 20 income or assets, and that he is currently homeless (#1, pp. 1-2). Based upon the foregoing, the 21 court finds that plaintiff does not have sufficient funds to pay the filing fee in this case. 22 Accordingly, the court grants plaintiff’s application to proceed in forma pauperis (#1). 23 II. Screening Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 24 25 A federal court must dismiss a case in which in forma pauperis status is granted if the court 26 determines that the plaintiff’s claims are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim upon which relief 27 28 1 Refers to the court’s docket numbers. -1- Dockets.Justia.com 1 2 may be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2); see also Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1129 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (section 3 1915(e) applies to all in forma pauperis complaints—not just those filed by prisoners). Accordingly, 4 5 6 7 8 the court will now review plaintiff’s complaint (#1-1). III. Plaintiff’s Complaint Plaintiff has filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against defendant David Clifton, a judge in Reno Justice Court, and defendant David Hardy, a judge in the Second 9 Judicial District Court for the County of Washoe (#1-1, p. 2). In his complaint, plaintiff alleges that 10 11 both defendants have frustrated his efforts to appeal multiple state court cases by making poor 12 rulings and/or denying plaintiff’s in forma pauperis applications. Id. at 4. Plaintiff also alleges that 13 defendant Hardy granted his application to proceed in forma pauperis, but that “[n]o order has been 14 issued to the justice court to forward the cases to the district court.” Id. at 5. It appears that plaintiff 15 16 17 18 19 claims that these actions violate his constitutional rights to due process, equal protection, and access to the courts. Id. at 4. Plaintiff states he is suing defendants in both their individual and official capacities, and requests: (1) an order vacating “the [state court] judgment against me to extend an order against 20 stalking and harassment;” (2) declaratory relief on whether a state court judge may deny a litigant’s 21 22 23 24 25 in forma pauperis appeal; and (3) an order transferring his cases in Reno Justice Court to the Second Judicial District Court. Id. at 9. IV. Discussion a. Judicial Immunity 26 Immunities that were well established when 42 U.S.C. § 1983 was enacted were not 27 28 abrogated by § 1983. See Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 268 (1993). Absolute immunity -2- 1 2 has been granted to “the President, judges, prosecutors, witnesses, and officials performing ‘quasijudicial’ functions, and legislators.” Fry v. Melaragno, 939 F.2d 832, 836 (9th Cir. 1991) (citation 3 omitted). “Judges are [absolutely] immune from damage actions for judicial acts taken within the 4 5 jurisdiction of their courts.” Ashelman v. Pope, 793 F.2d 1072, 1075 (9th Cir. 1986) (en banc); see 6 also Miller v. Davis, 521 F.3d 1142, 1145 (9th Cir. 2008); Houghton v. Osborne, 834 F.2d 745, 750 7 (9th Cir. 1987). Immunity does not extend, however, to actions for prospective injunctive relief. 8 Ashelman, 793 F.2d at 1075 (citing Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554-55 (1967)); Partington v. 9 Gedan, 961 F.2d 852, 860 n.8 (9th Cir. 1992). Judicial immunity applies “however erroneous the act 10 11 may have been, and however injurious in its consequences it may have proved to the plaintiff.” 12 Cleavinger v. Saxner, 474 U.S. 193, 199-200 (1985) (citation omitted). Judges retain their immunity 13 when they are accused of acting maliciously or corruptly, see Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991) 14 (per curiam); Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-57 (1978); Meek v. County of Riverside, 183 15 16 F.3d 962, 965 (9th Cir. 1999); Tanner v. Heise, 879 F.2d 572, 576 (9th Cir. 1989), and when they are 17 accused of acting in error, see Meek, 183 F.3d at 965; Schucker v. Rockwood, 846 F.2d 1202, 1204 18 (9th Cir. 1988) (per curiam); Ashelman, 793 F.2d at 1075. In fact, a judge loses absolute immunity 19 only when the judge acts in the “clear absence of all jurisdiction” or “performs an act that is not 20 ‘judicial’ in nature.” Ashelman, 793 F.2d at 1075 (citations omitted). 21 22 Here, plaintiff has sued Judge David Clifton and Judge David Hardy for making poor rulings 23 and/or denying plaintiff’s in forma pauperis applications, which has allegedly frustrated plaintiff’s 24 efforts to appeal multiple state court cases. These allegations clearly indicate that defendants’ acts 25 were made in the course and scope of their employment. On those grounds, both defendants would 26 be absolutely immune in a suit for monetary damages. 27 28 -3- 1 b. The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine 2 However, plaintiff does not appear to request monetary damages, but asks the court to 3 become involved in plaintiff’s state court proceedings. Although plaintiff’s complaint is not a model 4 5 of clarity, it appears that plaintiff is asking the court to vacate a state court judgment, determine state 6 court jurisdictional issues, and transfer cases from Reno Justice Court to the Second Judicial District 7 Court for the County of Washoe. 8 The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is a well-established jurisdictional rule that prevents federal 9 courts from second-guessing state court decisions by barring the lower federal courts from hearing 10 11 de facto appeals from state court judgments. See Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923); 12 D.C. Ct. of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983); Bianchi v. Rylaarrsdam, 334 F.3d 895 (9th 13 Cir. 2003). In Noel v. Hall, the Ninth Circuit explained the doctrine as follows: 14 17 If a federal plaintiff asserts as a legal wrong an allegedly erroneous decision by a state court, and seeks relief from a state court judgment based on that decision, RookerFeldman bars subject matter jurisdiction in federal district court. If on the other hand, a federal plaintiff asserts as a legal wrong an allegedly illegal act or omission by an adverse party, Rooker-Feldman does not bar jurisdiction. 18 341 F.3d 1148, 1154 (9th Cir. 2003). In analyzing the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the district court 15 16 19 must pay close attention to the relief sought by the federal court plaintiff. Bianchi, 334 F.3d at 900. 20 Rooker-Feldman applies where the plaintiff does not directly contest the merits of a state court 21 22 decision, but rather, attempts to bring a suit that is a de facto appeal from a state court judgment. 23 Reusser v. Wachovia Bank, N.A., 525 F.3d 855, 859 (9th Cir. 2008). “A federal action constitutes 24 such a de facto appeal where ‘claims raised in the federal court action are ‘inextricably intertwined’ 25 with the state court’s decision such that the adjudication of the federal claims would undercut the 26 state ruling or require the district court to interpret the application of state laws or procedural rules.’” 27 28 Id. -4- 1 2 Here, it appears that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars plaintiff’s claims. As the Bianchi court noted, it is immaterial that plaintiff frames his federal complaint as a constitutional challenge 3 to the state court’s decisions, rather than as a direct appeal of those decisions. See Bianchi, 334 F.3d 4 5 at 898, n. 4. Rooker-Feldman prevents lower federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over any 6 claim that is “inextricably intertwined” with a state court’s decision, even where the plaintiff does 7 not directly challenge the state court’s rulings, but brings an indirect challenge based on 8 constitutional principles. See id. Thus, the court finds that insofar as plaintiff is asking this court to 9 overturn a state court decision, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars this claim. 10 11 The court finds that plaintiff’s current complaint does not apprise the court of any viable civil 12 rights claims. The court will give plaintiff one opportunity to amend his complaint in order to clarify 13 his factual allegations and legal claims in the framework of a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action. 14 V. Conclusion 15 16 IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that plaintiff’s application to proceed in forma pauperis 17 (#1) is GRANTED. Plaintiff shall be permitted to file his federal complaint without payment of the 18 filing fee. This Order granting in forma pauperis status shall not extend to the issuance of subpoenas 19 at government expense. 20 IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Clerk shall FILE AND DOCKET plaintiff’s 21 22 complaint (#1-1). 23 IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that plaintiff’s complaint is DISMISSED WITHOUT 24 PREJUDICE WITH LEAVE TO AMEND. Plaintiff shall have thirty (30) days from the date of 25 entry of this Order to file an amended complaint. If plaintiff does not file an amended complaint 26 within the time allowed, or if plaintiff files an amended complaint that fails to state a claim upon 27 28 -5- 1 2 which relief may be granted, the undersigned Magistrate Judge may recommend that the court dismiss plaintiff’s action with prejudice. 3 DATED: June 3, 2013. 4 5 6 _____________________________________ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 -6-