United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
February 9, 2015
Michael A. Prozer, III, Plaintiff,
United States of America, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
BRISTOW MARCHANT, Magistrate Judge.
This action has been filed by the Plaintiff, pro se, pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) 28 U.S.C. § 2671, et seq. In this action, Plaintiff asserts a negligence claim against Senior United States District Judge Robert L. Vining of the Northern District of Georgia. Plaintiff is an inmate with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) housed at the Federal Correctional Institution in Estill, South Carolina, and states in his Complaint that he "invokes domicile jurisdiction [in the District of South Carolina] as the negligence against Plaintiff occurred by and through mail by a government employee [Judge Vining], and because Plaintiff is domiciled in Estill, SC, Plaintiff brings this action to this Court appropriately".
The Defendant filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12, Fed.R.Civ.P., on December 8, 2014. As the Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, a Roseboro order was entered by the Court on December 10, 2014, advising Plaintiff of the importance of a dispositive motion and of the need for him to file an adequate response. Plaintiff was specifically advised that if he failed to file an adequate response, the Defendant's motion may be granted, thereby ending his case.
Plaintiff thereafter filed a response in opposition to the Defendant's motion on December 17, 2014, a "Declaration" on January 7, 2015, and a second response in opposition to the Defendant's motion on January 12, 2015. Defendant's motion is now before the Court for disposition.
When considering a Rule 12 motion to dismiss, the Court is required to accept the allegations in the pleading as true, and draw all reasonable factual inferences in favor of the Plaintiff. The motion can be granted only if the Plaintiff has failed to set forth sufficient factual matters to state a plausible claim for relief "on its face". Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009); see also Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)[While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level]. Additionally, the Federal Court is charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case; see Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319 (1972); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972); and as the Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, his pleadings are considered pursuant to this liberal standard.
However, even though summary dismissal of a case pursuant to Rule 12 is disfavored, Cardio-Medical Associates Ltd. V. Crozer-Chester Medical Center, 536 F.Supp. 1065, 1072 (E.D.Pa. 1982), the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the Court can ignore a clear failure in the pleadings to allege facts which set forth a Federal claim, nor can the Court assume the existence of a genuine issue of material fact where none exists. Weller v. Department of Social Services, 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990). Here, after careful review and consideration of the allegations of the Complaint considered pursuant to this standard, the undersigned finds and concludes that the Defendant is entitled to dismissal of this case.
Plaintiff alleges in his Complaint that Judge Vining "engaged in negligence, fraud and falsification in order to aid and abet the criminal acts of others" in a civil proceeding in Federal District Court in Georgia. Plaintiff herein alleges that the Plaintiff (and/or Plaintiff's counsel) in that Georgia case (in which the Plaintiff herein is or was apparently a defendant) "engaged in acts of fraud against Plaintiff by sending motions to different addresses other than Plaintiff's in order to commit fraud on the Court and gain judgment in their collective favor due to Plaintiff's failure to respond or defend". Plaintiff further alleges that Judge Vining thereafter entered "illegal orders" ruling in favor of the other party in that Georgia case and against the Plaintiff due to Plaintiff herein having failed to respond to motions, even though Plaintiff herein asserts that he never received the motions or court orders filed in that case. Plaintiff further alleges that even after he notified the Georgia District Court that opposing counsel in that Georgia case was sending motions to addresses other than the Plaintiff's, that "Judge Vining refused to correct the fraud, and further concealed" it. Plaintiff also complains that Judge Vining refused to recuse himself in that Georgia case after the Plaintiff herein demanded that he do so. Plaintiff seeks damages due to Vining's "negligence, fraud, criminal acts, and falsifying a Federal Court Record, and fraudulently concealing fraud of others to the detriment of Plaintiff....". Plaintiff has attached to his Complaint an affidavit wherein he reasserts his claims, as well as copies of various court documents. See generally, Plaintiff's
Complaint with attached Exhibits.
As noted, Plaintiff has asserted his claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which waives sovereign immunity and allows suits against the United States for personal injuries caused by government employees acting within the scope of their employment. Under this Act, a plaintiff may recover a monetary award from the United States for damages "caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope... of employment." 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b). However, Defendant asserts in its motion to dismiss that, even assuming (without conceding) that this case is properly brought in this District, it is subject to dismissal because judicial immunity applies whenever a judge acts in his or her judicial capacity and had jurisdiction "over the subject matter before him". Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-357, and n. 7 (1978). Defendant further notes that the United States may assert the defense of judicial immunity in an FTCA claim if the individual judicial officer whose conduct is being challenged would themselves be immune from suit. See Tinsley v. Widener, 150 F.Supp.2d 7, 12 (D.D.C. 2001) [United States possesses whatever immunity is available to the judicial officer whose act is the basis of the suit].
Here, there is no dispute that at all times relevant to Plaintiff's claims Judge Vining was acting in his capacity as a judicial officer in a case pending in his Court. Therefore, Judge Vining would have absolute judicial immunity from suit for all claims that could be asserted against him, which immunity may in turn be asserted by the United States in a claim brought under the FTCA. Tinsley, 150 F.Supp.2d at 12; see also Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985) [Judicial immunity provides immunity from suit]; Dockery v. United States, No. 08-80031, 2008 WL 345545, at * 1 (S.D.Fl. 2008), citing Bradley v. Fisher, 80 U.S. 335, 347 (1871). Although Plaintiff alleges in his Complaint that, when exercising the judicial functions and decisions at issue, Judge Vining acted negligently or engaged in misconduct, these claims (even if true) do not void the Defendant's immunity; Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554 (1967) ["[I]mmunity applies even when the judge is accused of acting maliciously or corruptly"]; and nothing in the material filed by Plaintiff in opposition to the Defendant's motion establishes any basis on which judicial immunity would not apply to his claims.
Based on the forgoing, it is recommended that the Defendant's motion be granted, and that this case be dismissed.