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Maloney v. County of Hennepin

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 18, 2014

MICHAEL MALONEY, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF HENNEPIN, COUNTY OF HENNEPIN PUBLIC DEFENDERS OFFICE, WILLIAM M. WARD, GARY LARSON, and DOES 1-1000, Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

STEVEN E. RAU, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff's application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, ("IFP"), as permitted by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1) is before the undersigned. (Docket No. 2.) The matter has been referred to this Court for report and recommendation under 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Rule 72.1. For the reasons discussed below, it is recommended that Plaintiff's IFP application be denied, and that this action be summarily dismissed, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and (iii).

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges that in 2007, a criminal action was brought against him in Hennepin County District Court, Minnesota, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. (Complaint, [Docket No. 1], p. 4, & 13.) On or about October 19, 2013, Plaintiff was arrested pursuant to the 2007 warrant, and he was released on his own recognizance the following day. ( Id., p. 5, & 17.) At a court hearing held on December 19, 2013, the presiding state court judge directed Plaintiff to retain criminal defense counsel. (Id.)

On January 16, 2014, Plaintiff used a Hennepin County District Court computer terminal to apply for legal representation by the Hennepin County Public Defenders Office. ( Id., p. 6, &s 21-22.) According to Plaintiff, the computer informed him that he was ineligible because he owns a house located in Crystal, Minnesota. ( Id., p. 6, & 23.)

Later that afternoon, (January 16, 2014), Plaintiff appeared before Hennepin County District Court Judge Gary Larson, and stated that he needed a public defender to represent him in his pending criminal case. ( Id., p. 7, & 24.) Plaintiff further stated that because he owns a house in Crystal, "the Hennepin County Public Defender's computer program disqualified [Plaintiff] automatically" from being eligible for a public defender. (Id.) Judge Larson allegedly told Plaintiff that he would have to "get a loan" on his house so he could retain an attorney. (Id.) Plaintiff attempted to explain that he would not be able to use his house to obtain a loan, because he has no equity in the house. (Id.) Judge Larson, however, allegedly refused to listen to Plaintiff's explanation. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Judge Larson belittled him and treated him disrespectfully, and that the Judge's courtroom "at its best seemed like Wild West shoot from the hip justice and at its worst like a bad standup comedy routine... only with individuals' personal freedoms and constitutional rights hanging in the balance." ( Id., p. 7, & 25.) Ultimately Judge Larson denied Plaintiff's request for appointment of counsel.

The foregoing allegations provide the factual basis for Plaintiff's current suit. Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated his federal constitutional rights, and rights arising under various state statutes and legal doctrines, by preventing him from obtaining a public defender. Plaintiff is seeking a multi-million dollar judgment against Defendants for compensatory and punitive damages.

II. DISCUSSION

An IFP application will be denied, and the action will be dismissed, when a plaintiff has filed a complaint that (a) fails to state a claim on which relief can be granted, or (b) seeks a judgment against a defendant that is legally immune from the plaintiff's claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and (iii); Atkinson v. Bohn , 91 F.3d 1127, 1128 (8th Cir. 1996) (per curiam).

A. Claims Against Defendant Judge Gary Larson

The Court initially finds that all of Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Judge Gary Larson must be dismissed summarily because of the doctrine of judicial immunity.

It is well settled that judges are completely immune from civil lawsuits based on claims of misconduct during the performance of their judicial functions. Pierson v. Ray , 386 U.S. 547, 553-54 (1967); Stump v. Sparkman , 435 U.S. 349, 355-57 (1978); Mireles v. Waco , 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991); Liles v. Reagan , 804 F.2d 493, 495 (8th Cir. 1986). There are only two sets of circumstances in which the doctrine of judicial immunity can be overcome B (1) if the judge is being sued for actions that were not taken in the judge's judicial capacity, and (2) if the judge is being sued for actions taken "in the complete absence of jurisdiction." Mireles , 502 U.S. at 11-12.

Here, Plaintiff is clearly attempting to sue Judge Larson based on actions that he allegedly performed while serving in his capacity as a judge. All of Plaintiff's allegations pertaining to Judge Larson describe alleged misconduct while on the bench in the courtroom, and while presiding over casesB including Plaintiff's case. Judge Larson is clearly being sued for what he allegedly did while he was performing his duties as a judge. Nothing in Plaintiff's complaint suggests that Judge Larson was not acting in his judicial capacity during the events giving rise to Plaintiff's claims against him, and there are no allegations suggesting that Judge Larson was acting "in the complete absence of jurisdiction" during those events.

Obviously Plaintiff believes that Judge Larson misused or abused his judicial capacity, and his jurisdiction, but there are no allegations showing that Judge Larson was acting completely outside of his judicial capacity, or acting without any jurisdiction whatsoever. A judge does not lose his or her judicial immunity by merely exceeding or abusing his or her authority. See 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 , 80 U.S. 335, 351 (1872)); see also Mireles , 502 U.S. at 11 ("Judicial immunity is not overcome by allegations of bad faith or malice"). Indeed, an action taken by a judge in his or her judicial capacity "does not become less judicial by virtue of an ...


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