United States District Court, D. Minnesota
HOWARD G. JACKSON, Plaintiff,
LEZLIE MAREK, Juvenile Judge, and COLIA CEISEL, Defendants.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Katherine Menendez United States Magistrate Judge
matter is before the Court on the application to proceed
in forma pauperis (“IFP”) of plaintiff
Howard G. Jackson. Upon review, this Court concludes that Mr.
Jackson qualifies financially for IFP status. Nevertheless,
an IFP application will be denied, and an action will be
dismissed, when an IFP applicant has filed a complaint that
fails to state a cause of action on which relief may be
granted. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii);
Atkinson v. Bohn, 91 F.3d 1127, 1128 (8th Cir. 1996)
(per curiam); Carter v. Schafer, 273 Fed. App'x
581, 582 (8th Cir. 2008) (per curiam) (“[C]ontrary to
plaintiffs' arguments on appeal, the provisions of 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e) apply to all persons proceeding IFP and
are not limited to prisoner suits, and the provisions allow
dismissal without service.”). In this case, Mr.
Jackson's complaint fails to make the necessary showing.
to State a Claim
reviewing whether a complaint states a claim on which relief
may be granted, this Court must accept as true all of the
factual allegations in the complaint and draw all reasonable
inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Aten v.
Scottsdale Ins. Co., 511 F.3d 818, 820 (8th Cir. 2008).
Although the factual allegations in the complaint need not be
detailed, they must be sufficient to “raise a right to
relief above the speculative level . . . .” Bell
Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The
complaint must “state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. In
assessing the sufficiency of the complaint, the court may
disregard legal conclusions that are couched as factual
allegations. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662
(2009). Pro se complaints are to be construed liberally, but
they still must allege enough facts to support the claims.
See Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914 (8th Cir.
Jackson's complaint fails for at least two reasons.
First, his allegations are unsupported. Mr. Jackson contends
that his civil rights were violated when defendant Lezlie
Marek, a Minnesota state court judge, and defendant Colia
Ceisel, who as relevant here acted as a judicial referee,
“corrupt[ed]” litigation regarding child custody.
See Compl. at 4 [ECF No. 1]. But he does not explain
how the defendants “fail[ed] to investigate [his] case
properly” nor how they failed to know “the family
court laws.” Therefore Mr. Jackson does not allege how,
specifically, the defendants violated his rights. The
allegations in the complaint are simply too vague to put the
defendants adequately on notice of the claims against them.
the complaint contained greater detail, the defendants are
immune from relief for the claims Mr. Jackson raises because
they are judicial officers. “Although unfairness and
injustice to a litigant may result on occasion, ‘it is
a general principle of the highest importance to the proper
administration of justice that a judicial officer, in
exercising the authority vested in [her], shall be free to
act upon [her] own convictions, without apprehension of
personal consequences to [her]self.'” Mireles
v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 10 (1991) (per curiam) (quoting
Bradley v. Fisher, 80 U.S. 335, 347 (1871)). This
resulting judicial immunity “is an immunity from suit,
not just from ultimate assessment of damages.”
Id. at 11. And this judicial immunity is absolute,
at least where the action taken is judicial in nature and not
taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction.
Id. “An act is judicial if it is a function
normally performed by a judge and the parties dealt with the
judge in his judicial capacity.” Grazzini-Rucki v.
Knutson, 597 Fed. App'x. 902, 903 (8th Cir. 2015)
(per curiam) (quotation omitted).
officer who presided over the custody proceedings at issue,
Judge Marek is unquestionably insulated from suit for
judicial actions taken during the course of those
proceedings. It is not enough to overcome judicial immunity
that Judge Marek may have erred in her decision, as Mr.
Jackson alleges. Even taking the factual allegations in the
complaint as entirely accurate, the decisions by Judge Marek
were made in a judicial capacity, and Mr. Jackson does not
contend that Judge Marek acted wholly outside of her
jurisdiction in rendering those decisions. Mr. Jackson
therefore cannot sustain this lawsuit on the grounds that his
rights were violated by those decisions.
same analysis applies to the claims raised against Ms.
Ceisel, the referee who assisted in the proceedings, as
“[j]udicial immunity also applies to referees.
‘The desirability of such freedom of judicial action
applies equally to court-appointed referees and receivers,
and brings them within the cloak of judicial
immunity.'” Cassell v. County of Ramsey,
No. 15-2598 (PJS/JJK), 2015 WL 9590802, at *4 (D. Minn. Dec.
11, 2015) (quoting Drexler v. Walters, 290 F.Supp.
150, 154 (D. Minn. 1968)); accord Littleton v.
Fisher, 530 F.3d 691, 692 (6th Cir. 1976). The only
actions described in the complaint that Ms. Ceisel took are
judicial or quasi-judicial in nature, and Mr. Jackson does
not allege that Ms. Ceisel was wholly without authority to
act as referee during the proceedings. So even if Ms. Ceisel
acted wrongfully in some way, her conduct would be protected
from suit by judicial immunity.
these reasons, this Court recommends that Mr. Jackson's
complaint be dismissed under § 1915(e)(2)(B). Because
any claims raised against the defendants based on the conduct
alleged in the complaint are foreclosed by judicial immunity,
this Court recommends that the claims be dismissed with
prejudice. See Grazzini-Rucki, 597 Fed. App'x.
on the foregoing, and on all of the files, records, and
proceedings herein, IT IS HEREBY RECOMMENDED THAT:
application to proceed in forma pauperis of
plaintiff Howard ...