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Scheffler v. City of New Hope

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

May 9, 2019

Troy K. Scheffler, Plaintiff,
City of New Hope, et al., Defendant.

          Troy K. Scheffler, pro se.

          Ryan M. Zipf, League of Minnesota Cities, For Defendant City of New Hope.

          Kathryn Iverson Landrum, Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, for the Judicial Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation (“R&R” [Doc. No. 94]) of Magistrate Judge Leo I. Brisbois dated February 15, 2019, recommending that the Motion to Dismiss brought by Defendants Richard A. Trachy, Lucinda E. Jesson, Ivy S. Bernhardson, Francis J. Connolly, and James B. Florey (hereafter, “the Judicial Defendants”) [Doc. No. 44] be granted, the Motion to Dismiss brought by the City of New Hope [Doc No. 50] be denied as moot, and that this action be dismissed with prejudice. Plaintiff Troy K. Scheffler (“Plaintiff”) timely filed objections (“Objections”) to the R&R [Doc. No. 96], to which the Judicial Defendants filed their response [Doc. No. 97]. For the reasons set forth below, the Court overrules Plaintiff’s objections and adopts the R&R, as modified.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The factual and procedural background of this matter is detailed in the R&R and is incorporated herein by reference. In brief, Plaintiff had petitioned for expungement of a speeding ticket issued in 2010 by Defendant City of New Hope. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 18, 27.) Defendants Trachy, a Minnesota State Court Judicial Referee, and Bernhardson, Chief Judge of the Minnesota State Court, Fourth Judicial District, denied his petition. (Id. ¶ 49.) Eventually, Plaintiff filed a second petition for expungement, which was granted on January 2, 2019. See Expungement Order [Doc. No. 95-1]. The magistrate judge construed Plaintiff’s Complaint to allege seventeen causes of action arising under the common law and Minnesota and U.S. constitutions, some against the Judicial Defendants and others against Defendant City of New Hope. (R&R at 5–6; see also Am. Compl. ¶¶ 149–341; Defs.’ Br. [Doc. No. 47] at 4.)

         Based on the Complaint, the R&R, and Plaintiff’s Objections, it appears that Plaintiff’s claims arise from alleged wrongs committed by the Judicial Defendants in the course of the expungement proceedings.[1] Primarily, Plaintiff takes issue with an April 2017 denial order in which he alleges that Defendants Trachy and Bernhardson misstated the expungement statute’s language and made a finding that Plaintiff was “factual[ly] guilty.” (See R&R at 3.) Plaintiff asserts the same argument against Defendants Connolly, Jesson and Florey, the Minnesota Court of Appeals judges who affirmed the order. (See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 92–93.) Also, Plaintiff appears to assert deprivations of his state and federal due process rights arising from denials of hearings related to his initial expungement petition and his appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. (See R&R at 2–3.)

         In late December 2018, the state court granted Plaintiff’s second expungement petition. (Dec. 28, 2018 Hennepin Cty. Order [Doc. No. 95-1].) In February 2019, Plaintiff informed the Court of this ruling, acknowledging that it “disposes of much of the relief requested” in this lawsuit. (Pl.’s Letter Filed Feb. 19, 2019 [Doc. No. 95].) Consequently, the Court considers Plaintiff’s claims for mandamus and declaratory relief related to the denials of his expungement petition to be moot. (See R&R at 7 n.4.)

         The Judicial Defendants moved to dismiss this action pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). They argue that the Younger abstention doctrine applies because of ongoing state-court litigation and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies to the claims arising from the completed first expungement proceedings; they are entitled to absolute judicial immunity and Eleventh Amendment immunity; they are not “persons” under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and Plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Defs.’ Mem. at 6.) They also argue that the Court should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s state-law constitutional claims. (See Id. at 15–16.)

         In the R&R, Magistrate Judge Brisbois recommended dismissing this suit because the Judicial Defendants had acted entirely within the scope of their judicial capacities and jurisdiction, and are thus entitled to absolute immunity from all claims against them. (R&R at 8–11.) Even if the Judicial Defendants were not entitled to absolute immunity, the magistrate judge recommended dismissal because federal courts lack subject-matter jurisdiction to review state court decisions under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. (R&R at 11–13.)

         Plaintiff filed his objections to the R&R in a timely manner. (See Objs.) He takes issue with the finding that the Judicial Defendants are entitled to absolute immunity, arguing that their “rewriting” of the expungement statute usurps the legislature’s power, and that the “finding of guilt” is an exercise reserved for the executive branch through prosecution and violates his right to be presumed innocent. (Id. at 5, 11, 12.) Through these actions, he asserts, the Judicial Defendants “ignored the very fundamentals of due process” and failed to uphold their oath to “faithfully” discharge their duties. (Id. at 4–5.) He alleges that because the acts were “not made in good faith” and were “repugnant to the Constitution,” the Judicial Defendants have waived immunity. (Id. at 4.) He seeks declaratory judgment against the Judicial Defendants under § 1983, “costs,” and “the remaining relief of innocence.” (Id. at 6–8, 16, 17.)


         The district court must conduct a de novo review of a magistrate judge’s report and recommendation on dispositive motions to which specific objections have been made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b); D. Minn. L.R. 72.2(b). The Judicial Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss is dispositive and must be reviewed under this standard. D. Minn. L.R. 7.1(c)(6)(B). “[A] pro se complaint must be liberally construed, and ‘pro se litigants are held to a lesser pleading standard than other parties.’” Gertsner v. Sebig, LLC, 386 F. App’x 573, 575 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Whitson ...

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