United States District Court, D. Minnesota
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
BOWBEER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
case comes before the Court on Plaintiff Colton Francis
Leekley-Winslow's Complaint [Doc. No. 1], Application to
Proceed in District Court Without Prepaying Fees or Costs
[Doc. No. 2] (IFP Application), and motion for an order
requiring that the U.S. Postal Service conduct service in
this matter [Doc. No. 3] (Service Motion). For the following
reasons, the Court recommends (1) dismissing Defendants Court
Clerk “Cindy” and Court Clerk
“Michelle” from this action and (2) dismissing
any claims against the State of Minnesota, except to the
extent that they seek prospective injunctive relief.
Complaint concerns Leekley-Winslow's interactions with
state-court clerks in a Minnesota state-court action,
Leekley-Winslow v. Fairview Health Services, No.
27-CR-18-19543 (Minn. Dist. Ct.). Leekley-Winslow alleges
that he visited the Hennepin County Courthouse on July 31,
2019, to “deliver paperwork” in that
action-specifically, a “motion for a default
judgment” and “an affidavit certifying compliance
with the [state] court's order to comply with evidence
discovery.” (Compl. 4.)
alleges that when he sought to file this paperwork, a court
clerk “mentioned filing fees for the
motion.” (Id.) Leekley-Winslow told the
clerk that the state court had denied his motion to proceed
in forma pauperis (IFP) in No. 27-CR-18-19543, and that
“he found this unacceptable” for various reasons.
(Id.) He thus requested that the court “charge
the filing fee but put it ‘on his tab, '”
which was $75.00 because of an earlier unpaid filing fee.
alleges that after this request, the person he was speaking
to consulted a court clerk named Michelle, who said she would
review the status of Leekley-Winslow's case. (See
id.) She returned with a court clerk named Cindy,
“both of whom immediately became hostile.”
(Id.) Cindy allegedly “rudely assert[ed] that
the court [would] not receive [Leekley-Winslow's] motion
without [him] paying the filing fee.” (Id.)
Leekley-Winslow apparently suggested “chang[ing] the
motion to a communication, ” but Cindy refused to
permit this. (Id. at 4-5). After further discussion,
Cindy refused to take Leekley-Winslow's paperwork, and
Leekley-Winslow left the courthouse. (See Id. at 5.)
Complaint names three Defendants: the State of Minnesota and
the court clerks named Michelle and Cindy. (See Id.
at 1.) Leekley-Winslow contends that Michelle's and
Cindy's conduct violated his rights under the First and
Fifth Amendments, and that the State of Minnesota's IFP
procedures are unconstitutional (presumably under the First
and Fifth Amendments). (See Id. at 5.) As for
relief, Leekley-Winslow seeks monetary damages from all three
Defendants: $100, 000.00 and legal-expenses reimbursement
from the State of Minnesota, and $1.00 from each of the named
court clerks. (See id.) He also appears to seek a
declaration that Minnesota's current IFP procedures are
unconstitutional. (See id.) He suggests that in its
place, the state's procedure should be set up so that (1)
“[a] litigant who has filed an IFP [application] under
penalty of perjury and not been found guilty of perjury may
not have paperwork refused at the courthouse due to filing
fees, ” and (2) “[t]he State of Minnesota must
receive the paperwork, and may assess filing fees based on
approval or denial of the IFP only after the case has
did not pay this action's filing fee; instead, he applied
for IFP status. In a separate order, this Court is granting
the IFP Application. Under § 1915(e)(2), however, where
a plaintiff seeks to proceed IFP, the Court,
“[n]otwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion
thereof, that may have been paid, . . . shall dismiss the
case at any time if the court determines that, ” among
other things, “the action or appeal . . . fails to
state a claim on which relief may be granted” or
“seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is
immune from such relief.” While § 1915(e)(2)
speaks in terms of dismissing “the case, ” courts
also use § 1915(e)(2) to eliminate portions of actions
that fail to state a cause of action or that seek monetary
relief from immune defendants. See, e.g.,
Bonczek v. Bd. of Trustees Nat'l Roofing Indus.
Pension Plan, No. 14-CV-3768 (JRT/LIB), 2015 WL 1897837,
at *4 (D. Minn. Apr. 23, 2015); Abduljabbar v. Minn.
Dep't of Transp., No. 14-CV-3583 (ADM/JSM), 2014 WL
7476513, at *4 (D. Minn. Nov. 5, 2014), R. & R.
adopted, 2015 WL 75255 (D. Minn. Jan. 6, 2015).
purports to bring this action based on the U.S.
Constitution's First and Fifth Amendments. These do not
provide a standalone right of action; litigants suing over
state officials' alleged violations of their
constitutional rights must use 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
See, e.g., Van Stelton v. Van Stelton, No.
11-CV-4045 (MWB), 2014 WL 4898591, at *11 n.7 (N.D. Iowa
Sept. 30, 2014) (citing cases); Washington v. Vaghn,
No. 14-CV-0525 (JRT/JSM), 2014 WL 3687240, at *4 (D. Minn.
July 24, 2014) (same). The Court thus construes
Leekley-Winslow's claims as being brought under §
§ 1983, plaintiffs can sue individual defendants in
those defendants' individual capacities or in their
official capacities. See, e.g., Kentucky v.
Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-68 (1985) (discussing
distinction); Marsh v. Phelps Cty., 902 F.3d 745,
751-57 (8th Cir. 2018) (noting distinction). Here,
Leekley-Winslow fails to state the capacity (or capacities)
in which he is suing the court-clerk Defendants. Courts in
this District faced with complaints failing to specify
relevant capacities often ask the plaintiff to provide an
addendum specifying the capacities in which he or she is
suing individual defendants. In this case, however, because
the Court would recommend that any individual-capacity claims
against the court-clerk Defendants be dismissed (as discussed
below), the Court will simply assume that Leekley-Winslow
means to sue all individual Defendants in both their
individual capacities and in their official capacities.
this backdrop in mind, the Court recommends that certain
parts of this case be dismissed. First, the Court recommends
dismissing any individual-capacity claims against the
court-clerk Defendants. Those clerks have a quasi-judicial
immunity that is absolute-an immunity not just from damages,
but from suit itself. See, e.g., Hamilton v.
City of Hayti, No. 16-CV-0054 (RLW), 2017 WL 836558, at
*5-6 (E.D. Mo. Mar. 2, 2017). Court clerks have
quasi-judicial immunity for, among other things, “acts
taken at the direction of a judge or according to court
rule.” See, e.g., Geitz v. Overall,
62 Fed.Appx. 744, 746 (8th Cir. 2003) (per curiam) (citing
cases); see also Tyler v. Vicki, No. 16-CV-0189,
2016 WL 3448470, at *2 (D. Neb. June 20, 2016) (discussing
Geitz), aff'd, No. 16-3379 (8th Cir.
Oct. 7, 2016); Burgie v. Hannah, No. 09-CV-0920
(GTE), 2010 WL 3199691, at *5 (E.D. Ark. Aug. 12, 2010),
aff'd, 407 Fed.Appx. 84 (8th Cir. 2011).
the thrust of Leekley-Winslow's claims against the
court-clerk Defendants is that they violated his civil rights
by following existing Minnesota rules for litigants who fail
to secure IFP status. (This is why he seeks a declaration
that the Minnesota-court IFP system is unconstitutional.)
Given this thrust, the Court concludes that the court clerks
have quasi-judicial immunity to the extent Leekley-Winslow
has sued them in their individual capacities.
claims that remain, then, are those against the State of
Minnesota itself and the official-capacity claims against the
court-clerk Defendants. As a second case refinement, the
Court recommends dismissing the official-capacity claims
against the court-clerk Defendants. An official-capacity
claim against a government official essentially amounts to a
claim against the relevant governmental entity itself.
See, e.g., Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25
(1991) (“Suits against state officials in their
official capacity . . . should be treated as suits against
the State.”) (citing Graham, 473 U.S. at 166);
Veatch v. Bartels Lutheran Home, 627 F.3d 1254, 1257
(8th Cir. 2010) (citing Baker v. Chisom, 501 F.3d
920, 925 (8th Cir. 2007)). As a result, the Complaint's
official-capacity claims against the court-clerk Defendants
are redundant. Any official-capacity claim against them is
effectively a claim against the State of Minnesota, which
Leekley-Winslow has already named as a defendant. The Court
thus recommends dismissing the official-capacity claims
against the court-clerk Defendants. See, e.g.,
Artis v. Francis Howell N. Band Booster Ass'n,
Inc., 161 F.3d 1178, 1182 (8th Cir. 1998) (affirming
district-court dismissal of official-capacity claim against