United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Eastern Division
T. Numbers, II United States Magistrate Judge
Constance Pratt has brought a number of motions before the
court. She has filed number of motions to amend her Amended
Complaint. D.E. 35, 36, 37. Pratt has also filed a Motion for
an Extension of Time in which to conduct the Rule 26(f)
conference (D.E. 38), a Motion for the Issuance of Subpoenas
(D.E. 41), and a Motion to Approve her Amendment (D.E. 42).
of background, Pratt's Amended Complaint alleged that the
Defendants, employees of Pitt County Department of Social
Services and Child Protective Services (“DSS” or
“CPS”) violated her rights under the Fourth,
Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States
Constitution in the course of investigating allegations of
child neglect and related state-court proceedings. It asserts
that the Defendants illegally removed her children from her
custody, made false allegations against her, failed to
properly investigate the claims against her, and released
information without her consent.
reasons set forth below, the undersigned will grant the
motion to add Linda Mizelle as a party to this action (D.E.
36) and deny the motion to add Charles Williamson,
Pratt's previous court-appointed attorney in the county
action; North Carolina District Judge Patricia Gwynett
Hillburn; and DSS staff attorney Timothy Heinle. (D.E. 35,
37). Additionally, the court finds that the motion for
issuance of subpoenas is moot (D.E. 41). Finally, it will
grant the motion to approve the amendments to the Amended
Complaint with respect to Mizelle but deny it with respect to
Heinle (D.E. 42).
35 Motion to Amend/Request to Add Party
noted above, Pratt seeks to add Williamson and Judge Hillburn
to the present action. Williamson represented Pratt as her
court-appointed attorney in family court matter and Judge
Hillburn presided over the custody proceedings.
Fourth Circuit, the law is well settled “that leave to
amend a pleading should be denied only when the amendment
would be prejudicial to the opposing party, there has been
bad faith on the part of the moving party, or the amendment
would be futile.” Edwards v. City of
Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 242 (4th Cir. 1999). See
also Herron v. Virginia Com. Univ., 366 F.Supp.2d 355
(E.D. Va.) (denying leave to amend where the party sought to
be added is immune from suit), aff'd, 116 F.
App'x. 467 (4th Cir. 2004); Perkins v. United
States, 848 F.Supp. 1236, 1241 (S.D. W.Va. 1994)
(amendment of pleading should be denied if it cannot
withstand a motion to dismiss). The decision to deny or grant
leave to amend a pleading is within a district court's
discretion; however a court may not exercise its discretion
in a way that undermines Rule 15. See Pittston Co. v.
United States, 199 F.3d 694, 705 (4th Cir. 1999).
attorney, whether retained, court-appointed, or a public
defender, does not act under color of state law, which is a
jurisdictional prerequisite for any civil action brought
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Vermont v. Brillon,
556 U.S. 81, 91 (2009) (noting that a publicly assigned or
privately retained counsel for a criminal defendant is not
ordinarily considered a state actor); Polk Cnty. v.
Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 319-22 & nn.8-13 (1981)
(public defender); Hall v. Quillen, 631 F.2d 1154,
1155-56 & nn.2-3 (4th Cir. 1980) (court-appointed
attorney); Deas v. Potts, 547 F.2d 800 (4th Cir.
1976) (private attorney). Private conduct, too, falls outside
of the scope of a § 1983 action, as courts have found
“merely private conduct, no matter how discriminatory
or wrongful” is not actionable under § 1983.
Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 50
Constitutional violations Pratt alleges fall squarely within
the “traditional functions” of counsel. She
alleges that Williamson failed to properly defend the claims
against her, pressured her into “accepting” some
of the charges, and withheld documents. Thus, Williamson,
alleged to be Pratt's attorney during the custody
proceedings, did not act under color of state law, and as
such Pratt fails to allege a plausible claim against him.
respect to Judge Hillburn, it is well settled that judges
have absolute immunity from a claim for damages arising out
of their judicial actions unless they acted in the complete
absence of all jurisdiction. See Mireles v. Waco,
502 U.S. 9 (1991); Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349,
351-364 (1978); see also Chu v. Griffith, 771 F.2d
79, 81 (4th Cir. 1985) (explaining that if a challenged
judicial act was unauthorized by law, the judge still has
immunity from a suit seeking damages); e.g., Baccus v.
Wickensimer, C/A No. 9:13-1977-DCN-BM, 2013 WL 6019469,
at *2- 3 (D.S.C. Nov. 13, 2013) (explaining that judicial
immunity is from claims for damages and injunctive relief).
Whether an act is judicial or nonjudicial relates to the
nature of the act, such as whether it is a function normally
performed by a judge and whether the parties dealt with the
judge in his judicial capacity. Mireles, 502 U.S. at
applies even when the judge's acts were in error,
malicious, or in excess of his authority. Id. at
12-13. Immunity presents a threshold question. See Harlow
v. Fitzgerald, 475 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Absolute
immunity is “an immunity from suit rather than a mere
defense to liability.” Mitchell v. Forsyth,
472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985).
Pratt alleges that Judge Hillburn presided over her family
court proceedings and awarded custody of Pratt's children
to their grandfather. She contends that the State failed to
prove neglect on her part, “illegally kidnapped”
her children, and denied her a trial on this matter. However,
the alleged conduct relates to Judge Hillburn's judicial
acts. Because the actions arose out of judicial proceedings,
judicial immunity applies and bars this lawsuit against her.
the issues of futility and immunity this motion to amend
presents, it is denied.
36 Motion to ...