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Thompson v. Hazelton

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Eastern Division

September 12, 2019

Maurice Edward Thompson, Plaintiff,
v.
Wendy Hazelton, Defendant.

          ORDER AND MEMORANDUM & RECOMMENDATION

          Robert T. Numbers, II United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Maurice Edward Thompson has sued Wendy Hazelton, a North Carolina judge, for holding him in contempt and sentencing him to jail as part of a criminal proceeding. D.E. 1-1, 5. Thompson claims that Hazelton's actions violated his rights under the First, Eighth, and Ninth Amendments to the Constitution.[1] D.E. 5. He has also asked the court to allow him to proceed without paying the typical filing fee for civil actions. D.E. 1. Although the court will allow his motion, the undersigned recommends that the district court dismiss the Complaint because the doctrine of judicial immunity bars his claims.

         I. IFP Application

         Thompson asks the court to allow him to proceed with his action without paying the required filing fee and other costs associated with litigation (colloquially known as proceeding in forma pauperis or IFP). The court may grant his request if he submits an affidavit describing his assets and the court finds that he could not pay the filing fee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915. In assessing a request to proceed IFP, the court should consider whether the plaintiff can pay the costs associated with litigation “and still be able to provide himself and his dependents with the necessities of life.” Adkins v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 335 U.S. 331, 339 (1948) (internal quotations omitted).

         The court has reviewed Thompson's application and finds that he lacks the resources to pay the costs associated with this litigation. The court thus grants Thompson's motion (D.E. 1) and allows him to proceed IFP.

         II. Screening

         Along with determining whether Thompson is entitled to IFP status, the court must also analyze the viability of the claims in the Complaint. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e). The court reviews a complaint to eliminate those claims that unnecessarily impede judicial efficiency and the administration of justice. The court must dismiss any portion of the complaint it determines is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from that relief. Id. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         Thompson claims that Hazelton violated his constitutional rights by holding him in contempt and ordering him to jail. D.E. 1-1, 5. Whatever the merits of his claim, it has long been settled that a judge is absolutely immune from a claim for damages arising out of his or her judicial actions. Chu v. Griffith, 771 F.2d 79, 81 (4th Cir. 1985). This immunity applies even when judges have acted “in excess of their jurisdiction, and [that] are alleged to have been done maliciously or corruptly.” Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 355-56 (1978).

         The Supreme Court has recognized two exceptions to judicial immunity. The doctrine does not apply to “nonjudicial actions, i.e., actions not taken in the judge's judicial capacity.” Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11- 12 (1991). The question of “whether an act by a judge is a ‘judicial' one relate[s] to the nature of the act itself, i.e., whether it is a function normally performed by a judge, and to the expectations of the parties, i.e., whether they dealt with the judge in his judicial capacity.” Id. (citing Stump, 435 U.S. at 362; Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 227-29 (1988)).

         And a judge cannot claim immunity for “actions, though judicial in nature, taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction.” Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11- 12. When analyzing whether a judge acted in the complete absence of all jurisdiction, the court must consider “ ‘whether at the time [the judge] took the challenged action he had jurisdiction over the subject matter before him,' and, in answering that question, ‘the scope of the judge's jurisdiction must be construed broadly[.]'” King v. Myers, 973 F.2d 354, 357 (4th Cir. 1992) (quoting Stump, 435 U.S. at 356).

         A review of the Complaint shows that the actions underlying Thompson's claims are judicial in nature and that Hazelton was not acting in the complete absence of jurisdiction. Thus, Hazelton is entitled to judicial immunity, and the district court should dismiss the Complaint.

         III. Conclusion

         For the reasons stated above, the court grants Thompson's motion to proceed IFP. D.E. 1. But the undersigned recommends that the court dismiss Thompson's Complaint because his claims are barred by judicial immunity.

         The Clerk of Court must serve a copy of this Memorandum and Recommendation (“M&R”) on each party who has appeared . Any party may file a written objection to the M&R within 14 days from the date the Clerk serves it on them. The objection must specifically note the portion of the M&R that the party objects to and the reasons for their objection. Any other party may respond to the objection within 14 days from the date the objecting party serves it on them. The district judge will review the objection and make their own determination about the matter that is the subject of the objection. If a party does not file a timely ...


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