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Moore v. Gerrard

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

February 22, 2016

MAURICE MOORE, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN M. GERRARD, in his individual and official capacity, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Richard G. Kopf Senior United States District Judge

This matter is before the court on initial review of Plaintiff Maurice Moore’s Complaint (Filing No. 1). See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). For the reasons discussed below, the court finds (1) sovereign immunity deprives the court of jurisdiction over Moore’s claims for damages against Judge Gerrard in his official capacity, and (2) absolute judicial immunity bars Moore’s claims for damages against Judge Gerrard in his individual capacity.

I. SUMMARY OF COMPLAINT

Liberally construed, Moore asserts constitutional claims against Judge Gerrard, a federal district court judge. He alleges Judge Gerrard presided over his civil case, Moore v. Stacy, No. 4:15-cv-03107-JMG-PRSE. He complains that Judge Gerrard dismissed this civil case without requiring the defendant to answer the complaint. He alleges, in conclusory fashion, that Judge Gerrard’s actions were racially motivated. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF pp. 1-3.)

For relief, Moore seeks damages in the amount of $2 million. Moore also asks for a declaration that Judge Gerrard violated the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Nebraska Constitution, and Moore’s rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 4.)

II. STANDARDS ON INITIAL REVIEW

The court is required to review in forma pauperis complaints to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e). The court must dismiss a complaint or any portion of it that states a frivolous or malicious claim, that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

Pro se plaintiffs must set forth enough factual allegations to “nudge[] their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, ” or “their complaint must be dismissed.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 569-70 (2007); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Sovereign Immunity

Moore sued Judge Gerrard, a federal district court judge, in his official capacity and in his individual capacity. Sovereign immunity prevents the court from exercising jurisdiction over claims for damages against Judge Gerrard in his official capacity.

The doctrine of sovereign immunity provides that the United States is immune from suit unless Congress has expressly waived the defense. See, e.g., United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206, 212 (1983) (“It is axiomatic that the United States may not be sued without its consent and that the existence of consent is a prerequisite for jurisdiction.”); Cohens v. Virginia, 19 U.S. 264, 411-12 (1821) (“The universally received opinion is[ ] that no suit can be commenced or prosecuted against the United States[.]”). If sovereign immunity applies, the court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the offending suit. See, e.g., FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994); United States v. Sherwood, 312 U.S. 584, 586 (1941). A lawsuit against a government official in his official capacity is tantamount to a suit against “an entity of which an officer is an agent[, ]” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Monell v. New York City Dep’t. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 n. 55 (1978)); therefore, the sovereign immunity doctrine applies equally to the government itself and to any federal official sued in his or her official capacity. Congress may waive sovereign immunity, but any such waiver must be express. United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 538 (1980).

Here, Moore brought suit against Judge Gerrard in his official capacity. Judge Gerrard is part of the United States government for purposes of sovereign immunity. See Graham, 473 U.S. at 165-166. The United States clearly falls within the protective reach of sovereign immunity. There is nothing in the record to suggest the United States waived, or that Congress overrode, sovereign immunity here. ...


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