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Goodwin v. Coffey

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

January 29, 2018

MICHAEL COFFEY, Judge Michael Coffey; Defendant.


          Richard G. Kopf Senior United States District Judge

         Plaintiff filed her Complaint on October 13, 2017. (Filing No. 1.) She has been given leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Filing No. 5.) The court now conducts an initial review of Plaintiff's Complaint to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).


         Plaintiff has filed suit against Defendant Judge Michael Coffey, “a state judge of Nebraska in Douglas County.” (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p.2.) Plaintiff is the daughter of Billy Roy Tyler and alleges that Judge Coffey discriminates against her for that reason. Plaintiff alleges that Judge Coffey is engaged in a “conspiracy” with the Clerk of the District Court of Douglas County, Nebraska, to have all cases involving parties suspected of being associated with Billy Roy Tyler assigned to Judge Coffey. Once such cases are assigned, Judge Coffey “invariably violates the rights of such person.” (Id. at CM/ECF p.3.)

         Plaintiff alleges Judge Coffey discriminated against Plaintiff in her divorce case when he refused to award Plaintiff the marital home, custody of the children, child support, and alimony. The state court records relating to Plaintiff's divorce case, [1] available to this court online, show that the case is currently pending on Plaintiff's appeal to the Nebraska appellate courts. The court takes judicial notice of these state court records. See Stutzka v. McCarville, 420 F.3d 757, 760 n.2 (8th Cir. 2005) (court may take judicial notice of judicial opinions and public records).

         Plaintiff claims there is no basis in law or fact to award custody to Plaintiff's husband based on his criminal record and lifestyle, and Judge Coffey's decision to do so is “bizarre” and “contrary to the norm. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p.4.) Plaintiff alleges that she is being denied due process and equal protection of the law as a result of Judge Coffey's decisions and handling of the proceedings. Plaintiff seeks an injunction against Judge Coffey and a declaration that Judge Coffey is violating Plaintiff's due process rights.


         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.”).

         “The essential function of a complaint under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is to give the opposing party ‘fair notice of the nature and basis or grounds for a claim, and a general indication of the type of litigation involved.'” Topchian v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 760 F.3d 843, 848 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Hopkins v. Saunders, 199 F.3d 968, 973 (8th Cir. 1999)). However, “[a] pro se complaint must be liberally construed, and pro se litigants are held to a lesser pleading standard than other parties.” Topchian, 760 F.3d at 849 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         Liberally construed, Plaintiff here alleges federal constitutional claims. To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege a violation of rights protected by the United States Constitution or created by federal statute and also must show that the alleged deprivation was caused by conduct of a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Buckley v. Barlow, 997 F.2d 494, 495 (8th Cir. 1993).


         A. Judicial Immunity

         Plaintiff's claims against Judge Coffey are barred by judicial immunity. A judge is immune from suit, including suits brought under section 1983 to recover for alleged deprivation of civil rights, in all but two narrow sets of circumstances. Schottel v. Young,687 F.3d 370, 373 (8th Cir. 2012). “First, a judge is not immune from liability for nonjudicial actions, i.e., actions not taken in the judge's judicial capacity. Second, a judge is not immune for actions, though judicial in nature, taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction.” Id. (internal citations omitted). An act is judicial if ...

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