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Valentine v. Randall

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

May 17, 2018



          Richard G. Kopf, Senior United States District Judge

         Plaintiff filed her Complaint on January 25, 2018. (Filing No. 1.) She has been given leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Filing No. 6.) 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 seeks a declaratory judgment that Defendant “Judge Randall” violated her constitutional rights to due process and equal protection under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiff alleges that she filed a petition for replevin in the Douglas County District Court seeking an accounting as to how much, if any, Plaintiff yet owed to Sonny Gerber (“Gerber”) for a 2007 Chrysler 300, which Plaintiff purchased from Gerber. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p.2.) In the course of presiding over Plaintiff's replevin action, Judge Randall “threw [Plaintiff] in jail for contempt of court . . . in violation of the maxim that you can't get a criminal sanction out of a civil proceeding.” (Id. at CM/ECF p.1.) In addition, Plaintiff claims Judge Randall issued a warrant for her arrest on the pretext that she had refused to turn the aforementioned vehicle over to Gerber who had countersued Plaintiff in the replevin action. (Id. at CM/ECF p.3.) Plaintiff asks for “an injunction estopping defendant, his successors in office and all persons acting in active concert and participation with him, from further violations of plaintiff's constitutional rights.” (Id. at CM/ECF p.2.)

         In her Complaint, Plaintiff specifically refers to the replevin action by its case number, CI16-5509. (Id. at CM/ECF p.3.) The state court records for this case, available to this court online, show that judgment was entered against Plaintiff on Gerber's counterclaim and Plaintiff's appeal of this judgment is currently pending. The court takes judicial notice of the state court records related to this case in Valentine v. Gerber, No. CI16-5509, Douglas County District Court of Nebraska, and the Nebraska Court of Appeals appellate case records in A-18-134. 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).


         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).


         Plaintiff indicates this is a “Ku Klux Action” (filing no. 1), which, based on the conclusory allegations of the Complaint, the court construes to be an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. “To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         A. Judicial Immunity

         Plaintiff sues Judge Randall, a state district court judge, for equitable relief. Thus, the court must first consider whether Plaintiff's claims against Judge Randall are barred under the doctrine of 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 “it is one normally performed by a judge and if the complaining party is dealing with the judge in his judicial capacity.” Id. (internal citations omitted). “[A] judge ...

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