Herbert Moncier v. Nancy Jone
OPINION filed : we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court. R. Guy Cole , Jr., Circuit Judge; Richard Allen Griffin, Authoring Circuit Judge and Benita Y. Pearson, U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Ohio, sitting by designation.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR PUBLICATION
File Name: 14a0105n.06
UNITED STATES COURTS OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
HERBERT SANFORD MONCIER,
NANCY S. JONES, and other known officers of the
State of Tennessee,
Feb 06, 2014
DEBORAH S. HUNT, Clerk
ON APPEAL FROM THE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT
COURT FOR THE MIDDLE
DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
BEFORE: COLE and GRIFFIN, Circuit Judges; and PEARSON, District Judge.
GRIFFIN, Circuit Judge.
Plaintiff Herbert Moncier is an attorney licensed in Tennessee. In 2011, Moncier was
temporarily suspended from the practice of law by the Tennessee Supreme Court.
subsequently sued defendant Nancy Jones, the now-former Chief Disciplinary Counsel for the
Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility (the Board), under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for
$2,000,000, claiming that the disciplinary proceedings that resulted in his suspension violated a
slew of his constitutional rights. He also requested declaratory and injunctive relief. After the
district court dismissed Moncier’s claims, Moncier sought leave to amend his complaint, which
the district court denied. Moncier now appeals both orders. For the reasons set forth below, we
affirm the judgment of the district court.
The Honorable Benita Y. Pearson, United States District Judge for the Northern District
of Ohio, sitting by designation.
Moncier v. Jones, et al
We review de novo the grant of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), construing the
record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and accepting all well-pleaded factual
allegations as true. See Terry v. Tyson Farms, Inc., 604 F.3d 272, 274 (6th Cir. 2010). While a
complaint will survive a motion to dismiss if it contains “either direct or inferential allegations
respecting all material elements” necessary for recovery under a viable legal theory, this court
“need not accept as true legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences, and conclusory
allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual allegations will not suffice.” Id. at 275–
76 (citation and quotation marks omitted). “[A] plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of
his ‘entitlement to relief’ requires more than labels and conclusions . . . .” Republic Bank &
Trust Co. v. Bear Stearns & Co., Inc., 683 F.3d 239, 246–47 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). “Rather, ‘[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a
complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.’” Id. at 247 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).
District court decisions on motions to amend under Rule 15, motions for an alteration of
judgment under Rule 59, and motions for relief from judgment under Rule 60(b) are all reviewed
for an abuse of discretion. Glazer v. Chase Home Fin. LLC, 704 F.3d 453, 458 (6th Cir. 2013)
(Rule 15); Morse v. McWhorter, 290 F.3d 795, 799 (6th Cir. 2002) (Rule 59); Jinks v.
AlliedSignal, Inc., 250 F.3d 381, 385 (6th Cir. 2001) (Rule 60). An abuse of discretion occurs
where this court is left with a “definite and firm conviction that the district court committed a
clear error of judgment in its conclusion.” Lewis v. United Joint Venture, 691 F.3d 835, 839 (6th
Cir. 2012). “Furthermore, a district court has broad discretion to manage its docket.” ACLU v.
McCreary Cnty., Ky., 607 F.3d 439, 451 (6th Cir. 2010).
Moncier v. Jones, et al
Moncier argues that the district court erred by dismissing his complaint. We disagree.
Moncier’s amended complaint names Jones as a defendant “individually, and . . . in her
official capacity for the State of Tennessee” and requested both money damages and declaratory
and injunctive relief. When a plaintiff brings a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against a state official in
his or her official capacity, the claim is treated as though brought against the government itself.
Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985). To that end, the Eleventh Amendment bars
official-capacity claims for damages against state officials. Will v. Mich. Dep’t of State Police,
491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). However, the Eleventh Amendment does not bar official-capacity
claims for prospective equitable relief against state officials. Id. at 71 n.10; Ex parte Young, 209
U.S. 123, 159–60 (1908).
We first address Moncier’s damages claims. Because the Eleventh Amendment bars
official-capacity claims for damages against state officials, the district court did not err by
dismissing Moncier’s claim for damages against Jones in her official capacity. Will, 491 U.S. at
71. As for Moncier’s claim for damages against Jones personally, this claim is not barred by the
Eleventh Amendment, Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 31 (1991). However, the district court
correctly concluded that Jones is entitled to absolute immunity; accordingly, this claim was
properly dismissed. The conduct Moncier alleged violated his rights occurred while Jones was
performing her official role as Chief Disciplinary Counsel. Accordingly, Jones is entitled to
absolute, quasi-judicial immunity from Moncier’s damages claim against her personally. See
Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 12–13 (1991) (per curiam); Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 229
(1988); Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356 (1978); Bush v. Rauch, 38 F.3d 842, 847 (6th Cir.
1994). Moncier’s arguments to the contrary lack all merit.
Moncier v. Jones, et al
We next turn to Moncier’s claims for equitable relief. To the extent these claims are
brought against Jones in her official capacity, they are not barred by the Eleventh Amendment.
Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. at 159–60. Initially, we note that to the extent Moncier requests an
injunction against enforcement of his suspension, such a claim is moot—Moncier’s suspension
began in June 2011 and by its own terms lasted less than one year. There is no more suspension
to enjoin. This leaves only Moncier’s request for declaratory relief and for an injunction as to
the approximately $22,000 in costs imposed by the Board. We affirm the district court’s
dismissal of these claims because Moncier’s complaint does not plausibly plead, either directly
or by inference, that his rights were violated during his disciplinary proceeding or that
Tennessee’s attorney discipline structure writ large is unconstitutional. See 16630 Southfield
Ltd. P’ship v. Flagstar Bank, F.S.B., 727 F.3d 502, 504 (6th Cir. 2013); see also Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555; Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. With regard to Moncier’s claims for equitable relief against
Jones personally, those claims are moot because Jones is no longer Chief Disciplinary counsel.
And, Moncier has made no attempt to cure that mootness—he has never tried to sue Jones’
successor, Sandra Garrett, in her individual capacity, only in her official capacity.
Moncier also argues that the district court erred by denying his motions to file amended
or supplemental complaints. Again, we disagree.
Under Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, motions to amend are “frequently
filed and, generally speaking, ‘freely’ allowed.” Leisure Caviar, LLC v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Serv., 616 F.3d 612, 615 (6th Cir. 2010). However, where a plaintiff seeks to amend his
complaint after an adverse judgment, he must “meet the requirements for reopening a case
established by Rules 59 or 60.” Id. at 616. Here, Moncier has made no argument under Rule 59
Moncier v. Jones, et al
or 60, opting instead to argue that Rule 15 applies to him. We conclude that Rule 15 did not
apply to Moncier’s motions to amend because those motions were filed after an adverse
judgment; we also conclude that Moncier is not entitled to relief under Rule 59 or 60. Moreover,
even assuming, arguendo, that Rule 15 applied to Moncier’s motions to amend, he would not be
entitled to relief. Although Rule 15’s amendment standards are liberal, Foman v. Davis, 371
U.S. 178, 182 (1962), the Rule does not give parties the right to amend. Here, Moncier had not
bothered to respond to defendant’s motions to dismiss for nearly four months at the time the
dismissal order issued (and he had not made any filing in the case at all in almost seven months).
Accordingly, in light of the district court’s “broad discretion to manage its docket[,]” ACLU, 607
F.3d at 451, we would not be left with a “definite and firm conviction” that the district court
erred by denying the amendments even if Rule 15 governed. Lewis, 691 F.3d at 839.
For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the judgment of the district court.
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