Coggins v. United States Bankruptcy Court, Middle District of Alabama et al
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS that, even assuming arguendo that 2 motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis is due to be GRANTED to the extent that the plaintiff's complaint could be filed without prepayment of fees, the plaintiff's complaint be DISMISSED prior to service of process pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(iii); Objections to R&R due by 8/26/2009. Signed by Honorable Charles S. Coody on 8/12/2009. (cc, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F O R THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA N O RT H E R N DIVISION G E N E COGGINS, P l a in tiff , v. U N I T E D STATES BANKRUPTCY C O U RT and CHIEF JUDGE DWIGHT H . WILLIAMS, JR., D e f e n d a n ts . ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) )
C I V I L ACT. NO. 2:09cv483-TMH
R E C O M M E N D AT IO N OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE and ORDER O n May 22, 2009, Plaintiff Gene Coggins ("Coggins"), a frequent pro se litigant1 in th is Court, brought suit against the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District o f Alabama and Chief United States Bankruptcy Judge Dwight H. Williams, Jr. With the c o m p la in t (doc. # 1), Coggins filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (doc. # 2 ). For the purpose of this Recommendation, the Court assumes, without deciding, that C o ggins satisfies the economic eligibility criterion for proceeding in forma pauperis pursuant t o 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Coggins seeks $50,700,000,000.00 in damages from the named d e f en d a n ts . He does not seek declaratory or injunctive relief. Coggins alleges that Judge Willia m s improperly dismissed his bankruptcy petition, denied him due process of law, and v io la te d his constitutional rights. According to Coggins, Judge Williams and the Bankruptcy
The court records demonstrate that Coggins has filed fifty lawsuits in this Court since 1992. Seven were filed between 1992 and 2000, four were filed between 2004 and 2006, and 39 were filed between 2007 and 2009.
C o u r t behaved in a corrupt fashion and mishandled his bankruptcy petition because Judge Willia m s was not empowered to dismiss his petition. DISCUSSION U p o n review of the complaint filed in this case, the Court concludes that dismissal of the complaint prior to service of process is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).2 T h e statute provides, in pertinent part: [ T ]h e court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . th e action or appeal (i) is frivolous or malicious, (ii) fails to state a claim on w h ic h relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant w h o is immune from such relief. 2 8 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Thus, Section 1915 a llo w s the district court to dismiss the complaint prior to service of process if it determines the complaint to be frivolous or malicious and spare the d e f e n d a n t the inconvenience and expense of answering a frivolous complaint. Wo o d a ll v. Foti, 648 F.2d 268, 271 (5 th Cir. 1981).3 See also, Procup v. Strickland, 760 F.2d 11 0 7 , 1114 (11 th Cir. 1985). A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis e ith e r in law or fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). The court may, th e re f o re , dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal th e o ry or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327.
Coggins filed a motion for default judgment (doc. # 3) prior to service of process. The defendants also filed a motion to dismiss (doc. # 5) prior to service of process. Both motions are premature and therefore DENIED as MOOT. See Bonner v. City of Prichard, 661 F.2d 1206 (11th Cir. 1981) (en banc), adopting as binding precedent all of the decisions of the former Fifth Circuit handed down prior to the close of business on September 30, 1981.
B e c au s e defendant Williams is sued for actions taken while acting in his judicial c a p ac ity, he is entitled to absolute immunity. "Judges are entitled to absolute judicial im m u n ity from damages for those acts taken while they are acting in their judicial capacity u n le ss they acted in the `clear absence of all justification,'" Bolton v. Story, 225 F.3d 1234, 1 2 3 9 (11 th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted). Accord, Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-57 (1 9 7 8 ); Dennis v. Sparks, 449 U.S. 24, 27-29 (1980); Sun v. Forrester, 939 F.2d 924, 925 ( 11 th Cir. 1991). "This immunity applies even when the judge's acts are in error, malicious, o r were in excess of his or her jurisdiction." Id. Whether a judge's actions were made while a c tin g in his judicial capacity depends on whether: (1) the act complained of constitutes a n o rm a l judicial function; (2) the events occurred in the judge's chambers or in open court; ( 3 ) the controversy involved a case pending before the judge; and (4) the confrontation arose im m e d ia te ly out of a visit to the judge in his judicial capacity. See, e.g., Sibley v. Lando, 437 F.3 d 1067, 1070 (11 th Cir. 2005); Scott v. Hayes, 719 F.2d 1562, 1565 (11 th Cir. 1983). C o g g in s ' allegations against defendant Williams clearly implicate acts taken in Judge Willia m s ' judicial capacity for which he is entitled to absolute judicial immunity. Without c o m m e n t in g on the merits or lack thereof of any of the numerous lawsuits filed by Coggins, if a bankruptcy judge has erred in rulings or in official court actions, the path for challenging s u c h rulings is an appeal to an appropriate court. The law does not subject a court or a judge to suit by unsuccessful litigants. Thus, Coggins' dispute with the rulings of defendant Willia m s in his bankruptcy case does not state a cognizable federal claim. His sole remedy
f o r his dissatisfaction with that ruling is to seek further relief in that case by timely and p ro p e rly pursuing an appeal of the ruling to the appropriate court. Because it is clear that C o g g i n s cannot cure this pleading defect, his claims against defendant Judge Williams must b e dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) as those claims are based on an in d is p u ta b ly meritless legal theory. See Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. F u r th e rm o re , any claims Coggins may have against the United States Bankruptcy C o u rt for the Middle District of Alabama are frivolous and based on an indisputably m e ritle ss legal theory. As a part of the government of the United States of America, the U n ite d States Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Alabama is entitled to sovereign im m u n ity which bars suit absent an explicit waiver of that immunity. See, e.g., United States v. Shaw, 309 U.S. 495, 500-01 (1940) (a suit against the United States or its agencies is b a rre d by the doctrine of sovereign immunity unless the United States gives prior consent to s u i t) . E v e n if the Court were to construe the plaintiff's complaint as alleging a Bivens a c tio n ,4 the action is meritless. A Bivens claim is a judicially created counterpart to a 42 U .S .C . § 1983 civil rights action and is properly brought only against federal officials, who h a v e allegedly denied a plaintiff's constitutional rights, in their individual capacities. Bivens
After calculating his damages at $50,700,000,000.00, Coggins references to Bivens asserting that "[t]his Total applies to all Defendants equally, that includes all Judges, as a claim for Brivens (sic) action, . . ." (Compl. at 7). Bivens is one of the few ways to bring suit against a federal actor that is not barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. See Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971).
v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 43 U.S. 390-97 (1971); F.D.I.C. v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 486 (1994) ("An extension of Bivens to agencies of the Federal G o v e rn m e n t is not supported by the logic of Bivens itself."). Because a Bivens cause of a c tio n may be brought only against federal defendants in their individual capacities, Coggins' claim s against the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Alabama are m e ritle s s . See also, Accardi v. United States, 435 F.2d 1239 (3 r d Cir. 1970); Fixel v. United Sta te s, 737 F. Supp. 593, 598 (D. Nev. 1990) (dismissing as frivolous under § 1915 suit a g a in s t federal district court), aff'd 930 F.2d 27 (9 th Cir. 1991). W h ile Coggins complains about the fact that many of his prior cases have been d ism iss e d by judges in this Court sua sponte prior to service, this practice is wholly c o n sis te n t with federal law. As the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently explained, it is the recognized law of this circuit th a t district courts have the inherent power to sua sponte dismiss frivolous s u its without giving notice to the parties. See Jefferson v. Fourteenth Assocs., 6 9 5 F.2d at 526. Under § 1915A, a complaint is frivolous if it is "without a rg u a b le merit either in law or fact." Bilal, 51 F.3d at 1349. In discussing w h a t is frivolous in the context of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), [the Eleventh C irc u it] also ha[s] held that "[a] district court may conclude a case has little or n o chance of success and dismiss the complaint before service of process when it determines from the face of the complaint that the factual allegations are ` c l e a r ly baseless' or that the legal theories are `indisputably meritless.'" C a r ro l l v. Gross, 984 F.2d 392, 292 (11 th Cir. 1993). D a v is v. Kvalheim, 2008 WL 67676 at *3 (11 th Cir. Jan. 8, 2008) (No. 07-12754). A district c o u rt is not required to allow a clearly baseless action to proceed to allow a litigant to employ " th e legal system as a tool to intimidate and heckle those he imagines have done him wrong." 5
Id. A s set out above, the Court concludes that all of Coggins' claims in this action: (1) a re frivolous or malicious; (2) fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (3) seek m o n e ta ry relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. Section 1915(e) not o n ly allows, but expressly requires, district courts to dismiss such accusations. That federal statu te provides that a district court "shall" dismiss a complaint at any time if the court d e te rm in e s that the action is "frivolous or malicious." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). CONCLUSION T h u s , it is the RECOMMENDATION of the Magistrate Judge that, even assuming a rg u e n d o that the motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (doc. # 2) is due to be G R A N T E D to the extent that the plaintiff's complaint could be filed without prepayment of f e es , the plaintiff's complaint be DISMISSED prior to service of process pursuant to 28 U .S .C . § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(iii). It is further ORDERED that the parties shall file any objections to the said Recommendation on o r before August 26, 2009. Any objections filed must specifically identify the findings in th e Magistrate Judge's Recommendation to which the party objects. Frivolous, conclusive o r general objections will not be considered by the District Court. The parties are advised th a t this Recommendation is not a final order of the court and, therefore, it is not appealable. F a ilu re to file written objections to the proposed findings and recommendations in the M a g is tra te Judge's report shall bar the party from a de novo determination by the District
C o u rt of issues covered in the report and shall bar the party from attacking on appeal factual f in d in g s in the report accepted or adopted by the District Court except upon grounds of plain e rr o r or manifest injustice. Nettles v. Wainwright, 677 F.2d 404 (5 th Cir. 1982). See Stein v. Reynolds Securities, Inc., 667 F.2d 33 (11 th Cir. 1982). See also Bonner v. City of P r ic h a rd , 661 F.2d 1206 (11 th Cir. 1981, en banc), adopting as binding precedent all of the d e c is io n s of the former Fifth Circuit handed down prior to the close of business on S e p te m b e r 30, 1981. D o n e this 12 th day of August, 2009.
/s/Charles S. Coody CHARLES S. COODY U N IT E D STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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