Coggins v. United States Court of Appeals
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION AND ORDER: The 3 MOTION for Default Judgment prior to service of process is premature and therefore DENIED as MOOT. It is the RECOMMENDATION of the Magistrate Judge that, even assuming arguendo that the 2 MOTION for Lea ve to Proceed in forma pauperis is due to be GRANTED to the extent that the plaintiff's 1 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 8/19/2009. Signed by Honorable Charles S. Coody on 8/6/2009. (dmn)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F O R THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA E A S T E R N DIVISION G E N E COGGINS, P l a in tiff , v. U N IT E D STATES APPEALS COURT, E A S T E R N DIVISION, et al., D e f e n d a n ts . ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) )
C I V I L ACT. NO. 3:09cv452-TMH
R E C O M M E N D AT IO N OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE and ORDER O n May 19, 2009, Plaintiff Gene Coggins ("Coggins"), a frequent pro se litigant in th is Court, brought suit against the United States Court of Appeals, Eastern Division, as well a s all "Judges and Clerks that have been involved in any case that [Coggins] ha[s] presented to this Court." 1 (Doc. # 1, Compl. at 1). With the complaint, Coggins filed a motion for le a v e to proceed in forma pauperis (doc. # 2). For the purpose of this Recommendation, the C o u rt assumes, without deciding, that Coggins satisfies the economic eligibility criterion for p ro c e ed in g in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). C o g g in s alleges that the named defendants denied him due process of law, improperly c u rta iled his right to utilize the courts, erroneously dismissed prior complaints, refused to s e rv e other complaints, and violated his constitutional rights. According to Coggins, the ju d g e s of the Court of Appeals and of this court have behaved in an improper and corrupt
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.
f a sh io n and have mishandled his prior cases. Coggins contends that he has been attempting to use the Courts to seek a remedy for the violation of his civil rights under the United States C o n stitu tio n , but that the Court and its judges and clerks have fraudulently violated his rights b y how they have handled these other cases. He seeks over three million dollars in damages f ro m the named defendants. He does not seek declaratory or injunctive relief. 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 eith er in law or fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). The court may,
On July 8, 2009, Coggins filed a motion for default judgment (doc. # 3) prior to service of process. The motion is 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.
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. A fair reading of Coggins' complaint reveals that all of the defendant judges' actions t h a t he complains about were judicial acts. Because the defendant judges are all sued for a c tio n s they took while acting in their judicial capacity, they are entitled to absolute im m u n it y. "Judges are entitled to absolute judicial immunity from damages for those acts ta k e n while they are acting in their judicial capacity unless they acted in the `clear absence o f all justification,'" Bolton v. Story, 225 F.3d 1234, 1239 (11 th Cir. 2000) (citations o m itte d ). Accord, Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-57 (1978); Dennis v. Sparks, 449 U .S . 24, 27-29 (1980); Sun v. Forrester, 939 F.2d 924, 925 (11 th Cir. 1991). "This immunity a p p li e s even when the judge's acts are in error, malicious, or were in excess of his or her ju ris d ic tio n ." Id. Whether a judge's actions were made while acting in his or her judicial c a p ac ity depends on whether: (1) the act complained of constitutes a normal judicial f u n c tio n ; (2) the events occurred in the judge's chambers or in open court; (3) the c o n tr o v e r sy 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 or her judicial capacity. See, e.g., Sibley v. L a n d o , 437 F.3d 1067, 1070 (11 th Cir. 2005); Scott v. Hayes, 719 F.2d 1562, 1565 (11 th Cir. 1 9 8 3 ). C o g g in s' allegations against the defendant judges all clearly implicate acts taken in th e ir judicial capacity for which they are 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, 3
if a judge or clerk has erred in rulings or in official court actions, the path for challenging su c h rulings is an appeal to the appropriate appellate court. The law does not subject a court, a judge or clerk to suit by unsuccessful litigants. Thus, Coggins' dispute with the rulings of th e defendant judges in other cases not state a cognizable federal claim. His sole remedy for h i s dissatisfaction with the rulings of the defendant judges is to seek further relief in those c a se s by timely and properly pursuing an appeal of the rulings in the appropriate appellate c o u r t. Because it is clear that Coggins cannot cure this pleading defect, his claims against th e defendant judges must be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) as those c la im s are based on an indisputably meritless legal theory. See Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. To the extent that Coggins' complaint can be liberally read to raise a claim against the C le rk s of the United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit, and the United States District C o u rt for the Middle District of Alabama, claims against these defendants are due to be d ism iss e d . Quasi-judicial immunity bars Coggins' claims against the Courts' Clerks. Quasiju d ic ia l immunity extends to those servants and agents who facilitate the judicial process. S e e , e.g., Kipkirwa v. United States Dist. Ct. for the N. Dist. of Cal., 145 F.3d 1338 (9 th Cir. 1 9 9 8 ) (affirming dismissal of claims against federal judges and clerks on the grounds of a b so lu te judicial immunity and quasi-judicial immunity); Rodriguez v. Weprin, 116 F.3d 62, 6 6 (2 n d Cir. 1997) (extending judicial immunity to clerks of the court for tasks which are ju d ic ia l in nature and an integral part of the judicial process or for administrative functions u n d e rta k e n pursuant to explicit direction of a judicial officer or pursuant to established p ra c tice of the court); Wiggins v. New Mexico State Supreme Court Clerk, 664 F.2d 812, 815 4
(1 0 th Cir. 1981); Awala v. Gold, 2008 WL 540687, *1-2 (S.D. Fla. Feb. 25, 2008 (No. 082 0 2 4 8 -C IV ) (dismissing claims against Clerk of the Court, judges, and the federal district c o u rt itself pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)); Hanner v. United States Gov't., 660 F. Supp. 7 7 , 78 (S.D. Miss. 1986) (recognizing that clerk has quasi-judicial immunity from suit); A n d e rs o n v. United States of America, 1990 WL 183514, *1 (D.D.C. Nov. 13, 1990) (No. 9 0 -2 3 6 8 -L F O ) (dismissing claim against clerk of the court for failure to serve in forma p a u p e ris complaint). Thus, like the claims against the defendant judges, the claims against th e Clerks of the United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit, and the United States D istrict Court for the Middle District of Alabama are due to be dismissed because they are also frivolous and based on an indisputedly meritless legal theory. F u r th e rm o re , any claims Coggins may have against the United States Court of A p p e a ls , Eleventh Circuit, and the United States District Court for the Middle District of A la b a m a are frivolous and based on an indisputably meritless legal theory. As a part of the g o v e rn m e n t of the United States of America, the United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh C irc u it, and the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama are entitled to sovereign immunity which bars suit absent an explicit waiver of that immunity. See, e.g., U n ite d States v. Shaw, 309 U.S. 495, 500-01 (1940) (a suit against the United States or its a g e n cie s is barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity unless the United States gives prior co n sen t to suit). E v e n if the Court were to construe the plaintiff's complaint as alleging a Bivens
a c t i o 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 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' c la im s against the United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit, and the United States D is tric t Court for the Middle District of Alabama are meritless. See also, Accardi v. United Sta te s, 435 F.2d 1239 (3 r d Cir. 1970); Fixel v. United States, 737 F. Supp. 593, 598 (D. Nev. 1 9 9 0 ) (dismissing as frivolous under § 1915 suit against federal district court), aff'd 930 F.2d 2 7 (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
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).
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 `clearly 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." 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 7
o r before August 19, 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 6 th day of August, 2009.
/s/Charles S. Coody CHARLES S. COODY U N IT E D STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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