Ruhl v. Spear et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION that dfts' 7 and 14 Motions to Dismiss are due to be granted; plff's 12 request for preliminary injunction and motion to stay proceedings are MOOT. Signed by Judge Abdul K Kallon on 8/28/2015. (YMB)
2015 Aug-28 PM 03:02
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
R. JAMIE RUHL,
CATHI SPEAR, et al.,
Civil Action Number
Plaintiff R. Jamie Ruhl brings this action against Defendants Judge Brent
Craig, Judge Charles Langham, Chief Justice Roy Moore (collectively “the judicial
defendants”), Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, and Cathi Spear. In a
nutshell, Ruhl alleges that the defendants formed a judicial conspiracy to deprive
him of his constitutional rights. Although the structure and reach of the purported
conspiracy are not entirely discernable from Ruhl’s pleadings, it allegedly stems
from Judge Lantham’s order modifying a preexisting child support agreement
between Ruhl and Spear. All of the defendants have filed motions to dismiss, docs.
7 and 14, that are fully briefed, docs. 12, 13, 16, 17, 19, and 201 and ripe for
The court did not consider documents 19 and 20 in ruling on the defendants’ motions because
the parties failed to move for permission to file additional briefs.
review. Additionally, Ruhl has filed a motion to stay the action. 2 Doc. 12. For the
reasons stated below, the motions are GRANTED.
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain “a
short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”
“[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual
allegations,’ but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfullyharmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell
Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Mere “labels and conclusions”
or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” are insufficient.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). “Nor does
a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]’ devoid of ‘further factual
enhancement.’” Id. (citing Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 557).
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits dismissal when a
complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. On a motion to
dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) the court accepts all factual allegations as true. See,
e.g., Grossman v. Nations Bank, N.A., F.3d 1228, 1231 (11th Cir. 2000). However,
legal conclusions unsupported by factual allegations are not entitled to that
Additionally, Spear moves to sanction Ruhl in her motion to dismiss. Doc. 7 at 5–7. Because
“[a] motion for sanctions must be made separately from any other motion,” Fed. R. Civ. P.
11(c)(2), the court will not consider the motion for sanctions.
presumption of truth. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 664. “To 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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citations omitted)
(internal quotation marks omitted). A complaint states a facially plausible claim for
relief “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.
(citation omitted). The complaint must establish “more than a sheer possibility that
a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.; see also Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 555
(“Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.”). Ultimately, this inquiry is a “context-specific task that requires the
reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 679.
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
The following is an account of the Ruhl’s allegations, accepted as true, that
are pertinent to the resolution of the defendants’ motion. Ruhl and Spear are the
parents of a minor child. Doc. 1 at 3. Ruhl filed a paternity suit in Tennessee, and
the trial court entered a child custody order in May 2008. Spear subsequently
moved to Alabama, and sought a modification to the support order in January
2010. Id. at 4. In October 2010, Judge Langham entered an order in the Morgan
County Juvenile Court, incorporating standard visitation into the child custody
order, which was later reversed and dismissed for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction on appeal. Id. at 4–5; see doc 14-4 at 2. Spear subsequently filed
another petition to modify the child custody order in the same court, which Judge
Craig granted. Id. at 5. In June 2012, Ruhl filed a lawsuit against Spear, Judge
Langham, Judge Craig, and others. Doc. 14-1 at 1-2. After the court dismissed that
case, doc. 14-2 at 5, Ruhl filed a lawsuit against Spear and others in the Southern
District of Ohio, which the court dismissed in April 2012. Doc. 14-6. Ruhl filed a
second Ohio lawsuit, this time including Judge Craig, Judge Langham, and Luther
Strange, in July 2013, which the court dismissed in August 2014. Doc. 14-4 at 4.
All three of these suits essentially alleged the existence of a conspiracy among the
judges, attorneys, and Spear.
In this lawsuit, Ruhl brings claims of violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count
I), violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1985 (Count II), unjust enrichment (Count III),
interference with custody (Count IV), violation of child support (Count V), false
imprisonment (Count VI), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count VII),
and failure to enforce child support obligations (Count VIII).3 Doc. 1. Counts I, II,
Ruhl’s complaint also includes a count of “negligent infliction of emotional distress” (Count
IX), which does not exist under Alabama law. See Gideon v. Norfolk S. Corp., 633 So. 2d 453,
454 (Ala. 1994).
IV and VII are brought against Judge Craig, Judge Langham, and Spear 4. Count VI
is solely against Judge Craig and Judge Langham, while Counts III and V are
solely against Spear. Count VIII is brought against the judicial defendants as well
as the Attorney General. Ruhl seeks monetary damages as well as a laundry list of
preliminary injunctions. Ruhl’s claims are due to be dismissed in their entirety for
a number of reasons, which the court will discuss below.
A. The Court Lacks Jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine
The federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. See Kokkonen v.
Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Among the restrictions
placed on federal courts is the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which prohibits federal
courts from exercising jurisdiction over “cases brought by state court losers
complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the
district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and
rejection of those judgments.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544
U.S. 280, 284 (2005). In order for the doctrine to apply, four factors must be met:
(1) the party in federal court is the same as the party in state court, see Roe v.
Alabama 43 F.3d 574, 580 (11th Cir. 1995); (2) the prior state court ruling was a
final or conclusive ruling on the merits, see David Vincent, Inc. v. Broward
Generally, a plaintiff cannot bring a § 1983 claim (Count I) against a private individual.
However, “private defendants can be held liable in a § 1983 action if they act in concert with the
state officials in depriving a plaintiff of his constitutional rights.” Bendiburg v. Dempsey, 909
F.2d 463, 468 (11th Cir. 1990) (internal citations omitted).
County, 200 F.3d 1325, 1332 (11th Cir. 2000); (3) the party seeking relief in
federal court had a reasonable opportunity to raise its claims in the state court
proceeding, see Dale v. Moore, 121 F.3d 624, 626 (11th Cir. 1997); and (4) the
issue before the court was either adjudicated before the court or was inextricably
intertwined with the state court’s judgment, see Goodman ex rel. Goodman v.
Sipos, 259 F.3d 1327, 1332 (11th Cir. 2001).
Ruhl does not contest the first three factors, but rather contends that the
constitutional violations he alleges are not inextricably intertwined with the state
court judgment. “A federal claim is inextricably intertwined with a state court
judgment if the federal claim succeeds only to the extent that the state court
wrongly decided the issues before it.” Id. Counts I, II, IV, V, VI, and VII all
essentially allege that Ruhl was harmed by the state court rulings. If the court were
to hold in Ruhl’s favor on these claims of constitutional violations and grant his
desired relief, it would effectively nullify the state court’s judgment setting the
original custody order. See Powell v. Powell, 80 F.3d 464, 467 (11th Cir. 1996)
(holding that federal court did not have jurisdiction over plaintiff’s claim that state
court ruling was an unconstitutional taking because it was inextricably intertwined
with state court awarding his wife part of his retirement). “Even if the federal court
collateral attack on the state court judgment is premised on the unconstitutionality
of a federal statute,” as Ruhl’s is, “the Rooker-Feldman doctrine still applies.” Id.
Ruhl’s attempts to persuade the court that an exception applies to his claims
are unavailing. His reliance on In re Suns Valley Food Co., 801 F.2d 186 (6th Cir.
1987), for the proposition that the alleged fraudulent conspiracy surrounding the
state law judgment bypasses the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, fails because the
Eleventh Circuit explicitly has declined to adopt the exception he seeks. See
Velazquez v. S. Fla. Fed. Credit Union, No. 12-15222, 2013 WL 5977166 at *4
(11th Cir. 2013). Likewise, Ruhl’s contention that Rooker-Feldman abstention is
inappropriate here because Rooker sought relief solely in equity, while Ruhl seeks
relief in law and equity, is meritless. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 2 (“There is one form of
action–the civil action.”). Accordingly, Counts I, II, IV, V, VI, and VII are due to
be dismissed because the court lacks jurisdiction over them.
Alternatively, even if Rooker-Feldman absention does not apply, the claims
B. Ruhl’s § 1983 and § 1985 Claims are Time-Barred
Ruhl’s § 1983 and § 1985 claims are due to be dismissed because of the two
year statute of limitations. “Under the discovery accrual rule, the discovery of the
injury, not discovery of the other elements of a claim, is what starts the clock.”
Rotella v. Wood, 528 U.S. 549, 555 (2000); see also Rasheed v. McNamara, No.
CIV.A.1:08CV0622TWT, 2008 WL 594763 at *3 (N.D. Ga. 2008) (applying
discovery accrual rule to § 1983 claim). Relevant here, it is undisputed that Ruhl
first filed suit against Judge Craig and Judge Langham in this court in June 2012,
doc. 14-1 at 1–2, at which time he was aware of the defendants’ alleged wrongdoing, and that Judge Craig signed the custody order Ruhl claims is the source of
his injuries in September 2012, at which time the statute of limitations began to
run, doc. 14-5 at 3. In other words, the statute of limitations for Ruhl’s claims
expired in September 2014, seven months before Ruhl initiated the present matter.
To get around the statute, Ruhl contends that his claims are still timely
because he suffers continuing violations of his rights, or alternatively, that the
court should equitably toll the statute of limitations because he mistakenly filed the
claim in Ohio. “Equitable tolling is an extraordinary remedy which is typically
applied sparingly.” Steed v. Head, 219 F.3d 1298, 1300 (11th Cir. 2000) (citing
Irwin v. Dep’t of Veteran’s Affairs, 498 U.S. 89, 96 (1990)). It is not warranted
here because Ruhl had already filed lawsuits in the northern district of Alabama
before filing his Ohio suit, docs. 14-1, 14-3, and either knew or should have known
that Ohio would be an improper venue. See Irwin, 498 U.S. at 96 (“Principles of
equitable tolling . . . do not extend to what is at best a garden variety claim of
excusable neglect.”). Next, with respect to the continuing violation contention, the
crux of Ruhl’s continuing harm assertion is that courts will apply the same
standard he challenges in any action he hypothetically might bring in the future.
“In determining whether to characterize a violation as ‘continuing,’ it is important
to distinguish between the ‘present consequence of a one-time violation’ which
does not extend the limitations period, and ‘a continuation of a violation into the
present,’ which does.” Nat’l. Parks & Conservation Assoc., Inc. v. Tenn. Valley
Auth., 502 F.3d 1316, 1322 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Havens Realty Corp. v.
Coleman, 455 U.S. 363, 380–81 (1982)). The alleged violations of Ruhl’s First,
Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights stem solely from the state court
ruling he seeks review of and the deprivations of his rights that he alleges it
caused. The fact that a subsequent case would apply the same legal standards and
potentially yield the same result does not cause this harm to continue into the
future. Therefore, Counts I and II are due to be dismissed in their entirety.
C. Ruhl Does Not Have Standing to Pursue Criminal Claims
Ruhl alleges in Counts IV and V that the defendants have violated Alabama
Code § 13A-6-35 and the Child Enforcement Support Act of 1992, which
constitute felonious injuries. However, as a private citizen, Ruhl “lacks a judicially
cognizable interest in the prosecution or nonprosecution of another,” and
consequently lacks standing to bring criminal claims in court. Linda R.S. v.
Richard D., 410 U.S. 614, 619 (1973). Ruhl’s reliance on Alabama Code § 6-5-370
to create standing for him to bring these criminal charges in a civil suit is
unavailing because the statute does not create a cause of action for a private
citizen, but merely allows a plaintiff to commence a civil action independent of
any criminal prosecution of the defendant or lack thereof. Bell Aerospace Servs.,
Inc. v. U.S. Aero Servs., Inc., 690 F. Supp. 2d. 1267, 1274 (M.D. Ala. 2010).
Accordingly, Counts IV and V are due to be dismissed.
D. Ruhl Cannot Show Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
Ruhl contends in Count VII that the defendants’ actions constitute
intentional infliction of emotional distress, also known as the tort of outrage.
However, under Alabama law, “the tort of outrage is available only in the most
egregious of circumstances.” Thomas v. BSE Indus. Contractors, Inc., 624 So. 2d
1041, 1044 (Ala. 1993). Indeed, conduct rising to the level of outrage must be “so
extreme and outrageous in degree ‘as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency,
and to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in civilized society.’” Moore
v. Spiller Associated Furniture, Inc., 598 So. 2d 835, 837 (Ala. 1992) (quoting Am.
Road Serv. Co. v. Inmon, 394 So. 2d 361, 365 (Ala. 1981)). Therefore, to state a
claim for outrage, the plaintiff must establish that “defendant’s conduct (1) was
intentional or reckless; (2) was extreme and outrageous; and (3) caused emotional
distress so severe that no reasonable person could be expected to endure it.”
Thomas, 624 So. 2d at 1043. The Alabama Supreme Court has generally
recognized outrage claims for “wrongful conduct in the family-burial context,”
“barbaric methods employed to coerce an insurance settlement,” and “egregious
sexual harassment.” Potts v. Hayes, 771 So. 2d 462, 465 (Ala. 2000) (internal
citations omitted); see Grantham v. Vanderzyl, 802 So. 2d 1077, 1081 (Ala. 2001)
(surgeon throwing patient’s blood on nurse did not rise to level of outrage);
Perkins v. Dean, 570 So. 2d 1217, 129 (Ala. 1990) (extramarital affair between
social worker and plaintiff’s wife did not rise to level of outrage). Ruhl has pleaded
no facts suggesting that he has suffered any mental distress except for conclusory
allegations, nor does the defendants’ alleged conduct rise to the level of being truly
outrageous. Accordingly, Count VII is due to be dismissed.
E. The Judicial Defendants and the Attorney General are Entitled to
The court turns next to the judicial, prosecutorial, and Eleventh Amendment
immunity defenses raised by the judicial defendants and the Attorney General.
1. Judicial Immunity
It is well settled that “[j]udges are entitled to absolute judicial immunity
from damages for those acts taken while they are acting in their official judicial
capacity unless they acted in ‘clear absence of all jurisdiction.’” Bolin v. Story, 225
F.3d 1234, 1239 (11th Cir. 2000) (citing Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356–57
(1978); Simmons v. Conger, 86 F.3d 1080, 1084–85 (11th Cir. 1996)). Absolute
immunity is designed to free the judicial process from the harassment and
intimidation associated with litigation. Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478, 479 (1991).
Besides protecting the finality of judgments and discouraging inappropriate
collateral attacks, judicial immunity also protects judicial independence by
insulating judges from vexatious actions prosecuted by disgruntled litigants.
Bradley v. Fisher, 80 U.S. 335, 347 (1871). “[T]he nature of the adjudicative
function requires a judge frequently to disappoint some of the most intense and
ungovernable desires that people can have.” Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 226
(1988). Indeed, “[i]f judges were personally liable for erroneous decisions, the
resulting avalanche of suits, most of them frivolous but vexatious, would provide
powerful incentive for judges to avoid rendering decisions likely to provoke such
manifestly detract independent and impartial adjudication.” Id. at 226–27 (internal
Accordingly, the Supreme Court has set forth a two-part test for determining
when a judge is liable for damages: “(1) whether the judge dealt with the plaintiff
in a judicial capacity, and (2) whether the judge acted in the clear absence of all
jurisdiction.” Simmons, 86 F.3d at 1084–85 (citing Stump, 435 U.S. at 362). Ruhl’s
complaint asserts the judicial defendants’ rulings harmed him, making it clear that
they interacted with him in their judicial capacity. Moreover, he does not argue that
any of the judicial defendants acted in the absence of jurisdiction, but rather assails
judicial immunity itself, arguing that it unconstitutionally creates “titles of
nobility” for judges. The court disagrees, and finds that judicial immunity applies.
Accordingly, all claims against the judicial defendants (Counts I, II, IV, VI, VII,
and VIII) are due to be dismissed.
2. Eleventh Amendment Immunity
Alternatively, all of Ruhl’s claims against the judicial defendants, as well as
his claims against the Attorney General, are due to be dismissed because these
defendants are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. Under the Eleventh
Amendment, “[t]he judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to
extend to any suit . . . against one of the United States by citizens of another state,
or by citizens or subjects of any foreign state.” U.S. Const. amend. XI. This
doctrine extends to cover a state official sued in his or her official capacity where
the plaintiff seeks money damages, because such lawsuits are considered suits
against the state itself. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985); Carr v. City
of Florence, Ala., 916 F.2d 1521, 1524 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Pennhurst State
Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984)). Therefore, to the extent that
the judicial defendants and the Attorney General were acting in their official
capacity “pursuant to the power [they] possessed by state authority,” Edwards v.
Wallace Cmty. Coll., 49 F.3d 1517, 1522–23 (11th Cir. 1995) (internal citations
omitted), and in the absence of any claim for prospective relief against them, all
claims against them (Counts I, II, IV, VI, VII and VIII for the judicial defendants
and Count VIII for the Attorney General) are due to be dismissed. 5
The claims against the Attorney General also fail because “prosecutors have absolute immunity
for all activities that are ‘intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process.’”
Rehberg v. Paulk, 611 F.3d 828, 837 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, 555
G. Ruhl Cannot Show Unjust Enrichment
The court turns finally to the sole remaining claim, Count III, which is
asserted against Spear. Ruhl contends that Spear has been unjustly enriched by her
failure to pay court-ordered support costs and by the cost of litigation Ruhl has
incurred across his various lawsuits. “The doctrine of unjust enrichment is an old
equitable remedy permitting the court in equity and in good conscience to disallow
one to be enriched at the expense of another.” Avis Rent A Car Sys., Inc. v.
Heilman, 876 So. 2d 1111, 1123 (Ala. 2003). “In order for a plaintiff to prevail on
a claim of unjust enrichment, the plaintiff must show that the defendant holds
money which, in equity and good conscience, belongs to the plaintiff or holds
money which was improperly paid to defendant because of mistake or fraud.”
Mantiply v. Mantiply, 951 So. 2d 638, 654 (Ala. 2004) (internal citations and
quotation marks omitted). “One is unjustly enriched if [her] retention of a benefit
would be unjust.” Id. To demonstrate this unjustness, the plaintiff must show that
U.S. 335, 341 (2009)). The immunity centers on “the nature of the function performed, not the
identity of the actor who performed it.” Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 269 (1993).
Accordingly, absolute prosecutorial immunity “extends to a prosecutor’s acts undertaken . . . in
preparing for the initiation of judicial proceedings or for trial, and which occur in the course of
his role as an advocate for the State.” Jones v. Cannon, 174 F.3d 1271, 1281 (11th Cir. 1999). By
Ruhl’s own admission, “Defendant Luther Strange is made a party defendant in his official
capacity as Attorney General of the State of Alabama and pursuant to his obligation to defend the
laws of the State of Alabama.” Doc. 16 at 12. The only claim alleged against the Attorney
General is that he has failed to enforce Spear’s child support obligations, which obviously
addresses his official function. Doc. 1 at 20–21. Thus, Ruhl tacitly concedes that the Attorney
General is entitled to prosecutorial immunity.
either “(1) the donor of the benefit . . . acted under a mistake of fact or in
misreliance on a right or duty, or (2) the recipient of the benefit . . . engaged in
some unconscionable conduct, such as fraud, coercion, or abuse of a confidential
relationship.” Id. at 654–55 (internal quotation marks omitted).
Ruhl, however, has not alleged that Spear has received any benefits. Rather,
he asserts that Spear’s failure to pay court-ordered support and his own legal fees
provides a basis for his claim. He cites to no cases that stand for the proposition
that failure to pay qualifies as a form of unjust enrichment under Alabama law, nor
has the court’s independent research uncovered any. However, even assuming that
Ruhl has sufficiently alleged that Spear has received a benefit, he still fails to
demonstrate that there was either a mistake of fact or unconscionable conduct
present. See Mantiply, 951 So. 3d at 654–55. Accordingly, Count III is also due to
For the reasons explained above, namely that the court lacks jurisdiction
over all claims alleging harm resulting from state court judgments, that the statute
of limitations for the § 1983 and § 1985 actions has elapsed, that Ruhl lacks
standing to bring criminal charges, that the judicial defendants and the Attorney
General are entitled to immunity against all claims brought against them, and that
Ruhl has failed to plead his remaining claims against Spear, the defendants’
motions to dismiss are granted. Accordingly, Ruhl’s request for a preliminary
injunction and his motion to stay proceedings is moot. The court will enter a
separate order consistent with this opinion.
Done the 28th day of August, 2015.
ABDUL K. KALLON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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