Jiggetts v. Motz et al
MEMORANDUM. Signed by Judge Ellen L. Hollander on 6/29/2017. (c/m 6/30/2017)(ko, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
CATHERINE BLAKE, and
Civil Action No. ELH-17-1712
Plaintiff Alexander Jiggetts, who is self-represented, has filed a civil rights complaint —
the seventh in the space of about a month — against Judge J. Frederick Motz, Chief Judge
Catherine Blake, Clerk of Court Felicia Cannon, and the United States Government. ECF 1. He
takes issue with the assignment of his cases to Judge Motz. Id.
The complaint was filed along with a motion to proceed in forma pauperis. ECF 2. The
motion shall be granted.
Since 2006, Jiggetts has filed between 30 and 50 cases in this Court, and apparently all
but two have been assigned to Judge Motz. Id. Jiggetts complains that Judge Motz has either
dismissed the cases without even requiring service, or he has ruled in favor of the state
defendants. Id. Further, Jiggetts maintains that some of the orders of dismissal contain offensive
comments regarding Jiggetts‘ mental status, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
According to Jiggetts, if his cases were not automatically assigned to Judge Motz, he
would have an opportunity to redress what he feels are legitimate grievances. Instead, Judge
Motz ―always sides with the state because he used to work for the state.‖ Id. Moreover, he
complains that Judge Motz ―has already made up his mind‖ as to plaintiff‘s cases, and the
assignment of these cases to Judge Motz ―segregates‖ plaintiff and is ―a form of slavery which
was outlawed in the constitution.‖ Id.
Jiggetts does not seek monetary damages, but states he is suing in order ―to stop‖ this
―pattern of segregating and discriminative behavior‖ and ―also for the government to assign
more judges to this District Court.‖ Id. And, Jiggetts seeks an injunction prohibiting the
assignment of his cases to Judge Motz. ECF 1 at 2.
Jiggetts acknowledges that he does not know how cases are assigned in this Court. Id.
Moreover, he does not know which one of the three named individual defendants is responsible
for assigning cases, and wants the case assignment policy explained to him. Id.
The filing of a complaint in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1) permits an
indigent litigant to commence an action in this court without prepaying the filing fee. However,
to guard against possible abuses of this privilege, the statute requires dismissal of any claim that
is frivolous or malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and (ii).
This court is mindful of its obligation to construe liberally the submissions of a selfrepresented litigant. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Moreover, in evaluating
the complaint, the factual allegations are assumed to be true. Pardus, 551 U.S. at 93 (citing Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555–56 (2007)). Nonetheless, liberal construction
does not mean that the court may ignore a clear failure in the complaint to allege facts that set
forth a cognizable claim. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990); see
also Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985) (stating a district court
may not ―conjure up questions never squarely presented.‖).
In making this determination,
however, the court ―must hold the pro se complaint to less stringent standards than pleadings
drafted by attorneys and must read the complaint liberally.@ White v. White, 886 F. 2d 721, 722723 (4th Cir. 1989).
The administrative assignment of cases to federal judges on this court does not implicate
the Eighth Amendment, nor does it constitute slavery. The case assignment system does not give
rise to a claim.
The heart of the complaint concerns the assignment of Judge Motz to Jiggetts‘ cases.
Jiggetts seeks to bar Judge Motz from handling his cases. Put another way, he seeks the recusal
of Judge Motz.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §144, recusal can be considered whenever a party to any
proceeding files a sufficient affidavit stating that the judge before whom a case is assigned has a
personal bias or prejudice either against that party or in favor of another party. Another section
of the code, 28 U.S.C. §455, requires a federal judge to recuse himself ―in any proceeding in
which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.‖ Any alleged bias ―must stem from an
extrajudicial source and result in an opinion on the merits on some basis other than what the
judge learned from his participation in the case.‖ Shaw v. Martin, 733 F.2d 304, 308 (4th Cir.
1984) (citing United States v. Grinnell Corp., 384 U.S. 563, 583 (1966)). And, due process may
sometimes demand recusal even when a judge has no actual bias if, for instance, ―‗the
probability of actual bias on the part of the judge or decision maker is too high to be
constitutionally tolerable.‘‖ Rippo v. Baker, ____ U.S. ____, 137 S. Ct. 905 (2017) (citation
omitted); see also Williams v. Pennsylvania, 579 U.S. ____, 136 S. Ct. 1899, 1905 (2016).
In the future, as in the past, Jiggetts is entitled to file a motion for recusal of the judge
assigned to hear his case, so long as there is a legitimate basis for him to do so. However,
disagreement with the substance of decisions issued by a judge is not a basis for recusal. Rather,
it is a basis for an appeal. If Jiggetts was unhappy with Judge Motz‘s rulings, he had the right to
pursue his grievances through appellate review. For example, if Jiggetts believes he filed a
meritorious claim that was improperly dismissed, an appeal to the Court of Appeals for the
Fourth Circuit is the appropriate remedy.
Moreover, the doctrine of judicial immunity shields judges from monetary claims against
them, in both their official and individual capacities. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 9–10 (1991)
(per curiam). This doctrine protects a judge from suit by a litigant unhappy with the judge‘s
comments in a judicial ruling.
Judicial immunity provides absolute immunity from suit, so long as the alleged conduct
was taken in the judge‘s judicial capacity. Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11. In Stump v. Sparkman, 435
U.S. 349, 355-56 (1978), the Supreme Court said: ―[J]udges of courts of superior or general
jurisdiction are not liable to civil actions for their judicial acts, even when such acts are in excess
of their jurisdiction, and are alleged to have been done maliciously or corruptly.‖ See also Dean
v. Shirer, 547 F.2d 227, 231 (4th Cir. 1976) (a judge may not be attacked for exercising judicial
authority even if done improperly); Green v. North Carolina, No. 4:08–CV–135–H, 2010 WL
3743767, at *3 (E.D.N.C. Sept. 21, 2010) (unpublished) (claims against a judicial officer barred
by judicial immunity).
In Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547 (1967), the United States Supreme Court granted
certiorari to consider whether a judge was liable for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for an
unconstitutional conviction. The Court explained the rationale for judicial immunity, id. at 55354:
Few doctrines were more solidly established at common law than the immunity of
judges from liability for damages for acts committed within their judicial
jurisdiction ... This immunity applies even when the judge is accused of acting
maliciously and corruptly, and it ―is not for the protection or benefit of a
malicious or corrupt judge, but for the benefit of the public, whose interest it is
that the judges should be at liberty to exercise their functions with independence
and without fear of consequences‖... It is a judge's duty to decide all cases within
his jurisdiction that are brought before him, including controversial cases that
arouse the most intense feelings in the litigants. His errors may be corrected on
appeal, but he should not have to fear that unsatisfied litigants may hound him
with litigation charging malice or corruption. Imposing such a burden on judges
would contribute not to principled and fearless decision-making but to
Accordingly, any characterization of Jiggetts‘ claims by Judge Motz that were offensive
to Jiggetts are statements protected from civil liability by the doctrine of judicial immunity.
For all these reasons, the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted. Therefore, it must be dismissed.
A separate Order follows.
Date: June 29, 2017
Ellen L. Hollander
United States District Judge
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