King v. Nalley
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Theodore D. Chuang on 9/20/2017. (tds, Deputy Clerk)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
DEL VON KING,
Civil Action No. TDC-17-0628
In July 2014, Defendant Robert Nalley, then a judge on the Circuit Court for Charles
County, Maryland, ordered a deputy sheriff to activate the "stun-cuff'
King during a criminal trial in which King was the defendant.
worn by Plaintiff Delvon
The cuff sent thousands of volts
of electricity through King's body, causing him to collapse in the middle of the courtroom and
scream in agony. At the time that the cuff was activated, King was addressing the court and was
not a danger to himself or others.
King has now filed suit against Judge Nalley, seeking compensatory
damages under 42 U.S.C.
for violations of his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendments to the United States Constitution.
Pending before the Court is Judge Nalley's
Motion to Dismiss the Complaint or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment.
reviewed the Complaint and the briefs, the Court finds no hearing is necessary.
Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is GRANTED.
See D. Md.
On July 23, 2014, Judge Nalley was presiding over the jury selection in State v. Delvan
Louis King aka Saamir .lhaleed Khaleel KingAli, No. 08-K-13~001347IN, a criminal case in the
Circuit Court for Charles County, Maryland in which King was on trial.
King, who was
representing himself, initially insisted that his name was Saamir Jhaleed Khaleel KingAli. After
Judge Nalley repeatedly asked King how he wished to be addressed, King agreed to be referred
to as "Mr. KingAli."
King then launched into a prepared argument, asserting that the court
lacked jurisdiction over him because he is a Moorish American and an "aboriginal indigenous
man." Mot. Dismiss Ex. 2 at 5-7, ECF 11-2. When Judge Nalley asked whether King had voir
dire questions to offer, King objected to the question, refused to respond, and instead continued
his argument that the court lacked jurisdiction over him. Judge Nalley twice ordered him to stop,
but King did not comply.
King was wearing a stun-cuff, a device meant to protect the public from violent
defendants by allowing security personnel to apply a physically devastating electric shock from a
distance. After Judge Nalley ordered King to stop his jurisdictional argument to no avail, Judge
Nalley directed the deputy sheriff to activate the stun-cuff, instructing him, "[D]o it. Use it."
Compl. ~ 4, ECF No. 1. Up to that point, King had not raised his voice, moved from counsel
table, or made any aggressive or threatening statements or actions.
The surge of electricity from the stun-cuff caused King to crumple.
He writhed on the
ground, his muscles overwhelmed with painful spasms, and screamed for several minutes. After
a recess, King had to continue his own representation while still feeling the stun-cuff s effects.
For his actions that day, Judge Nalley was disqualified from serving as a judge. Order, In
re: The Honorable Robert C. Nalley (Md. Sept. 5,2014), Mot. Dismiss Ex. 3, ECF No. 11-3. He
was also charged in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland with the
criminal offense of depriving King of his federally protected rights under color of law, in
violation of 18 U.S.C.
Judge Nalley pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 months of
probation, a $5,000 fine, and anger-management counseling.
No. 16-0023-WGC (D. Md. Mar. 31, 2016). This
Judgment, United States v. Nalley,
1983 suit followed.
Judge Nalley has moved to dismiss this case under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6) or alternatively, for summary judgment under Rule 56. He argues that he acted in his
judicial capacity when he ordered the stun-cuffs use and therefore should be protected from suit
by absolute judicial immunity. In opposing the Motion, King asserts that Judge Nalley's order to
use a stun-cuff on a non-threatening, pro se defendant was so unreasonable that it cannot be
deemed a judicial act subject to the protection provided by judicial immunity.
To defeat a motion to dismiss under Rule l2(b)(6), the complaint must allege enough
facts to state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim is
plausible when the facts pleaded allow the Court "to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Legal conclusions or conclusory statements
do not suffice.
The Court must examine the complaint as a whole, consider the factual
allegations in the complaint as true, and construe the factual allegations in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff.
Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of
Comm 'rs of Davidson Cty., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005).
When deciding a motion to dismiss, a court may "take judicial notice of matters of public
record" and may consider exhibits submitted with the motion "so long as they are integral to the
complaint and authentic."
Philips v. Pitt Cty. Mem'l Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009).
Should the court consider exhibits that do not fall into either of these categories, the motion must
be construed as a motion for summary judgment. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d).
With their briefs, the parties have submitted the following exhibits:
(l) the transcript of
the voir dire proceedings during which Judge Nalley ordered the stun-cuffs
use; (2) a video
recording of the moment when the stun-cuff was activated and its aftermath; and (3) the
transcript of Judge Nalley's sentencing hearing in federal court.
properly be considered on a motion to dismiss.
Each of these exhibits may
The transcript and video from the voir dire
proceedings are integral to King's Complaint, and neither party has objected to their authenticity.
The transcript is also a court record subject to judicial notice. See Philips, 572 F.3d at 180; see
also Burgess v. Bait. Police Dep't, No. RDB-15-0834, 2016 WL 795975, *3 n.3 (D. Md. Mar. 1,
2016) (taking judicial notice of an official hearing transcript that was also integral to the
complaint). As for the sentencing hearing transcript, while it is not integral to the Complaint, the
Court will take judicial notice of both the sentencing hearing and the judgment in Judge Nalley's
criminal case. See Fed. R. Evid. 20l(b)(2); Philips, 572 F.3d at 180; see also United States v.
Simpson, No. 93-6781,1996
plea hearing transcript).
WL 329535, *1 (4th Cir. June 7,1996) (taking judicial notice ofa
The Court therefore considers these exhibits and construes the Motion
as a motion to dismiss.
It is firmly established that judges are absolutely immune from civil lawsuits for money
damages when they are exercising the authority vested in them. See Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S.
9, 9-10 (1991) (per curiam) ("A long line of this Court's precedents acknowledges
generally, a judge is immune from a suit for money damages."); King v. Myers, 973 F.2d 354,
356 (4th Cir. 1992); Chu v. Griffith, 771 F.2d 79,81 (4th Cir. 1985). This rule allows judges to
perform their functions without harassment or intimidation and ultimately is a benefit to the
public at large "whose interest it is that the judges should be at liberty to exercise their functions
with independence and without fear of consequences."
Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554 (1967)
(citation omitted); see Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 225 (1988) (tracing the history of
judicial immunity to medieval English common law and explaining that "[b ]esides protecting the
finality of judgments or discouraging inappropriate collateral attacks, ... judicial immunity also
protect [s] judicial independence
by insulating judges from vexatious actions prosecuted by
This immunity extends even to judicial action taken erroneously, maliciously, or In
excess of authority. Mireles, 502 U.S. at 12-13; Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356 (1978);
Pierson, 386 U.S. at 554 ("[I]mmunity
maliciously and corruptly[.]").
applies even when the judge is accused of acting
And necessarily so. Allegations of bad faith or malice normally
"cannot be resolved without engaging in discovery and eventual trial." Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11.
Thus, allowing a damages claim against a judge to proceed past the motion-to-dismiss
even if liability and damages are ultimately avoided, would effectively deny immunity to
malicious and innocent judges alike. See Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985) (noting
that immunity consists of "immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability; and ... it is
effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial").
Judicial immunity therefore can be overcome in only two circumstances.
First, a judge is
denied immunity when not performing a "judicial act"; second, a judge is not immune for an
action "performed in the 'clear absence of all jurisdiction over the subject-matter.'"
F.2d at 356-57 (quoting Stump, 435 U.S. at 356 n.6). King does not argue-nor
Judge Nalley lacked subject matter jurisdiction
over his criminal trial.
The United States
Supreme Court has held that even when a judge's action exceeds judicial authority, if it is taken
in support of and in the course of matters properly before the judge, such behavior "cannot be
said to have been taken in the absence of jurisdiction."
Mireles, 502 U.S. at 13. The Court's
focus is thus on whether, by ordering courtroom security to use excessive force on a criminal
defendant, Judge Nalley performed a judicial act.
To determine whether a particular act is "judicial," courts consider (1) "the nature of the
act itself," specifically, "whether it is a function normally performed by a judge," and (2) "the
expectations of the parties," as reflected in "whether they dealt with the judge in his judicial
capacity." Stump, 435 U.S. at 362.
The first factor, the nature of the act, does not address an action's propriety or lawfulness.
Rather, even if the judge's particular action is improper and in excess of judicial authority, it is
still a judicial act as long as it relates to a "general function" typically performed by a judge.
Mireles, 502 U.S. at 13. For example, in Mireles, the Supreme Court held that a judge was
entitled to judicial immunity after he ordered police officers "to forcibly and with excessive force
seize and bring" an absent attorney to the courtroom, which resulted in the officers using
"unreasonable force and violence" against the attorney.
Id. at 10. The Court concluded that
even though an order to use excessive force is improper and not an action a judge would
normally undertake, because it was taken as part of a "general function normally performed by a
judge," specifically, "directing police officers to bring counsel in a pending case before the
court," it constituted a "judicial act" for purposes of immunity. Id. at 13.
Likewise, Judge Nalley's
improper order to activate the stun-cuff was a judicial act
because it was taken as part of the general function of maintaining order in the courtroom, a
routine and well-known judicial function in Maryland and elsewhere.
The Maryland Code of
Judicial Conduct provides that: "A judge shall require order and decorum in proceedings before
the court." Md. Rules 18-102.8(a). Likewise, the Court of Appeals of Maryland has stated that
"courtroom security is an ultimate determination that rests entirely and solely in the discretion of
the trial judge[.]"
Cooley v. State, 867 A.2d 1065, 1076 (Md. 2005). See also Bowers v. State,
507 A.2d 1072, 1078 (Md. 1986) (stating that the trial judge "is best equipped to decide the
extent to which security measures should be adopted to prevent disruption of the trial" (quoting
United States v. Samuel, 431 F.2d 610, 615 (4th Cir. 1970))).
The Supreme Court has also
recognized this essential judicial function, stating that "trial judges confronted with disruptive,
stubbornly defiant defendants must be given sufficient discretion to meet the
circumstances of each case."
Illinois v. Allen, 397 U.S. 337, 343-44 (1970) (concluding that
"[n]o one formula for maintaining the appropriate courtroom atmosphere will be best in all
situations" and providing a non-exclusive list of constitutionally permissible tactics to control a
As for the second factor, the expectations of the parties, King was a criminal defendant
appearing before Judge Nalley for trial.
Reasonable individuals in King's position would
understand that they were interacting with Judge Nalley in his judicial capacity.
Nalley's order to use the stun-cuff was a judicial act. As Judge Nalley issued that order while he
was presiding over a case for which he had subject matter jurisdiction, judicial immunity applies.
See Mireles, 502 U.S. at 13.
Notably, another federal court, in a strikingly similar case, relied on Mireles to hold that a
Los Angeles County Municipal Court judge was entitled to judicial immunity after she ordered
the use of a "stun belt" on a criminal defendant in her courtroom.
Hawkins v. Comparet-
Cassani, 33 F. Supp. 2d 1244, 1248, 1251 (C.D. Cal. 1999), rev'dinparton
F.3d 1230 (9th Cir. 2001).
other grounds, 251
While the judge asserted that the defendant had "made several
statements out of order and acted in a generally disruptive manner," the defendant alleged that
the judge had sought to silence his speech and had "acted in bad faith and with punitive
intentions." Hawkins, 33 F. Supp. 2d at 1248. The court found that the command to activate the
stun belt was a judicial act because it (l) related to the general judicial function of enforcing
order in court proceedings; and (2) was issued during a hearing on a pending criminal case and
thus was not taken in clear absence of jurisdiction.
See id. at 1250-51.
As Mireles and Hawkins illustrate, the fact that Judge Nalley ultimately exercised his
judicial authority in an unwarranted, unreasonable, and unlawful manner does not prevent the
application of judicial immunity.
Indeed, judicial immunity regularly shields conduct, even
outrageous conduct, which could otherwise be subject to civil liability.
In one case, a judge
received judicial immunity even though she ordered a completely unnecessary strip search and
body-cavity search in view of male law enforcement officers of an elderly woman arrested on a
civil contempt charge. Figueroa-Flores v. Acevedo-Vila, 491 F. Supp. 2d 214,218-19,222-24
(D.P.R. 2007). Another judge received immunity even though he "berated" an attorney "with a
long string of offensive and threatening epithets," including some relating to the attorney's
the attorney with physical harm and jail; and forced the attorney to
publicly recant a prior public complaint about a trial's fairness. Dean v. Shirer, 547 F.2d 227,
228-29, 231 (4th Cir. 1976). Still another judge received judicial immunity after approving the
sterilization of a young woman, who allegedly had mental disabilities, without her knowledge or
consent. See Stump, 435 U.S. at 351-53,362-64.
In the face of such precedent, King's reliance on Gregory v. Thompson, 500 F.2d 59 (9th
Cir. 1974), is misplaced.
court judge unsuccessfully
In Gregory, the plaintiff sought damages under
1983 after a state
ordered the plaintiff to leave the courtroom, then "forced" the
plaintiff "out the door, threw him to the floor in the process, jumped on him, and began to beat
him." Gregory, 500 F.2d at 61. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held
that this assault was not protected by judicial immunity because "[t]he decision to personally
evict someone from a courtroom by the use of physical force is simply not an act of a judicial
nature[.]" Id. at 64. King argues that Gregory applies here because Judge Nalley similarly "used
violent, excessive, and unreasonable force" against King. Opp'n Mot. Dismiss at 13, ECF No.
12. In Gregory, however, the court itself differentiated between a physical assault perpetrated by
the judge's own hands, and an assault conducted, as here, by a security officer acting under the
Gregory, 500 F.2d at 64-65.
As discussed above, the Supreme Court has held
since Gregory that a judge's order to a security officer to use even excessive and unreasonable
force is protected by judicial immunity. Mireles, 502 U.S. at 13. Indeed, the continuing viability
of the distinction identified in Gregory is itself in question, given that Mireles overruled a Ninth
Circuit decision that principally relied on Gregory. See id. at 11; Waco v. Baltad, 934 F.2d 214,
215-16 (9th Cir. 1991).
None of this is to say that Judge Nalley's behavior was lawful or appropriate.
to electrocute King was a shocking misuse of his judicial power.
Nevertheless, our judicial
system has remedies for such misconduct, which include removal from office and criminal
charges, both of which occurred here. But under the doctrine of absolute judicial immunity, such
remedies do not include the payment of civil damages. King's lawsuit must therefore fail.
For the foregoing reasons, the Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary
Judgment, construed as a motion to dismiss, is GRANTED. A separate Order shall issue.
Date: September 20,2017
THEODORE D. C
United States Distri
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