Walton v. Rendlen, III
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER. (see order for details) IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that "Defendants Motion to Dismiss" [ECF No. 17 ] is GRANTED. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff's two tortious interference with contract claims (Counts I and II) shall be DISMISSED, with prejudice. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff's three tortious interference with business expectancy claims (Counts III, IV, and V) shall be DISMISSED, with prejudice. Signed by District Judge E. Richard Webber on 09/12/2014. (CBL)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
ELBERT A. WALTON, JR.,
CHARLES E. RENDLEN, III,
No. 4:14CV00846 ERW
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This matter comes before the Court on “Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss” [ECF No. 17].
Plaintiff Elbert Walton, Jr. initiated this lawsuit by filing a Petition, styled Elbert A.
Walton, Jr. v. Charles E. Rendlen, III, in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis on April 14,
2014, alleging tortious interference with contract and tortious interference with business
expectancy. At all times pertinent to this matter, Charles E. Rendlen, III was a duly appointed
judge for the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Missouri (hereafter
referred to as “Bankruptcy Court”).
On May 2, 2014, Judge Rendlen removed the Petition to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1446(a) and 1442(a)(3). On May 6, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand Case to State
Court (and Memorandum in Support) [ECF No. 3] and a First Amended Petition (hereafter “First
Amended Complaint”) [ECF No. 4]. In response, Judge Rendlen filed his Memorandum in
Opposition [ECF No. 5]. Upon consideration of Plaintiff’s Amended Motion to Remand [ECF
No. 6], Judge Rendlen’s Memorandum in Opposition [ECF No. 7], and Plaintiff’s Reply [ECF
No. 9], this Court issued an Order denying Plaintiff’s Amended Motion to Remand, on June 10,
2014 [ECF No. 13].
On July 31, 2014, Judge Rendlen filed the pending Motion to Dismiss for failure to state
a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (FRCP)
12(b)(6) [ECF No. 17]. Specifically, Judge Rendlen contends judicial immunity bars Walton’s
claims. For purposes of this Motion to Dismiss, the Court accepts as true the following facts
alleged in Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint.
Great Rivers Habitat Alliance v. Fed.
Emergency Mgmt. Agency, 615 F.3d 985, 988 (8th Cir. 2010).
In May 2013, James Robinson retained Plaintiff to represent him as defense counsel in a
“contested matter” pending in the Bankruptcy Court. Plaintiff has since appeared as Robinson’s
attorney in the contested matter, appearing at various hearings and making filings with the
Bankruptcy Court. Judge Rendlen was and continues to be the judicial officer presiding over the
contested matter, and thus knew Robinson employed Plaintiff as counsel. At some point1 during
the proceedings, Plaintiff moved for recusal of Judge Rendlen, based on bias, prejudice, and lack
of impartiality. At another point, Judge Rendlen issued sanctions against Robinson.
Eventually, an “adversarial case related to [the] contested matter”2 arose, and in
December 2013, four defendants in that case (James Robinson; Critique Services, LLC; Beverly
Diltz; and Renee Mayweather) retained Plaintiff to represent them in their defense. However,
“Plaintiff entered special and limited appearance as attorney for [these defendants] in said
adversarial case, solely for purposes of filing a response to said Order to Show Cause, filed a
special response thereto, and in addition appeared specially, without submission to the personal
The Court is forced to use this vague chronological signal multiple times because, with the
exception of two specific dates, Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint fails to provide any
indication of when the events giving rise to this lawsuit occurred.
ECF No. 4 at ¶ 28. Plaintiff uses the phrases “adversarial case” and “contested matter”
throughout the First Amended Complaint to differentiate between the two cases.
jurisdiction of the court, at a hearing held on said Order to Show Cause”3 [ECF No. 4 at ¶ 31].
During the hearing, Plaintiff argued the adversarial case should not be transferred to Judge
Rendlen, on grounds of bias, prejudice, and lack of impartiality. The presiding judge transferred
the adversarial case to Judge Rendlen, and thus, Judge Rendlen knew of the defendants’ hiring of
Plaintiff. Robinson, Diltz, and Mayweather “had advised” Plaintiff they “intended to retain”
Plaintiff to represent them in defense of the adversarial case [ECF No. 4 at ¶¶ 48, 62, 77]. At
some point, the relevant parties for both the contested matter and adversarial case entered into
settlement negotiations;4 the sanctions Judge Rendlen had issued against Robinson were one
subjects of negotiation in both matters [ECF No. 4 at ¶¶ 10, 12, 35, 37].
In conjunction with the settlement negotiations, Judge Rendlen directed a member of his
court staff to deliver a message “to the Chapter 7 trustee presiding over the underlying
bankruptcy case with directions, instructions, and orders that said Chapter 7 trustee deliver said
communications to Robinson, Critique, Diltz and Mayweather as well as to the other parties to
the [contested and] adversarial case matter[s] and counsel for the parties including . . . Plaintiff”
[ECF No. 4 at ¶¶ 41, 16]. This communication “stated that in order for the sanctions that had
been issued by the court to be withdrawn that as a part of the terms of the settlement that must be
agreed upon by the parties, Robinson had to terminate Walton as his counsel and could not retain
At that point, a judicial officer other than Judge Rendlen was presiding over the adversarial
case, and prior to service of process on the four defendants, said judicial officer “issued an Order
to Show Cause why the adversarial case should not be transferred to [Judge Rendlen], since he
was presiding over the underlying Bankruptcy case, as provided under the local rules of the
Bankruptcy Court” [ECF No. 4 at ¶ 30].
Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint does not explicitly address whether settlement
negotiations for the contested matter and adversarial case occurred at the same place and time.
However, the Court has inferred the negotiations were, in fact, jointly held, based on statements
made in the First Amended Complaint (specifically, that both Diltz and Mayweather were
“present in and participated in the settlement negotiations as to the adversary case, as well as said
contested matter, when the unsolicited . . . communication . . . was delivered[.]”) [ECF No. 4 at
¶¶ 64, 79].
Walton to provide legal services on any cases in which Robinson was a party in the future” [ECF
No. 4 at ¶ 18]. The communication also demanded Robinson apologize for “filing the Motion
for Recusal and the other Motions and appeals filed in Robinson’s defense in [the] contested
matter, as a condition or term for the parties settling the case and effecting the lifting of sanctions
issued against Robinson” [ECF No. 4 at ¶ 25].
As a result of this communication, Robinson terminated Plaintiff’s representation as his
defense counsel in the contested matter. Similarly, Robinson, Critique, Diltz, and Mayweather
terminated Plaintiff’s limited representation as their defense counsel in the adversarial case.
Further, Robinson, Diltz, and Mayweather advised Plaintiff they would not retain him for a
general appearance in the adversarial matter. Thus, Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint alleges
Judge Rendlen “intentionally, willfully, purposefully[,] and with malice aforethought” tortiously
interfered with Plaintiff’s contracts with Robinson, Critique, Diltz, and Mayweather. The First
Amended Complaint further alleges Judge Rendlen “maliciously” interfered with Plaintiff’s
business expectancies with Robinson, Diltz, and Mayweather [ECF No. 4 at ¶¶ 13, 38, 53, 67,
82]. Plaintiff seeks damages for loss of legal fees, as well as punitive damages for Judge
Rendlen’s “intentional, willful, purposeful, and malicious conduct” [ECF No. 4 at ¶¶ 26, 46, 55].
Judge Rendlen moves to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief
can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (FRCP) 12(b)(6).
Under FRCP 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a claim for “failure to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted.” The notice pleading standard of FRCP 8(a)(2) requires a
plaintiff to give “a short and plain statement showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” To
meet this standard and to survive a FRCP 12(b)(6) 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.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotations and citation omitted). This
requirement of facial plausibility means the factual content of the plaintiff’s allegations must
“allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.” Cole v. Homier Distrib. Co., 599 F.3d 856, 861 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678). Courts must assess the plausibility of a given claim with reference to the plaintiff’s
allegations as a whole, not in terms of the plausibility of each individual allegation. Zoltek Corp.
v. Structural Polymer Grp., 592 F.3d 893, 896 n.4 (8th Cir. 2010) (internal citation omitted).
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.
The Court must accept the factual allegations in the Complaint as true and grant all
reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Lustgraaf v. Behrens, 619 F.3d 867, 87273 (8th Cir. 2010). However, the Court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion
couched as a factual allegation.” Carton v. Gen. Motor Acceptance Corp., 611 F.3d 451, 454
(8th Cir. 2010) (internal citation omitted). Where the allegations on the face of the complaint
show “there is some insuperable bar to relief, dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate.”
Young v. St. John’s Mercy Health Sys., No. 10-824, 2011 WL 9155, at *4 (E.D. Mo. Jan. 3,
2011) (internal citation omitted).
The First Amended Complaint raises two claims of tortious interference with contract and
three claims of tortious interference with business expectancies.
Judge Rendlen moves to
dismiss all claims on the basis of judicial immunity. For reasons stated infra, the Court shall
grant the Motion to Dismiss.
Generally, a judge is immune from suits for money damages. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S.
9 (1991) (per curiam). As with other forms of official immunity, judicial immunity provides
immunity not only from the assessment of damages, but also from suit itself. Id. at 11. Further,
“allegations of bad faith or malice” do not overcome judicial immunity, and the immunity
applies “even when the judge is accused of acting maliciously or corruptly.” Id.; Pierson v. Ray,
386 U.S. 547, 554 (1967). “A judge is immune from suit . . . in all but two narrow sets of
circumstances.” Schottel v. Young, 687 F.3d 370, 373 (8th Cir. 2012). First, judges do not enjoy
immunity for “nonjudicial action, i.e., actions not taken in the judge’s judicial capacity.” Id.
Second, judges are not immune for actions “taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction,”
even if such actions are judicial in nature. Id. Accordingly, the bulk of Judge Rendlen’s
Memorandum in Support of this pending motion argues his conduct does not fall into either of
these two exception categories.
First, Judge Rendlen contends his actions in communicating how Robinson could satisfy
the sanctions were judicial in nature. The Court agrees. Determining whether an act is “judicial”
relates to “the nature of the act itself.” Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 362 (1978). “An act is
a judicial act if it is one normally performed by a judge and if the complaining party is dealing
with the judge in his judicial capacity.” Birch v. Mazander, 678 F.2d 754, 756 (8th Cir. 1982).
Here, the allegations in the First Amended Complaint describe Judge Rendlen
communicating his determination of how Robinson’s court-imposed sanctions (from a case over
which Judge Rendlen was presiding) could be satisfied.
Clearly, such determinations and
communications are activities normally performed by a judge in his or her judicial capacity. The
fact Judge Rendlen chose an informal means of communication does not inherently make his
conduct “non-judicial.” See Stump, 435 U.S. at 362-63 (“Because Judge Stump performed the
type of act normally performed only by judges and because he did so in his capacity as a Circuit
Court Judge, we find no merit to respondents’ argument that the informality with which he
proceeded rendered his action non[-]judicial and deprived him of his absolute immunity.”);
Birch, 678 F.2d at 756 (“We conclude that neither the possible commission of procedural errors
nor the informality of the proceedings is sufficient to deprive Judge Mazander of immunity with
respect to plaintiff’s claim for damages.”). Nor does delivery of Judge Rendlen’s message by his
staff member require this Court to find Judge Rendlen acted non-judicially. See Mireles, 502
U.S. at 13 (“Nor does the fact that Judge Mireles’ order was carried out by police officers
somehow transform his action from ‘judicial’ to ‘executive’ in character.”).
Finally, this Court has previously found Judge Rendlen’s alleged sanctions message to be
judicial in nature. In denying Plaintiff’s Amended Motion to Remand, the Court stated:
Here, the First Amended Petition alleges Judge Rendlen advised the sanctions
would be withdrawn if Robinson terminated Walton and refrained from hiring
him in the future. These sanctions were court-imposed, in the course of ongoing
litigation over which Judge Rendlen presided. Likewise, the settlement
negotiations pertained to ongoing litigation over which Judge Rendlen presided.
Clearly, these allegations describe judicial acts.
ECF No. 13 at 8.
Although Plaintiff’s Memorandum in Opposition to this Motion to Dismiss does not
expressly discuss the case under the framework of judicial immunity exceptions, pieces of
Plaintiff’s argument can be broadly construed to fall into the “judicial acts” and “complete
absence of all jurisdiction” categories.5 Presumably, regarding the “judicial act” issue, Plaintiff’s
Plaintiff’s Memorandum provides three argument headings. The Court characterizes the first as
arguing Judge Rendlen’s actions were non-judicial in nature. The Court discusses the second
first argument heading states, “Defendant Was Not Exercising His Official Responsibilities
When He Sent A Message To [Plaintiff’s] Clients Urging That They Terminate [Plaintiff] as
Their Legal Counsel” [ECF No. 19 at 6]. However, Plaintiff spends the entirety of this portion
of his Memorandum arguing against the removal of this case to federal court,6 an issue
previously ruled upon by the Court [ECF No. 19 at 6-8]. Plaintiff’s main source of legal support
on this point is Harris v. Harvey (605 F.2d 330 (7th Cir. 1979)),7 a case this Court has previously
found to be unpersuasive and “highly distinguishable on its facts” from the case at hand [ECF
No. 13 at 9]. As best the Court can discern, Plaintiff’s only reference to the relevant issue
(“judicial acts”) is found where, in quoting Harvey, Plaintiff adds emphasis to the portion of the
opinion where the Seventh Circuit determined a judge’s actions were not judicial and held him
“liable for his extra judicial acts” [ECF No. 19 at 8]. This Court has already denied Plaintiff’s
Motion to Remand, and need not address for a second time Plaintiff’s arguments against
removal. Further, to the extent Plaintiff’s discussion of Harvey provides an argument for finding
argument heading in the context of whether Judge Rendlen acted in the “complete absence of all
jurisdiction.” Plaintiff’s third argument heading states, “Defendant’s Holding of Judicial Office
Supplies Necessary Element of Coercion Though He Acted Outside the Scope of His Official
Duties.” Although this heading would appear to introduce an analysis of the “judicial act” issue,
the entire section is devoted to an argument based on the definition of “extortion” under the
Hobbs Act (18 U.S.C. § 1951). Because this statutory provision is irrelevant to the narrow issue
of judicial immunity from a damages claim, the Court need not address the argument presented
under the third heading.
“Judicial Immunity is an affirmative defense, not a cause of action, and thus not a federal claim
removable from state court to federal district court [ECF No. 19 at 8].
In that case, a Wisconsin judge made repeated racially charged remarks about the plaintiff. Id.
at 333-36. He wrote defamatory letters on official stationery and accused the plaintiff of being
“a fixer, briber, and a sycophant.” Id. at 334, 337. He was “critical” of the plaintiff and “called
for action to be taken against him.” Id. at 336. Furthermore, the events in Harvey occurred
“over the course of more than a year,” and the judge’s acts “involved . . . repeated
communications to the press and to city officials[.]” Id. at 336. The Seventh Circuit concluded
the judge was not entitled to judicial immunity because the acts at issue were not “to the
expectations of the parties” and because the parties did not deal with the judge in his judicial
capacity. Id. (internal quotations omitted).
Judge Rendlen’s actions to be non-judicial, the Court again finds Harvey unpersuasive and
distinguishable on its facts.8
Therefore, the Court finds the conduct of Judge Rendlen alleged in Plaintiff’s First
Amended Complaint constitutes judicial acts.
Complete Absence of All Jurisdiction
Second, Judge Rendlen argues his conduct in communicating how Robinson could satisfy
the sanctions did not occur in the complete absence of all jurisdiction. Again, the Court agrees.
“A judge will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in error, was done
maliciously, or was in excess of his authority; rather, he will be subject to liability only when he
has acted in the clear absence of all jurisdiction.” Stump, 435 U.S. at 356-57 (internal quotations
In determining the applicability of judicial immunity, “the scope of the judge’s
jurisdiction must be construed broadly[.]” Id. at 356. “If judicial immunity means anything, it
means that a judge ‘will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in error . . .
or was in excess of his authority.’” Mireles, 502 U.S. at 12-13 (quoting Stump, 435 U.S. at 356).
Further, “[A]n action – taken in the very aid of the judge’s jurisdiction over a matter before him
– cannot be said to have been taken in the absence of jurisdiction.” Schottel, 687 F.3d at 373
(internal quotations omitted, emphasis in original).
Here, Judge Rendlen had the authority to impose sanctions on Robinson. Federal Rule of
Bankruptcy Procedure (FRBP) 9011(c)(1)(B) empowers bankruptcy courts to “impose sanctions
on its own initiative.” See In re Young, 507 B.R. 286, 291-92 (B.A.P. 8th Cir. 2014). Similarly,
Again, Plaintiff’s organization and phrasing of his argument leave some uncertainty as to
exactly which aspect of the judicial immunity framework Plaintiff seeks to analyze with this
discussion. Therefore, to the extent Plaintiff intended this portion of his Memorandum to argue
Judge Rendlen acted in the complete absence of jurisdiction, the Court similarly finds Harvey to
Bankruptcy Code section 105(a) provides bankruptcy courts “with authority to ‘issue any order,
process, or judgment that is necessary or appropriate to carry out the provisions of’ the
Bankruptcy Code, and allows the court to ‘tak[e] action or mak[e] any determination necessary
or appropriate to . . . prevent an abuse of process.’” In re Young, 507 B.R. at 292; 11 U.S.C. §
105(a). Finally, a bankruptcy court may possess “inherent power” to sanction “abuse litigation
practices.” In re Young, 507 B.R. at 292 (quoting Law v. Siegel, 134 S.Ct. 1188, 1194 (2014)).
Clearly, in communicating information relating to the satisfaction of sanctions he had
imposed earlier, Judge Rendlen did not act in the complete absence of all jurisdiction. Having
had jurisdiction to impose the sanctions in the case before him, Judge Rendlen’s message to
Robinson regarding those sanctions was certainly delivered “in aid” of the Bankruptcy Court’s
jurisdiction. Once again, this Court has already weighed in on the jurisdiction question. In
denying Plaintiff’s Amended Motion to Remand, the Court stated, “Based on the face of
[Plaintiff’s] allegations, the Court easily concludes Judge Rendlen’s alleged actions were ‘in the
very aid’ of his jurisdiction, which included sanctions orders issued in an ongoing matter over
which he presided” [ECF No. 13 at 9].
Plaintiff’s second argument heading in his Memorandum in Opposition states,
“Defendant Was Pretending to be Acting Under Color of Office and Right Though He Had No
Such Right to Demand the Termination of Plaintiff as Legal Counsel to His Clients” [ECF No.
19 at 9 (emphasis added to explain the Court’s characterization of this argument as relating to the
“complete absence of all jurisdiction” issue)]. Again, Plaintiff includes a lengthy quotation from
the Harvey opinion, this time adding emphasis to the line about the “defendant act[ing] under the
pretense of his standing as a county judge” [ECF No. 19 at 9]. Plaintiff’s short application of
Harvey to the present case simply states Judge Rendlen “acted not under actual color of law or
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office but under the pretense of his standing as a bankruptcy judge, and brought to bear his
influence as a bankruptcy judge upon litigants in his court” [ECF No. 19 at 9]. Once again, it is
unclear exactly which judicial immunity exception Plaintiff wishes to prove here. If anything,
Plaintiff’s own words (“his influence as a bankruptcy judge upon litigants in his court”) do not
seem inconsistent with the Court’s position that Judge Rendlen’s actions related to his
jurisdiction over the litigants, their case, and the relevant sanctions. To the extent Plaintiff’s
second discussion of Harvey provides an argument for finding Judge Rendlen acted in the
“complete absence of all jurisdiction,” the Court again finds Harvey unpersuasive and
distinguishable on its facts.9
Therefore, the Court finds Judge Rendlen did not act in the complete absence of all
Because Judge Rendlen engaged in judicial actions and did not act in complete absence
of all jurisdiction, he qualifies for judicial immunity from Plaintiff’s suit for damages. Although
Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint emphasizes the “maliciousness” of Judge Rendlen’s alleged
conduct,10 “allegations of bad faith or malice” do not overcome judicial immunity, and the
immunity applies “even when the judge is accused of acting maliciously or corruptly.” Mireles
502 U.S. at 11; Pierson, 386 U.S. at 554. Judges enjoy absolute immunity from liability for
“judicial acts even if [their] exercise of authority is flawed by the commission of grave
procedural errors.” Stump, 435 U.S. at 359. Exercising jurisdiction in an erroneous manner,
however, may affect the validity of the judge’s actions, but does not necessarily “‘make the act
Alternatively, to the extent Plaintiff intended this portion of his Memorandum to argue Judge
Rendlen’s actions were not judicial in nature, the Court similarly finds Harvey to be
Plaintiff uses the words “malice,” “malicious,” or “maliciously” thirty-two times [ECF No. 4].
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any less a judicial act; nor [does] it render the defendant liable to answer in damages for it at the
suit of the plaintiff, as though the court had proceeded without having any jurisdiction
Id. (quoting Bradley v. Fisher, 80 U.S. 335, 357 (1871)).
immunity means anything, it means that a judge ‘will not be deprived of immunity because the
action he took was in error . . . or was in excess of his authority.’” Mireles, 502 U.S. at 12-13
(quoting Stump, 435 U.S. at 356). These principles reveal the far-reaching nature of judicial
immunity, and without determining the full extent of such immunity, this Court concludes its
protections extend to the circumstances at hand. Therefore, the Court concludes Plaintiff’s
claims against Judge Rendlen are barred by judicial immunity.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that “Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss” [ECF No. 17] is
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff’s two tortious interference with contract
claims (Counts I and II) shall be DISMISSED, with prejudice.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff’s three tortious interference with business
expectancy claims (Counts III, IV, and V) shall be DISMISSED, with prejudice.
Dated this 12th Day of September, 2014.
E. RICHARD WEBBER
SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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