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Cadmus v. Frederick County Sheriffs Office

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

September 20, 2016

RICHARD R. CADMUS, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
FREDERICK COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, et al. . Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Michael F. Urbanski United States District Judge.

         Pro se plaintiff Richard Cadmus brings this action alleging civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1988, as well as various torts under Virginia common law. He names as defendants Leonard Millholland, former Sheriff of the City of Winchester, Virginia; Robert T. Williamson, Sheriff of Frederick County, Virginia; The Honorable Elizabeth Kellas Burton, Judge of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations ("JDR") Court of the Commonwealth of Virginia's 26th Judicial District; John and Jane Does 1 through 25, Deputy Sheriffs of Frederick County or the City of Winchester[1]; and the Frederick County Sheriffs Office ("FCSO"). ECF No. 22.[2] Defendants Millholland, Williamson, Burton, and the FCSO brought motions to dismiss Cadmus's Amended Complaint under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). ECF Nos. 31, 34, 36. Cadmus brought a motion for limited discovery pursuant to Rule 26. ECF No. 50. These motions were referred to United States Magistrate Judge Joel C. Hoppe for report and recommendation, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).

         In a report and recommendation issued on August 5, 2016, the magistrate judge recommended granting defendants' motions to dismiss, and denying Cadmus's motion for limited discovery. ECF No. 55, at 2. The report found that Cadmus's claims against FCSO, and all claims against Millholland and Williamson in their official capacities, were barred by sovereign immunity. Id. at 10. The report also found that judicial immunity barred Cadmus's claims against Judge Burton. Id. at 13. Finally, it found that, even if Cadmus were able to ascertain the identities of the unknown Sheriffs deputies, any complaint against them would be barred by the statute of limitations. Id. at 20-21. Accordingly, the report recommended denying Cadmus's discovery request. Id. at 21. Cadmus filed timely objections to the report and recommendation on August 19, 2016. ECF No. 56.

         For the reasons set forth below, the court will ADOPT the report and recommendation to the extent consistent with this opinion (ECF No. 55), DENY as moot Burton's first motion to dismiss[3] (ECF No. 34), GRANT Burton's amended motion to dismiss (ECF No. 36), GRANT FCSO, Millholland, and Williamson's motion to dismiss (ECF No. 31), and GRANT in part and DENY in part Cadmus's motion for discovery (ECF No. 50).

         I.

         Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a party to "serve and file specific, written objections" to a magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations within fourteen days of being served with a copy of the report. See also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The Fourth Circuit has held that an objecting party must do so "with sufficient specificity so as reasonably to alert the district court of the true ground for the objection." United States v. Midgette. 478 F.3d 616, 622 (4th Cir. 2007), cert denied. 127 S.Ct. 3032 (2007).

To conclude otherwise would defeat the purpose of requiring objections. We would be permitting a party to appeal any issue that was before the magistrate judge, regardless of the nature and scope of objections made to the magistrate judge's report. Either the district court would then have to review every issue in the magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations or courts of appeals would be required to review issues that the district court never considered. In either case, judicial resources would be wasted and the district court's effectiveness based on help from magistrate judges would be undermined.

Id. The district court must determine de novo any portion of the magistrate judge's report and recommendation to which a proper objection has been made. "The district court may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions." Fed. R Civ. P. 72(b)(3); accord 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). "General objections that merely reiterate arguments presented to the magistrate judge lack the specificity required under Rule 72, and have the same effect as a failure to object, or as a waiver of such objection." Moon v. BWX Techs., Inc., 742 F.Supp.2d 827, 829 (W.D. Va. 2010) (citing Veney v. Astrue. 539 F.Supp.2d 841, 845 (W.D. Va. 2008)), aff'd, 498 F.App'x 268 (4th Cir. 2012); see also Thomas v. Am. 474 U.S. 140, 154 (1985) ("[T]he statute does not require the judge to review an issue de novo if no objections are filed.").

         Further, objections that only repeat arguments raised before the magistrate judge are considered general objections to the entirety of the report and recommendation. See Veney, 539 F.Supp.2d at 845. As the court noted in Veney:

Allowing a litigant to obtain de novo review of her entire case by merely reformatting an earlier brief as an objection "mak[es] the initial reference to the magistrate useless. The functions of the district court are effectively duplicated as both the magistrate and the district court perform identical tasks. This duplication of time and effort wastes judicial resources rather than saving them, and runs contrary to the purposes of the Magistrates Act. Howard [v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs.], 932 F.2d [505], 509 [(6th Cir. 1991)].

539 F.Supp.2d at 846. A plaintiff who reiterates his previously raised arguments will not be given "the second bite at the apple []he seeks." Id. Instead, his re-filed brief will be treated as a general objection, which has the same effect as a failure to object. Id.

         II. A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) challenges a court's subject matter jurisdiction. Absent subject matter jurisdiction, a court must dismiss the action. Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co.. a Div. of Standex Int'l Corp.. 166 F.3d 642, 653 (4th Cir. 1999). "Although subject matter jurisdiction and sovereign immunity do not coincide perfectly, there is a recent trend among the district courts within the Fourth Circuit to consider sovereign immunity under Rule 12(b)(1)." Trantham v. Henry Cty. Sheriffs Office. No. 4:10-CV-00058, 2011 WL 863498, at *3 (W.D. Va. Mar. 10, 2011) (collecting cases), affd. 435 F.App'x 230 (4th Or. 2011); see also Hendy v. Bello. 555 F.App'x 224, 227 (4th Cir. 2014) (affirming use of Rule 12(b)(1) to dismiss claims on sovereign immunity grounds). When a defendant raises substantive challenges to a court's jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1), the court need not accept the complaint's allegations as true and may consider facts outside the complaint to determine if it can properly exercise subject matter jurisdiction. Kerns v. United States. 585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). At all times, "[t]he plaintiff has the burden of proving that subject matter jurisdiction exists." Evans. 166 F.2d at 647.

         In contrast, to survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint need only contain sufficient factual matter which, if accepted as true, "state[s] a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal. 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Ad. Corp. v. Twombly. 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A complaint is "facially plausible" when the facts alleged "allow[ ] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. This "standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. When ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court must "accept the well-pled allegations of the complaint as true" and "construe the facts and reasonable inferences derived therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997).

         While the court must accept as true all well-pled factual allegations, the same is not true for legal conclusions. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; see also Wag More Dogs. LLC v. Cozart. 680 F.3d 359, 365 (4th Cir. 2012) ("Although we are constrained to take the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, we need not accept legal conclusions couched as facts or unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." (internal quotation marks omitted)). To be sure, a plaintiff proceeding pro se is held to "less stringent standards" than counseled plaintiffs, and the court must construe his claims liberally. Erickson v. Pardus. 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). However, the court need not ignore a clear failure to allege facts that set forth a cognizable claim. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. for Baltimore. 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Or. 1990). Nor is a court required to recognize "obscure or extravagant claims defying the most concerted efforts to unravel them." Beaudett v. City of Hampton. 775 F.2d 1274, 1277 (4th Or. 1985), cert, denied. 475 U.S. 1088 (1986).

         III.

         Cadmus raises twenty-one objections to the findings of the report and recommendation. Some of these objections reiterate arguments previously made to the magistrate judge; others take exception to what Cadmus perceives as negative implications that could be drawn from the wording used in the report. E.g., ECF No. 56, at 2 ("Cadmus objects to the court implicitly eluding [sic] to his actions being unreasonable . . . ."). These objections fail to identify specific errors in the report and recommendation, and are properly construed as general objections that do not warrant de novo review. See Veney, 539 F.Supp.2d at 844-46. Cadmus also concedes some points: he abandons all claims against Millholland, Williamson, Burton, and the unidentified deputies in their official capacities, [4] Id. at 7-8, and abandons all discovery requests related to sovereign immunity, Id. at 17. Furthermore, although he does not explicitly abandon his claims against the FCSO, he declines to object-generally or specifically-to the report's findings that these claims should be dismissed with prejudice as barred by sovereign immunity. See ECF No. 56. What remains, after removing the foregoing from consideration, are objections to the following three findings in the report: that Judge Burton is judicially immune from suit; that Cadmus's claims against Millholland and Williamson in their individual capacities should be dismissed for failure to state a claim; and that discovery related to the identities of the Sheriffs deputies should be denied. Each category of objection will be addressed in turn below.

         A. Cadmus's Claims against Judge Burton

         In his report and recommendation, the magistrate judge recommended dismissing all claims against Judge Burton as barred by judicial immunity. ECF No. 55, at 11. Cadmus's alleged causes of action against Judge Burton-unreasonable search and seizure; conspiracy to violate Cadmus's civil rights; retaliation and conspiracy to retaliate; abuse of process; malicious prosecution and false arrest; and intentional infliction of emotional distress-all arise from Cadmus's appearance in Judge Burton's courtroom on August 26, 2013. See ECF No. 22, ¶¶ 99-123, 130-155. Specifically, Cadmus alleges that Judge Burton reprimanded him for rudeness, ordered him detained, and seized his iPad, before ultimately returning it and releasing him from custody. Id. The report concluded that Judge Burton's actions were all judicial acts well within her inherent jurisdiction to "maintain order in her courtroom, " and that absolute judicial immunity shielded Judge Burton from Cadmus's claims for monetary relief. ECF No. 55, at 11-12.

         Cadmus disagrees. With regard to jurisdiction, he maintains that because Judge Burton's actions toward Cadmus took place after the protective orders against him had been lifted, they were taken without jurisdiction. ECF No. 56, at 8. Cadmus also notes that Judge Burton presides over a Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court-a court he argues is without jurisdiction to respond to Cadmus's actions on August 26, which "pertained to behavior of an individual over the age of 17 and not domestically related." Id. Further, Cadmus argues that because Judge Burton initially reprimanded him for rudeness that took place outside the courtroom, [5] this reprimand cannot have been within her jurisdiction. Id. at 10.

         Cadmus also objects that Judge Burton's actions that day should not be considered "judicial acts." He argues that Judge Burton's actions were criminal in nature, and made in bad faith to deprive him of his right to record court proceedings, which puts them outside the scope of judicial immunity. ECF No. 56, at 7, 11.

         The court is compelled to reject Cadmus's arguments. Under both federal and state law, judicial officers enjoy absolute immunity from suits for monetary damages that arise out of acts committed within their judicial jurisdiction. King v. Myers, 973 F.2d 354, 356 (4th Cir. 1992) (describing judicial immunity under federal law); Battle v. Whitehurst, 831 F.Supp. 522, 529 n.7 (E.D. Va. 1993) (noting that "[t]he standards for judicial immunity ...


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