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Briggman v. Burton

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

September 27, 2016

DAVID B. BRIGGMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
ELIZABETH KELLAS BURTON, Chief Judge, 26th Judicial District, Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, in her official capacity, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge

         David B. Briggman, proceeding pro se, filed this action against Elizabeth Kellas Burton, Kevin C. Black, and Hugh David O'Donnell in their official capacities as Judges of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts ("JDR Courts") of the Commonwealth of Virginia's 26th Judicial District, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Virginia law. By order entered November 3, 2015, all dispositive motions in the case were referred to United States Magistrate Judge Joel C. Hoppe, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). The defendants subsequently moved to dismiss the plaintiffs amended complaint. The magistrate judge has since issued a report and recommendation, in which he recommends that the court (1) deny without prejudice the defendants' motion; (2) abstain from moving forward with Briggman's claims; and (3) stay the case until all potentially dispositive issues of state law have been resolved by the coixts of the Commonwealth of Virginia. For the following reasons, the court declines to adopt the magistrate judge's report and recommendation. The court will dismiss Briggman's claims for relief under § 1983 and decline to exercise jurisdiction over his claims under state law.

         Background

         The following factual allegations, taken from Briggman's amended complaint and his brief in opposition to the defendants' motion to dismiss, are accepted as true for purposes of the defendants' motion. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (emphasizing that "a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint" when ruling on a motion to dismiss); Davis v. Bacigalupi 711 F.Supp.2d 609, 615 (E.D. Va. 2010) ("In testing the sufficiency of the pro se Plaintiffs Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court will also consider the allegations made in the Plaintiffs memorandum filed in opposition to the Defendants' motion to dismiss . . ..") (citing cases).

         Briggman, a resident of Rockingham County, alleges that the defendants have improperly barred him from entering the JDR Courts' courtrooms in Harrisonburg, Virginia to observe certain proceedings conducted in cases in which he was not a party. Briggman specifically complains of being excluded from proceedings in child support enforcement actions brought by the: Virginia Division of Child Support Enforcement against other individuals. On October 16, 2015 and October 26, 2015, respectively, Briggman was denied access to a "bond hearing" and a' contempt review proceeding" in an enforcement action brought against Scott Alan Gill. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 17, 19. On October 19, 2015, Briggman was denied access to a "sentence review hearing" in an enforcement action brought against Richard Stoneberger. Id. at ¶ 18. Briggman alleges that no written findings were made as to why he was not allowed to observe these proceedings.

         Briggman also alleges that, on one occasion in November of 2015, he was told that a courtroom in Harrisonburg was closed during the JDR Courts' "adult criminal docket." Id. at ¶ 20. On another day, however, Briggman "was allowed access to [a] criminal hearing" conducted in Harrisonburg. Pl.'s Br. in Opp'n to Judges' M. to Dismiss 6.

         Briggman commenced the instant action on November 3, 2015. He then filed an amended complaint on November 23, 2015. In Count One of the amended complaint, Briggnun claims that the judges violated his rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution by refusing to allow him to observe child support enforcement and criminal proceedings conducted in the JDR Courts' courtrooms in Harrisonburg. In Count Two of the amended complaint, Briggman claims that the judges violated his rights under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution of Virginia by denying access to court proceedings. In his brief in opposition to the judges' motion, Briggman also claims that the judges violated Virginia Code § 16.1-302(c), which governs the closure of courtrooms in JDR courts, and provides that "[i]f the proceedings are closed, the court shall state in writing its reasons . .. ." Va. Code § 16.1-302(c).[1]

         In addition to seeking injunctive relief, Briggman requests that the court issue the following "declaration":

a. Defendants have violated the First Amendment rights of plaintiff to attend hearings in the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court courtrooms;
b. Defendants have failed to make any findings justifying the closure of tie Harrisonburg-Rockingham County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court courtrooms;
c. The denial of constitutional access to hearings in tie Harrisonburg-Rockingham County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court courtrooms has caused plaintiff to suffer irreparable harm; and d. To comply with [federal constitutional] mandates, defendants must allow members of the public to attend hearings in the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Juvenile and Domestic Relations courtrooms.

Am. Compl. at 11-12.

         Standard of Review

         The judges have moved to dismiss Briggman's amended complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of the plaintiffs complaint, which must contain "a short and plain statement of the claur showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a); see also Presley v City of Charlottesville. 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006). When deciding a motion to dismiss under this rule, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and draw all reasonable factual inferences in the plaintiffs favor. Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94; see also Vitol, S.A. v. Primerose Shipping Co.. 708 F.3d 527, 539 (4th Cir. 2013). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiffs obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). To ...


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