United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
SHEMIKA N. SKILLINGS, Plaintiff,
MR. BISHOP L. KNOTT, In his individual and official capacity as Clerk of Court for Prince George, Virginia, HON. WILLIAM A. SHARRETT, In his individual and official capacity as Judge of the Prince George Circuit Court, LINDA L. JOHNSON, and JOYCE JACKSON, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION (GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS
HENRY E. HUDSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
essentially a civil rights action filed pursuant to Title 42
U.S.C. § 1983, et seq., by an
unprevailing litigant in a child custody case. The Complaint
encompasses a wide swath of constitutional and common law
claims against the presiding judge, Clerk of Court, Deputy
Clerk of Court, and Plaintiffs former husband's counsel.
Under the cloak of a civil rights action, Plaintiff,
proceeding pro se, challenges the court's award
of custody to her former spouse, the court's decision to
find her in contempt for failure to abide by a visitation
order, and the thirty-day sentence she received. Plaintiff
concludes that "Judge Sharrett habitually ruled against
her without just cause or legitimate reason. His orders [are]
inconsistent with that of a reasonable person." (Compl.
¶ 44, ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff asserts that Judge Sharrett
failed to credit her proof of sexual abuse and excluded
relevant facts from his opinion letter. (Id.
¶¶ 35-37.) She also maintains that the judge found
her "guilty of criminal contempt under an improper
standard of proof." (Id. ¶ 77.) It
appears, however, that no appeal was noted to the court's
judgment. She seeks not only compensatory damages, but also
declaratory and injunctive relief, including guidance to the
respect to the Clerk of Court Bishop L. Knott
("Clerk"), and his deputy Joyce Jackson
(collectively "Clerks"), Plaintiff contends that
the Clerk mischaracterized the court's finding of
contempt as civil rather than criminal, resulting in her
serving the entire thirty-day sentence imposed by the court
without any good time deduction. (Id. ¶¶
85-88.) The Clerks, according to Plaintiff, also
failed to follow the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.
(Id. ¶¶ 60-61.)
from representing her former spouse in custody proceedings,
Plaintiff contends that Linda L. Johnson
("Johnson"), a private practitioner, conspired with
the co-defendant state actors to violate her civil rights.
(Id. at ¶ 6.) During the state court
proceedings, Johnson filed a motion to terminate Plaintiffs
parental rights and a request for a show cause hearing.
(Id. ¶¶ 55-56, 58-59.) According to the
Complaint, Johnson also filed a lawsuit against a local
television station preparing to air an interview of Plaintiff
concerning spousal abuse. (Id. ¶¶ 20, 23.)
In Plaintiffs view, Johnson's actions violated her First
Amendment right to tell her life story to the press because
the television station, for undisclosed reasons, decided not
to air her interview. (Id. ¶ 47.)
before the Court are Defendants' Motions to Dismiss
challenging the facial sufficiency of the Complaint pursuant
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (ECF Nos. 5, 14,
17.) Each Defendant has filed a memorandum supporting their
contention that the Complaint fails to plead plausible
claims. The Honorable William A. Sharrett ("Judge
Sharrett") asserts absolute judicial immunity. In
addition, a careful review of the Complaint clearly reveals
that the Clerks are entitled to derivative judicial immunity.
Each action taken by the Clerks was within the ambit of their
statutory duties to administer court records. Plaintiff filed
an untimely responsive pleading entitled "Answer In Re
Johnsons Motion to Dismiss" ("Answer"),
addressing only the issues raised by her former husband's
attorney, Linda L. Johnson.
required by Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, the Court. assumes Plaintiffs well-pleaded
allegations to be true and views all facts in the light most
favorable to her. T.G. Slater & Son v. Donald P.
& Patricia A. Brennan LLC, 385 F.3d 836, 841 (4th
Cir. 2004) (citing Mylan Labs, Inc. v. Matkari, 7
F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993)). But equally important in
the analysis, legal conclusions enjoy no such deference by
the reviewing court. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009). To survive Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny, a
complaint must contain "more than labels and
conclusions." Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007).
Court acknowledges that pro se filings are to be
liberally construed. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S.
89, 94 (2007); De'lonta v. Johnson, 708 F.3d
520, 524 (4th Cir. 2013). However, a pro se
complaint still must "present factual allegations that
'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.'" Jackson v. Lightsey, 775 F.3d 170,
178 (4th Cir. 2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678). As the Fourth Circuit has explained, "[t]hough
these litigants cannot, of course, be expected to frame legal
issues with the clarity and precision ideally evident in the
work of those trained in law, neither can district courts be
required to conjure up and decide issues never fairly
presented to them." Beaudett v. City of
Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1276 (4th Cir. 1985).
stage, the Court's analysis is both informed and
constrained by the four corners of Plaintiff s Complaint. The
Court will dispense with oral argument as it will not aid in
the decisional process since the facts and legal contentions
are adequately presented in the materials before the Court.
For the reasons articulated below, the claims against all
Defendants will be dismissed.
lawsuit is the byproduct of a contentious custody dispute
kindled by the decision of Judge Sharrett to award custody of
Plaintiff s child to her former husband- after overturning
the decision of the lower court. Plaintiff made several
unsuccessful attempts to regain custody of her child over the
ensuing four-year period. (Compl. ¶ 13.) In March of
2016, Plaintiff, by agreement with her former husband, took
the child to Oklahoma. (Id.¶¶ 14-15.)
During that extended period of visitation, Plaintiff was
arrested for kidnapping, for reasons not explained in the
Complaint, even though she had agreed to return the child to
Virginia. (Id. ¶¶ 16-17.) Upon her return
to Virginia, the kidnapping charges were dismissed and a Rule
to Show Cause was issued for interfering with the custody
order. (Id. ¶¶ 18-19.) At the hearing
which resulted, Plaintiff was held in criminal contempt and
sentenced to serve thirty days in jail. (Id.
¶¶ 24-25.) The court's reasoning is not
apparent from the Complaint.
her confinement, Plaintiff was informed that she would not
receive "good time credit" which would have the
effect of reducing her actual period of confinement.
(Id. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff learned, apparently from
jail personnel, "that Prince George Circuit Court had
faxed to them a new disposition sheet that reflected a charge
of 'civil contempt' which does not allow for good
time credits." (Id. ¶ 30.) This
transmittal forms the core claim against the Clerks.
Complaint in this case casts a wide net, but provides scant
factual support. It includes the following claims:
Count 1: Under Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983-Intentional
invidious discrimination (All Defendants);
Count 2: Fourteenth Amendment-Denial of equal protection of
the law ...