United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division
TERRY W. BARB, Plaintiff,
SHAWNA M. CRITES, et al.. Defendants.
Michael F. Urbanski Chief United States District Judge
pro se, plaintiff Terry W. Barb, filed the instant
complaint against Hardy County Magistrate Shawna M. Crites
and Hardy County Prosecuting Attorney Lucas J. See, seeking
leave to proceed in forma pauperis. For the reasons
set forth below, Barb's application to proceed in
forma pauperis will be GRANTED and
his complaint will be DISMISSED without
prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
complaint arises out of a 2017 criminal action adjudicated in
the Magistrate Court of Hardy County, West Virginia. In
August 2017, criminal complaints were filed against Barb for
allegations of domestic battery, domestic assault, and
obstruction. As part of a plea agreement, Barb pled no
contest to assault and obstruction charges. Judgment entered
on December 7, 2017. See Criminal J. Order for Violation of
61-02-09(b), ECF No. 2-4, at 1; Criminal J. Order for
Violation of 61-05-17(a), ECF No. 2-5, at 14. Barb received
time served,, a suspended sentence, and unsupervised
probation with conditions, including requiring him "to
attend anger management counseling until the counsel is
satisfied that he addressed the issues." Sentencing
Order; Unsupervised Probation, ECF No. 2-5, at 10. After
completing an online anger management course in January 2018,
Barb alleges that the prosecution and court found the course
to be inadequate. A letter to the magistrate court explains
the prosecution's position that Barb should participate
in anger management counseling at the Center for Marriage and
Family Counseling. See Letter from Keshia Anne C. Tenorio to
Magistrate Shawna Crites, ECF No. 2-5, at 17. Barb and his
counsel were scheduled to appear in court regarding these
classes on April 9, 2018. See Letter from Derrick W.
Whetzel to Terry Barb, Mar. 28, 2018, ECF No. 2-5, at 19.
filed this action against Magistrate Shawna M. Crites of the
Magistrate Court of Hardy County, West Virginia and Lucas J.
See, Prosecuting Attorney for Hardy County in response to his
criminal action. Barb's allegations include: information,
such as his birth date and driver's license status, were
stated incorrectly during his criminal proceedings; he was
charged falsely of sexually assaulting minors; the magistrate
and prosecuting attorney threatened to arrest him if he did
not attend another anger management course; and Child
Protective Services for Virginia and West Virginia accused
him of inadequate supervision of his daughters. In his civil
cover sheet, Barb describes the nature of his suit as falling
under the False Claims Act. See Civil Cover Sheet, ECF No.
2-1. By way of remedy, Barb seeks to have his record cleared
of these charges and all of his fines and court costs
moves to proceed in forma pauperis. pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). See ECF No. 1. The court will grant
Barb's motion to proceed in forma pauperis.
However, after reviewing the complaint, the court concludes
that this action must be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B),
district courts have a duty to screen initial filings and
dismiss a complaint filed in forma pauperis at any
time if the court determines that the action "(i) is
frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which
relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against
a defendant who is immune from such relief."
asserts no basis for federal jurisdiction over this matter.
See Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am.. 511
U.S. 375, 377 (1994) ("Federal courts are courts of
limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized
by Constitution and statute, which is not to be expanded by
judicial decree." (internal citations omitted)); see
also Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a) (a pleading must contain a short
a plain statement of the grounds for the court's
jurisdiction). The face of the complaint alleges no
constitutional violation or violation of federal statute that
would give rise to federal question jurisdiction under 28
U.S.C. § 1331. Barb's selection of the False Claims
Act on his civil cover sheet is unsupported by his complaint;
broadly speaking, the False Claims Act imposes liability on
persons who knowingly submit or cause to submit false claims
to the government. See 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729-3733. That
has not been alleged here. Barb also claims diversity
jurisdiction on his civil cover sheet, but he does not allege
damages exceeding $75, 000 as required by 28 U.S.C. §
1332. See Civil Cover Sheet, ECF No. 2-1; Compl.,
ECF No. 2, at 7 (requesting dismissal of court costs and
fines); Criminal J. Order for Violation of 61-02-09(b), ECF
No. 2-4, at 1 (assessing costs and fees in the amount of
$220.25); Criminal J. Order for Violation of 61-05-17(a), ECF
No. 2-5, at 14 (assessing a fine of $350.00 and costs and
fees of $185.25).
event, Barb has not alleged a claim upon which relief can be
granted. The Magistrate Court of Hardy Count entered criminal
judgments against Barb as part of a plea deal. See Criminal
J. Order for Violation of 61-02-09(b), ECF No. 2-4, at 1;
Criminal J. Order for Violation of 61-05-17(a), ECF No. 2-5,
at 14. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine generally
prohibits lower federal courts from reviewing state court
decisions. The Fourth Circuit explained the court's
limited jurisdiction under this doctrine in
Friedman's. Inc. v. Dunlap. 290 F.3d 191, 196
(4th Or. 2002):
Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, lower federal
courts may not consider either "issues actually
presented to and decided by a state court" or
"constitutional claims that are inextricably intertwined
with questions ruled upon by a state court." [Plyler
v. Moore. 129 F.3d 728. 731 n.6 (4th Or. 1997)]
(internal quotation marks omitted). Federal courts are
divested of jurisdiction "where entertaining the federal
claim should be the equivalent of an appellate review of the
state court order." Jordahl [v. Democratic Party of
Va.]. 122 F.3d [192, ] at 202 [4th Cir. 1997]
(alterations and internal quotation marks omitted).
Rooker-Feldman applies when the federal action
"essentially amounts to nothing more than an attempt to
seek review of [the state court's] decision by a lower
federal court." Plyler, 129 F.3d at 733. Thus,
"when a party sues in federal district court to
readjudicate the same issues decided in the state court
proceedings, that action is in essence an attempt to obtain
direct review of the state court decision ... in
contravention of Rooker-Feldman.'' Brown
& Root[. Inc. v. Breckenridge], 211 F.3d [194, ] at
201 [(4th Cir. 2000)]. The label attached to the federal
court action will rarely, if ever, be important, since a
party that is seeking in federal court to readjudicate an
issue decided in state court is unlikely to say so.
Id. Federal courts may not entertain a complaint
where "the losing party in state court [files] suit in
federal court after the state proceedings ended, complaining
of an injury caused by the state-court judgment[.]"
Exxon Mobil Com, v. Saudi Basic Indus. Com.. 544
U.S. 280, 291 (2005).
Barb does not explicitly seek to overturn his state court
judgments, he requests relief that effectively nullifies
these judgments by expunging his record and striking fines,
costs, and fees. This amounts to nothing more than a
challenge to the validity of the state court judgment.
Barb's claims against Magistrate Crites and Prosecutor
See arise out of his disagreement with the state court
proceedings. Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, this
court lacks the jurisdiction to review Barb's claims.
Barb has failed to assert a viable claim for damages against
either Magistrate Crites or Prosecutor See because they are
entitled to absolute judicial and prosecutorial immunity,
respectively. Judges have immunity from suit for "acts
committed within their judicial jurisdiction."
Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 553-54 (1967); see
also Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991) (holding
that individual judges are immune from liability for damages
for actions taken in their judicial capacity). Magistrate
Crites entered judgment against Barb, and allegedly expressed
dissatisfaction with Barb's selected anger management
course-a required term of his unsupervised probation. These
acts occurred during the pendency of Barb's criminal
action and probation, which clearly are within Magistrate
Crites' judicial jurisdiction. Likewise, Prosecutor See
is entitled to immunity from liability for damages for his
office's prosecution of Barb's criminal action and
involvement in his probation. See Buckley v.
Fitzsimmons. 509 U.S. 259, 273 (1993) ("[A]cts
undertaken by a prosecutor . . . which occur in the course of
his role as an advocate for the State, are entitled to the
protections of absolute immunity [.]"). Barb's
complaint, on its face, states claims that are frivolous
against parties who are immune from such suits. C£.
Chu v. Griffith. 771 F.2d 79, 81 (4th Cir. 1985).
Therefore, Magistrate Crites and Prosecutor See are entitled
to immunity and the claims for monetary damages against them
should be dismissed.
court construes pro se complaints liberally,
imposing "less stringent standards than formal pleadings
drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551
U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble. 429
U.S. 97, 104-05 (1976)). However, "a complaint must
contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
'state a claim of relief that is plausible on its
face."' Ashcroft v. Iqbal. 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly. 550
U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). For the reasons set forth above,
Barb's complaint fails to state a legal ...