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Prasad v. James-Woods

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

June 26, 2018

JODY JAMES-WOODS, et al., Defendants.


          M. Hannah Lauck United States District judge

         Sundari K. Prasad, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action.[1] The matter is before the Court for evaluation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A.

         I. Preliminary Review

         Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") this Court must dismiss any action filed by a prisoner if the Court determines the action (1) "is frivolous" or (2) "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). The first standard includes claims based upon "an indisputably meritless legal theory," or claims where the "factual contentions are clearly baseless." Clay v. Yates, 809 F.Supp. 417, 427 (E.D. Va. 1992) (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989)), aff'd, 36 F.3d 1091 (4th Cir. 1994). The second standard is the familiar standard for a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         "A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint; importantly, it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing 5A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1356 (1990)). In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a plaintiffs well-pleaded allegations are taken as true and the complaint is viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 1 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993); see also Martin, 980 F.2d at 952. This principle applies only to factual allegations, however, and "a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "require[] only 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (second alteration in original) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41. 47 (1957)). Plaintiffs cannot satisfy this standard with complaints containing only "labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Id. (citations omitted). Instead, a plaintiff must allege facts sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level," id. (citation omitted), stating a claim that is "plausible on its face," id. at 570, rather than merely "conceivable." Id. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell All. Corp., 550 U.S. at 556). In order for a claim or complaint to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, the plaintiff must "allege facts sufficient to state all the elements of [his or] her claim." Bass v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 324 F.3d 761, 765 (4th Cir. 2003) (citing Dickson v. Microsoft Corp., 309 F.3d 193, 213 (4th Cir. 2002); lodice v. United States, 289 F.3d 270, 281 (4th Cir. 2002)). Lastly, while the Court liberally construes pro se complaints, Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), it will not act as the inmate's advocate and develop, sua sponle, statutory and constitutional claims that the inmate failed to clearly raise on the face of his or her complaint. See Brock v. Carroll, 107 F.3d 241, 243 (4th Cir. 1997) (Luttig, J., concurring); Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

         II. Prasad's Complaint

         In her Complaint, Prasad names as Defendants Jody James-Woods, an employee of the Supreme Court of Virginia, the Supreme Court of Virginia "The People," and Hamilton Hendrix, an individual named in the majority of her prior actions. (Compl. 1-2, ECF No. I.)[2] Prasad filed this action on a form for filing a Bivens[3] action; however, as Prasad does not allege that any of the named Defendants acted under color of federal authority, see Williams v. Burgess, No. 3;O9CVl 15, 2010 WL 1957105, at *2 (E.D. Va. May 13, 2010) (citation omitted), the Court construes this action as one brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         Prasad is currently detained pending her trial in the Circuit Court for the City of Hampton, Virginia. Prasad alleges that Defendants James-Woods and the Supreme Court of Virginia "The People" have given her the "run-around," have been rude in their correspondence with Prasad, and have mishandled her filings. (Id. at 5-6.) Prasad indicates that Hendrix has violated her constitutional rights "by lying to keep [her] incarcerated." (Id. at 6.) Prasad requests monetary damages and to "waive every ... [filing] fee." (Id. at 7.)

         III. Analysis

         It is both unnecessary and inappropriate to engage in an extended discussion of Prasad's theories for relief. See Cochran v. Morris, 73 F.3d 1310, 1315 (4th Cir. 1996) (emphasizing that "abbreviated treatment" is consistent with Congress's vision for the disposition of frivolous or "insubstantial claims" (citing Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989))). Ultimately, Prasad's Complaint will be dismissed for failing to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and as legally frivolous.

         A. Supreme Court of Virginia and James-Woods

         From Prasad's allegations, it appears that James-Woods is an employee of the Clerk's Office of the Supreme Court of Virginia. Judicial immunity applies to quasi-judicial officers acting pursuant to court directives. See Butler v. Johnson, No. 1;O7cvl 196 (GBL/TRJ), 2007 WL 4376135, at *3 (E.D. Va. Dec. 12, 2007) (citing Lockhart v. Hoenstine, 411 F.2d 455, 460 (3d Cir. 1969)). "[Q]uasi-judicial" immunity shields court officers from the "danger that disappointed litigants, blocked by the doctrine of absolute immunity from suing the judge directly, will vent their wrath on clerks, court reporters, and other judicial adjuncts." Kincaid v. Vail, 969 F.2d 594, 601 (7th Cir. 1992) (quoting Scruggs v. Moellering, 870 F.2d 376, 377 (7th Cir. 1989)); see McCray v. Maryland, 456 F.2d 1, 5 n.l 1 (4th Cir. 1972) (holding that clerks have "derivative immunity" when they act under the direction of the court). Clerks are entitled to quasi-judicial immunity when they perform "judicial act[s]... having an integral relationship with the judicial process." Wymore v. Green, 245 Fed.Appx. 780, 783 (10th Cir. 2007) (alteration in original) (citation omitted).

         Prasad complains that James-Woods mishandled her filings with the Supreme Court of Virginia and was rude to Prasad. Prasad fails to allege that Defendant James-Woods's actions fall outside of her judicially mandated duties. Thus, she is immune from suit. See, e.g., Wymore, 245 Fed.Appx. at 783 (finding clerk entitled to quasi-judicial immunity when refusing to file inmate's court documents); Hutcherson v. Priest, No. 7:10-CV-00060, 2010 WL 723629, at *3 (W.D. Va. Feb. 26, 2010); Butler, 2007 WL 4376135, at *3. ...

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