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Davis v. O'Hara

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

August 26, 2019

RICKY G. DAVIS, Plaintiff,
ROBERT O'HARA, et al, Defendants.



         Ricky G. Davis, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauper is, filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action. By Memorandum Order entered on June 21, 2019, the Court directed Davis to file a particularized complaint within fourteen (14) days of the date of entry thereof.. After receiving an extension, Davis filed his Particularized Complaint. (ECF No. 14.) The matter is before the Court for evaluation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A.


         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); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. The first standard includes claims premised upon "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)). The second standard is analyzed under the familiar requirements of 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 5 A 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, 7 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 Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 556). 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 sponte, statutory and constitutional claims the inmate failed to clearly raise on the face of his complaint. See Brock v. Carroll, 107 F.3d 241, 243 (4th Cir. 1997) (Luttig, J., concurring); see also Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).


         Davis alleges that Southampton County Circuit Court Judge Robert O'Hara, Commonwealth's Attorney Eric A. Cooke, and Circuit Court Clerk Richard L. Francis violated his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments by refusing to allow Davis to represent himself during his revocation proceedings. Davis demands $15, 000 in monetary damages, and a "reparative injunction" of ordering a new revocation hearing. (Part. Compl. ¶ 19.) It is both unnecessary and inappropriate to engage in an extended discussion of the lack of merit of Davis'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))). Davis's Particularized Complaint will be dismissed for failing to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and as legally frivolous.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Judicial and Quasi-Judicial Immunity

         Davis faults Defendant O'Hara for refusing to allow him to represent himself pro se during his revocation hearing. However, judges are absolutely immune from suits under § 1983 for acts committed within their judicial discretion. Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 355-56 (1978). "Absolute judicial immunity exists 'because it is recognized that judicial officers in whom discretion is entrusted must be able to exercise discretion vigorously and effectively, without apprehension that they will be subjected to burdensome and vexatious litigation.'" Lesane v. Spencer, No. 3:09CV012, 2009 WL 4730716, at *2 (E.D. Va. Dec. 3, 2009) (citations omitted) (quoting McCray v. Maryland, 456 F.2d 1, 3 (4th Cir. 1972), overruled on other grounds, Pink v. Lester, 52 F.3d 73, 77 (4th Cir. 1995)). A judge is entitled to immunity even if "the action he [or she] took was in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his [or her] authority ...." Stump, 435 U.S. at 356. This immunity extends to magistrates in Virginia. Pressly v. Gregory, 831 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987) (citation omitted) (noting that "[a]s judicial officers, magistrates are entitled to absolute immunity for acts performed in their judicial capacity"). Only two exceptions apply to judicial immunity: (1) nonjudicial actions; and (2) those actions "though judicial in nature, taken in complete absence of all jurisdiction." Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11-12 (1991) (citations omitted). Neither exception applies in this instance.

         Davis fails to allege facts that plausibly suggest that Defendant O'Hara's refusal to allow Davis to represent himself, was a nonjudicial action or that Defendant O'Hara actions were taken in complete absence of all jurisdiction. Thus, Defendant O'Hara is entitled to absolute immunity. Davis's claims against Defendant O'Hara will be dismissed as legally frivolous and for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

         Davis also contends that, Defendant Francis, the Clerk of the Circuit Court, conspired with the judge and prosecutor to deny Davis his right to self-representation. Judicial immunity also applies to quasi-judicial officers acting pursuant to court directives. See Butler v. Johnson, No. 1:07cvl 196 (GBL/TRJ), 2007 WL 4376135, at *3 (E.D. Va. Dec. 12, 2007) (citing Lockhart v. Hoenstine, 411 F.2d 455 (3d Cir. 1969)). "Quasi-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) (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted); see McCray, 456 F.2d at 5 n.11 (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) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Davis contends that Defendant Francis "would not provide the plaintiff with the Virginia Supreme Court document needed to endorse a valid waiver" presumably, of his right to counsel. (Part. Compl. ¶ 16.) Davis fails to allege facts that indicate that Defendant Francis was performing anything other than a judicial act when he allegedly failure to provide Davis with a form. Accordingly, Davis's claims against Defendant ...

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