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Crenshaw v. Antokol

November 20, 2002

ZENA D. CRENSHAW, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOAN S. ANTOKOL ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



Document Nos.: 2, 3

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DENYING THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR A TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER AND DENYING THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR A PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION

I. INTRODUCTION

Pro se *fn1 plaintiff Zena D. Crenshaw ("the plaintiff") brings this action alleging violations of the United States Constitution and of federal civil conspiracy and civil rights statutes. Ms. Crenshaw names 25 defendants, who appear *fn2 to consist of ten private-sector lawyers, three law firms, a financial institution, a pharmaceutical company, and the executive secretary and nine members of the Disciplinary Commission for the Supreme Court of Indiana (collectively, "the defendants"). Simultaneously, the plaintiff filed a motion for a temporary restraining order preventing the defendants associated with the Disciplinary Commission (collectively, "the Commission defendants") from proceeding with a disciplinary hearing against her, and a motion for a preliminary injunction barring the same defendants from initiating any course of action to injure the plaintiff. At the behest of the court, the Commission defendants filed a responsive pleading. The Commission defendants move to dismiss the underlying complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, improper venue, insufficiency of service of process, and failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted. The Commission defendants also raise various defenses premised on immunity and federal-state comity.

For the reasons that follow, the court denies the plaintiff's motions for a temporary restraining order and for a preliminary injunction.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

From the plaintiff's 85-page complaint, the court with considerable difficulty gleans the following factual allegations, which outline a complicated and interlocking series of events and lawsuits:

The plaintiff is an African-American woman who was admitted to the practice of law in Indiana. Compl. ¶ 1. In 1993, on behalf of minor client Sylvia Sanchez, the plaintiff brought suit in Indiana state court against Hoffmann-LaRoche, a pharmacy, and three individuals. Id. ¶ 2. The Sanchez complaint alleged a civil conspiracy that resulted in injury to the plaintiff's client from an adverse drug reaction. Id. ¶¶ 3, 16-19, 26. In that litigation, attorneys Ralph Cohen, Bonnie Gallivan, and Anita Hodgson of Ice Miller Donadio & Miller ("Ice Miller") represented Hoffmann-LaRoche. Id. ¶¶ 6, 27.

The trial judge granted Hoffman-LaRoche's motion to dismiss. Id. ¶¶ 20, 22. Subsequently, the plaintiff successfully moved to amend her client's complaint. Id. ¶¶ 23-25. After some discussions between the plaintiff and attorney Hodgson, Hoffmann-LaRoche moved to dismiss the plaintiff's amended complaint and requested attorney's fees based on the plaintiff's "frivolous" action. Id. ¶¶ 36, 39-49, 50, 77. The trial judge again granted Hoffmann-LaRoche's motion to dismiss but reserved ruling on attorney's fees until the plaintiff's appeal of the dismissal was resolved. Id. ¶¶ 73, 77. The state court of appeals affirmed the trial judge's dismissal, and the Indiana Supreme Court refused review. Id. ¶¶ 79, 85, 89, 94. Hoffman-LaRoche promptly renewed its request for attorney's fees, which the trial judge granted in 1997. Id. ¶¶ 95, 104, 131-35. The state court of appeals later reversed the trial judge on the issue of attorney's fees, however, with the Indiana Supreme Court again declining review. Id. at ¶¶ 136, 140.

Not satisfied with the state appellate process, the plaintiff took two additional steps. ¶ 141. First, she expressed her dissatisfaction by filing a complaint in state court (later removed to federal court) against the Sanchez trial judge alleging violations of the United States Constitution, federal civil rights law, state conspiracy and declaratory judgment law. Id. ¶ 233; see Crenshaw v. Dywan, 34 F. Supp. 2d 707 (N.D. Ind. 1999). The federal judge presiding over her case recused himself in the interests of justice after the plaintiff, citing alleged improper conduct by that judge in a previous case, twice moved to disqualify him. Compl. ¶¶ 234-35; see also Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 3. Because the judge found her allegations to be categorically false, however, he referred the matter to the Disciplinary Commission for the Supreme Court of Indiana ("Commission"). Id. This grievance became one of the bases for the imminent disciplinary proceeding. Id. ¶¶ 234, 276; see also Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 3.

Second, the plaintiff met with several African-American attorneys in Lake County, Indiana and concluded that her treatment by the Sanchez trial judge was typical for minority attorneys prosecuting complex personal injury claims. Id. ¶¶ 142-43. At a June 1997 press conference held by a coalition of politicians, activists, churches, and citizens, she stated that the trial judge had taken action against her based on her race, and announced that she would be forwarding charges to the Indiana civil rights and judicial qualifications authorities, a step she took within a few days. Id. ¶¶ 143-45, 160. In response to a query from the judicial qualifications commission, the plaintiff wrote a letter stating that the trial judge's ruling was consistent with the pattern of bias emanating from the state's courts of general jurisdiction. Id. ¶¶ 162-63. The plaintiff later sent a copy of the letter to the state civil rights commission and circulated among members of the primarily African-American James Kimbrough Bar Association ("JKBA") and the Lake County Bar Association ("LCBA"). Id. ¶¶ 164-66.

Within a few weeks, both the judicial qualifications commission and the civil rights commission dismissed the matter. Id. ¶¶ 168-69. Shortly thereafter, the LCBA board considered but eventually decided against filing a disciplinary complaint against the plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 170-74. Notwithstanding the LCBA board's decision, in December 1997 LCBA member Robert F. Parker filed a grievance with the Commission against the plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 176-177, 190. This grievance forms an additional basis for the upcoming disciplinary proceeding. Id. ¶¶ 257, 259; see also Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 2.

Meanwhile, the plaintiff received notice in May 1997 that the former personal representative of her mother's estate (the "Crenshaw estate") had filed a separate grievance questioning the plaintiff's use of certain cash assets of the estate. Id. ¶¶ 193, 196. The attorney for the estate, James Martin, then petitioned the plaintiff for authority to hire an attorney to recover estate assets. Id. ¶¶ 199-200. In July 1997, after receiving a copy of the Martin petition, the Commission subpoenaed the plaintiff for information about the estate. Id. ¶ 202. Believing she was facing heightened Commission scrutiny prompted by her charges against the Sanchez trial judge, the plaintiff "forwarded a complaint" *fn3 to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. Id. ΒΆΒΆ 210-11. In April 1999, after Commission executive secretary Donald R. Lundberg indicated that the plaintiff would be disciplined, the Commission ...


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