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THOMAS v. KNIGHT

March 31, 2003

GREGORY L.A. THOMAS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PAUL KNIGHT, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on the defendants' motions to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).*fn1 The plaintiff's complaint seeks both monetary and equitable relief from the defendants for claims involving the disciplinary proceedings related to the plaintiff's disbarment.*fn2 Upon consideration of the parties' submissions and for the reasons set forth below, the Court must grant the defendants' motions to dismiss as the plaintiff's claims are precluded either because the Court lacks jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman abstention doctrine, the defendants are entitled to absolute judicial immunity, or the plaintiff's challenges to the bar rules are non-justiciable.

I. Factual Background

As a predicate to its legal analysis, the Court finds it appropriate to briefly examine the attorney disciplinary system in the District of Columbia, the plaintiff's actual disciplinary proceedings, and the claims that have been filed by the plaintiff.

(A) The District of Columbia Attorney Disciplinary System

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals ("DCCA") is vested with the authority to "make such rules as it deems proper respecting the examination, qualification, and admission of persons to membership in its bar, and their censure, suspension, and expulsion." D.C. Code § 11-2501(a) (2001); see Defs.' Mot., Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim and Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction ("Defs.' Mem.") at 2. Pursuant to this authority, the DCCA adopted D.C. Bar Rule XI, § 4, which created the Board of Professional Responsibility ("Board"). This rule grants the Board the "power and duty to investigate alleged grounds for attorney discipline, to adopt its own rules and procedures, to appoint Bar Counsel, to appoint Hearing Committees to conduct hearings and to submit findings and recommendations to the Board, and to prepare and forward its own findings and recommendations to the court." D.C. Bar Rule XI, § 4(e) (2002).

The Office of Bar Counsel ("Bar Counsel") performs the prosecutorial function of the attorney disciplinary system. Its powers and duties include, among others, the power to "investigate all matters involving alleged misconduct by an attorney subject to the disciplinary jurisdiction of [the DCCA] which may come to the attention of Bar Counsel or the Board . . . [and to] prosecute all disciplinary proceedings before Hearing Committees, the Board, and the [DCCA]." D.C. Bar Rule XI, § 6(a).

The Hearing Committees of the Board have the power and duty to conduct hearings on formal charges and "submit their findings and recommendations to the Board." D.C. Bar Rule XI, § 5. Once the Hearing Committee gives a recommendation to the Board, the attorneys for either side may file exceptions to the Committee's recommendation pursuant to D.C. Bar Rule XI, § 9(b). After appropriate consideration of the recommendation and exceptions, the DCCA is then required to issue an order. See D.C. Bar Rule XI, § 9(g)(1). The DCCA typically will accept the Board's findings, but the court may disregard them, if "they are unsupported by substantial evidence of record" or if acceptance "would foster a tendency toward inconsistent dispositions for comparable conduct or would otherwise be unwarranted." Id.

The Clients' Security Trust Fund ("Trust Fund") was created by the DCCA "to consider claims for reimbursement of losses . . . caused by the dishonest conduct of members of the District of Columbia Bar . . . provided such member . . . has been disbarred or suspended from the practice of law." D.C. Bar Rule XII, § 5 (2002). The Attorney Client Arbitration Board ("ACAB") "was created b[y] the [DCCA] as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism for disputes between attorneys and their clients." Defs.' Mem. at 4. All attorneys are "deemed to have agreed to arbitrate disputes over fees for legal services and disbursements related thereto when such arbitration is requested by a present or former client . . ." D.C. Bar Rule XIII(a) (2002).

(B) The Plaintiff's Disciplinary Proceedings

On November 12, 1999, the plaintiff was disbarred by the DCCA as a result of two legal malpractice claims filed against him. See In re Thomas, 740 A.2d 538 (D.C. 1999), cert. denied, 529 U.S. 1021 (2000).

In the first disciplinary matter, a former client of the plaintiff filed a complaint with Bar Counsel concerning the plaintiff's alleged mishandling of her escrow account. DCCA Mot., Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Defendant District of Columbia Court of Appeals' Motion to Dismiss, or in the alternative, for Summary Judgment ("DCCA Mem.") at 2. On December 22, 1994, Bar Counsel initiated proceedings against the plaintiff and charged him with six violations of the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct. Id. Hearing Committee Number Five ("Committee Five") found the plaintiff guilty of four of the six charges instituted against him, including: (1) commingling of client's funds under the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.15(a) (2003); (2) misappropriation of client's funds under the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.15(b) (2003); (3) failing to keep his client reasonably informed under the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.4(a) (2003); and (4) engaging in acts of dishonesty under the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 8.4(c) (2003). DCCA Mem at 3. The plaintiff was recommended for disbarment by Committee Five. Id.

In the second disciplinary matter, another former client of the plaintiff filed a complaint with Bar Counsel regarding the plaintiff's alleged mishandling of a life insurance claim. Bar Counsel charged the plaintiff with violating: (1) Rule 1.15(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct for failing to safeguard a client's property in his possession in connection with the legal representation he was providing; and (2) Rule XI, § 9(f) of the DCCA's Rules Governing the Bar and Rule 1.15(a) for failing to keep complete records of his handling and disposition of funds belonging to another client. Id. at 5. Hearing Committee Number Seven found the plaintiff in violation of both Bar XI, § 9(f) and Rule 1.15(a), and recommended an informal admonition. Id.

On May 7, 1998, after the consolidation of the two disciplinary matters, the Board recommended to the DCCA that the plaintiff be disbarred. The plaintiff was subsequently disbarred by the DCCA in In re Thomas, 740 A.2d 538. The plaintiff then filed a petition for writ of certiorari ("petition") with the United States Supreme Court, which was denied by the Court on March 20, 2000. See Thomas v. Dist. ...


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