United States District Court, D. Columbia
September 30, 2005.
MARQUETTA D. JORDAN, DIAMOND A. JORDAN, AHKILAH C. CARTER, AND CLAYTON C. CARTER, Plaintiffs,
CASTLE MANAGEMENT CORPORATION, VISTA RIDGE LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, Defendants. CASTLE MANAGEMENT CORPORATION, VISTA RIDGE LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, Third-Party Plaintiffs, v. U.S. MARSHALS SERVICE, and DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, and GREGORY MIZE, and JODY SMITH, and CHARMAINE KOO, Third-Party Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: COLLEEN KOTELLY, District Judge
Third-Party Plaintiffs Castle Management Corporation ("Castle")
and Vista Ridge Limited Partnership ("Vista Ridge") (collectively
"Third-Party Plaintiffs") bring suit against Third-Party
Defendants Gregory Mize, Jody Smith, and Charmaine Koo for
negligence, against Third-Party Defendants Gregory Mize and the
District of Columbia under the theory of respondeat superior, and against Third-Party Defendants the
District of Columbia, Gregory Mize, Jody Smith, and Charmaine Koo
for indemnification and contribution. These claims arise out of
an eviction proceeding in the District of Columbia Superior
Court. Before this Court is a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss Counts
III-VIII of Third-Party Complaint for failure to state a claim
filed by Third-Party Defendants the District of Columbia, Gregory
Mize, Jody Smith, and Charmaine Koo. The United State Marshals
Service is also a party to the Third-Party Complaint, but is not
a party to this Motion to Dismiss.
This case arises from a landlord-tenant dispute. Third-Party
Plaintiff Castle is a corporation employed by Third-Party
Plaintiff Vista Ridge to operate the property at 2514 Pomeroy
Road, S.E., Washington, D.C. Plaintiffs' Complaint (Compl.) ¶ 6;
Third-Party Complaint ("Third-Party Compl.") ¶ 4. Vista owns the
property at 2514 Pomeroy Road, S.E. Compl. ¶ 8; Third-Party
Compl. ¶ 4. In December 1996, Plaintiff Marquetta Jordan entered
into a lease for an apartment at 2514 Pomeroy Road, S.E.
Third-Party Compl. ¶ 16. In June 2001, Third-Party Plaintiffs
filed a Complaint in the District of Columbia Superior Court
("Superior Court") for Possession of Real Estate against Ms.
Jordan for failure to pay rent for the months of March, April,
May, and June, 2001. Third-Party Compl. ¶¶ 16-17. Third-Party
Defendant Judge Gregory Mize presided over the subsequent
proceeding. Third-Party Compl. ¶ 7. A summons was issued ordering
Ms. Jordan to appear in Landlord Tenant Court on July 10, 2001.
Third-Party Compl. ¶ 18. Third-Party Plaintiffs allege that both
the summons and the complaint were served on Ms. Jordan by a
Special Process Server by posting a copy of them to the door of
2514 Pomeroy Road, S.E., and than a copy of each was mailed to
Ms. Jordan on July 2, 2001. Third-Party Compl. ¶ 19. Ms. Jordan failed to appear at the July 10, 2001
hearing, at which a default judgment was entered against her.
Third-Party Compl. ¶ 20. Consequently, on July 27, 2001 a Write
of Restitution was entered by the Landlord Tenant Court against
Ms. Jordan. Third-Party Compl. ¶ 21. The writ ordered the U.S.
Marshals Service to enable Third-Party Plaintiffs to take
possession of 2514 Pomeroy Road, S.E. between August 2, 2001 and
September 10, 2001. Id.
On August 1, 2001, Ms. Jordan requested a stay be granted
against the execution of the writ, claiming she had not received
service of the Complaint for Possession of Real Estate and that
she had no notice of the eviction proceedings until August 1,
2001. Third-Party Compl. ¶ 23. On August 1, 2001 Third-Party
Defendant Jody Smith, a clerk in the Landlord Tenant Branch of
the Superior Court, called Third-Party Plaintiffs to inform them
of Ms. Jordan's request for stay of execution; Third-Party
Plaintiffs indicated they opposed the stay. Third-Party Compl. ¶¶
8, 24. That same day Third-Party Defendant Judge Mize, a judge in
the Landlord Tenant Branch of the Superior Court, granted the
stay, effective through August 7, 2001, and ordered a hearing for
August 7, 2001. Third-Party Compl. ¶¶ 6, 25. Notice of the stay
allegedly was not conveyed to either the Third-Party Plaintiffs
or to the U.S. Marshals Service, despite an order by Judge Mize
that they be informed of the stay. Third-Party Compl. ¶¶ 25, 26.
Third-Party Plaintiffs allege that it was Ms. Smith's and/or Ms.
Charmaine Koo's duty to inform the U.S. Marshals and the
Third-Party Plaintiffs that the stay was granted. Third-Party
Compl. ¶¶ 25, 26. Ms. Koo is also a law clerk at the Superior
Court. Third-Party Compl. ¶ 9
On August 3, 2001 the U.S. Marshals Service carried out the
eviction of Ms. Jordan, and her minor children. Third-Party
Compl. ¶ 28. Ms. Jordan filed a complaint in Superior Court in
September, 2003, suing Third-Party Plaintiff Castle for damages
sustained as a result of the eviction. Third-Party Compl. ¶ 30. She requested leave to amend
her complaint to add Third-Party Plaintiff Vista Ridge in June,
2004, which was granted and became effective on August 6, 2004.
Third-Party Compl. ¶¶ 31-33.
Third-Party Plaintiffs filed the Third-Party Complaint on
September 3, 2004 in Superior Court, Civil Division. Third-Party
Compl. at 18 (Certificate of Service). On October 13, 2004 the
U.S. Marshals Service removed the case to this Court, pursuant to
28 U.S.C. §§ 1441, 1442(a), 1446, and 2679 because Counts I and
II of the Third-Party Complaint allege negligence against the
Marshals Service and request indemnification and contribution
against the Marshals Service. Notice of Removal ¶ 3. The U.S.
Marshals Service is not a party to this Motion to Dismiss.
The subject of this Motion to Dismiss are Counts III-V,
alleging one count of negligence each against Judge Mize, Ms.
Smith, and Ms. Koo for failing to notify Third-Party Plaintiffs
that Ms. Jordan's stay of execution was granted; Counts VI and
VII alleging liability under the theory of respondeat superior
against Judge Mize for the actions of his clerks Ms. Smith and
Ms. Koo, and the District of Columbia for the actions of its
employees Judge Mize, Ms. Smith, and Ms. Koo; and Count
VIII,*fn1 requesting indemnification and contribution from
the District of Columbia, Judge Mize, Ms. Smith and Ms. Koo for
any damages Plaintiffs may be awarded. Third-Party Plaintiffs
seek to recover from Third-Party Defendants an amount equal to
that awarded to Ms. Jordan and her minor children and costs and
attorneys fees accumulated in defending the action against Ms.
Jordan. Third-Party Compl. at 12-16. In their defense, Judge Mize, Ms. Smith, and Ms. Koo claim that judicial immunity
protects them from the negligence, indemnification, and
contribution claims. Memorandum of Points and Authorities in
Support of Third-Party Defendants District of Columbia, Gregory
Mize, Charmaine Koo, and Jody Smith's Motion to Dismiss
("Third-Party Defs.' Memo") at 4-8. The District of Columbia and
Judge Mize claim that judicial immunity protects them from suit
under respondeat superior, Third-Party Defs.' Memo at 8-9, and
the District claims protection from indemnification under the
theory that protection from liability under respondeat superior
also protects it from indemnification and contribution claims.
Third-Party Defs.' Memo at 9. For the reasons set forth below,
Third-Party Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is granted.
II: LEGAL STANDARDS
Under Rule 12(b)(6), a motion to dismiss should be granted only
if the "plaintiff? can prove no set of facts in support of [its]
claim which would entitle [it] to relief." Kowal v. MCI Commc'n
Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (citing Shuler v.
United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)). When
considering a motion to dismiss, the Court must resolve all
factual doubts in favor of the plaintiff and allow the plaintiff
the benefit of all inferences. See EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier
Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997).
Notwithstanding this liberal construction, "the court need not
accept inferences drawn by plaintiffs if such inferences are
unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint. Nor must the
court accept legal conclusions cast in the form of factual
allegations." Kowal, 16 F.3d at 1276; see also Papasan v.
Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). III: DISCUSSION
A. Counts III-V: Negligence
Third-Party Defendants Judge Mize, Ms. Smith, and Ms. Koo all
claim the defense of absolute judicial immunity to protect them
from the negligence claims alleged by Third-Party Plaintiffs.
Because the application of the judicial immunity doctrine is
slightly different when applied to clerks rather than judges,
this Court will examine first Judge Mize's, and then Ms. Smith's
and Ms. Koo's, entitlement to the defense.
1. Judge Mize Count III
Judges are absolutely immune from lawsuits claiming damages
arising from acts taken in their judicial capacity. Mireles v.
Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11-12 (1991) (establishing that judicial
immunity is a bar to all suits except when the actions are not
taken in the judges judicial capacity, or when the actions are
"taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction"); Sindram v.
Suda, 986 F.2d 1459, 1460 (D.C. Cir. 1993) ("Judges enjoy
absolute judicial immunity from suits for money damages for all
action taken in the judge's judicial capacity, unless these
actions are taken in the complete absence of all
jurisdiction.") (emphasis added). An act is judicial if "it is a
function normally performed by a judge" and if the parties "dealt
with the judge in his judicial capacity." Mireles,
502 U.S. at 12 (quoting Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 362 (1978)).
Third-Party Plaintiffs allege that Judge Mize had a duty to
notify them of the stay. Third-Party Compl. ¶ 47. Third-Party
Plaintiffs expand on this allegation in their Opposition when
they state that their negligence claim against Judge Mize is
based on his failure to supervise his staff, Ms. Smith and Ms. Koo.*fn2 Opposition to Motion to Dismiss
filed by Third-Party Defendants District of Columbia, Gregory
Mize, Charmaine Koo, and Jody Smith ("Opp'n") at 3. In applying
the two-part test in Mireles for determining whether the act
(or absence of the act) is a judicial one, Third-Party Plaintiffs
first allege that "supervision of staff is not an act that is
typically performed by a judge." Opp'n at 5. This argument fails
for two reasons. First, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
held in Sobomowo v. Bonner that a claim alleging failure by the
"court" to supervise its law clerks failed because "the `court'
as an institution is not subject to suit and its judges have
absolute judicial immunity." Sobomowo v. Bonner, 1 F.3d 45
(Table Decision), No. 91-5218, 1993 WL 299058, at *3 (D.C. Cir.
July 22, 1993). This finding by the Circuit Court suggests that
absolute judicial immunity extends to the supervision of law
clerks. Second, the finding in Sobomowo also counters
Third-Party Plaintiffs allegation that judges do not supervise
their staff. Third-party Plaintiffs allegation is further
contradicted by Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court
of Appeals, who notes the amount of time that is required in
order to coordinate and supervise judicial staff. Richard A.
Posner, Will the Court of Appeals Survive until 1984? An Essay
on Delegation and Specialization of the Judicial Function, 56 S.
Cal. L. Rev. 761, 767-68 (1983). While Judge Posner was speaking
about the Courts of Appeals, the theory holds true in state trial
courts as well. Staff requires supervision, therefore judges who
have staff must supervise them. Supervision of staff is thus an
act conducted by judges.
In applying the second part of the Mirales test, Third-Party
Plaintiffs argue that Judge Mize's actions (or lack thereof) resulted from an ex parte
hearing at the request of Ms. Jordan on August 1, 2001. Opp'n at
4. Third-Party Plaintiff allege that the ex parte nature of the
hearings resulted in their "not deal[ing] with the judge in his
judicial capacity. . . ." Opp'n at 5. This argument is
disingenuous because Third-Party Plaintiffs had dealt with Judge
Mize on all other aspects of the eviction proceeding. Third-Party
Compl. ¶ 7. Third-Party Plaintiffs were also informed that Ms.
Jordan had requested a hearing when she filed her request for the
stay, and they had informed Ms. Smith that they opposed the stay.
Third-Party Compl. ¶ 24. While Third-Party Plaintiffs did not
appear before the court to argue their position, they were
informed of the request for a stay, to which they voiced their
opposition, and they had dealt extensively with Judge Mize in his
judicial capacity on the eviction proceeding of Ms. Jordan. Thus
Third-Party Plaintiffs have failed to show that Judge Mize
actions were not judicial. Judge Mize is therefore entitled to
absolute judicial immunity and Count III of the Complaint is
2. Jody Smith and Charmaine Koo Counts IV and V
Third-Party Defendants Jody Smith and Charmaine Koo claim they
are entitled to judicial immunity for their actions (or
inactions) that Third-Party Plaintiffs contend resulted in Ms.
Jordan's suit. In Sindram v. Suda this Circuit recognized "that
clerks, like judges, are immune from damage suits for performance
of tasks that are an integral part of the judicial process."
Sindram v. Suda, 986 F.2d 1459, 1460 (D.C. Cir. 1993). Further,
the Court of Appeals found that "immunity applies to all acts of
auxiliary court personnel that are `basic and integral part[s] of
the judicial function,' unless those acts are done in the `clear
absence of all jurisdiction.'" Id. at 1461 (quoting Mullis v.
United States Bankruptcy Court for the Dist. of Nev.,
828 F.2d 1385, 1390 (9th Cir. 1987)). The Court of Appeals for the
District of Columbia followed suit when it held in McAllister v. District of Columbia, that "because of
the [doctrine of judicial immunity's] underlying purpose, court
clerks, like judges, should be immune from damage suits for
performing tasks that are integrally related to the judicial
process." McAllister v. District of Columbia, 635 A.2d 849, 851
(D.C. 1995). The doctrine of judicial immunity's underlying
to maintain judicial integrity by protecting the
independence of judicial decision-making, ensuring
that important decisions are made without fear of
personal liability or harassment by vexatious actions
prosecuted by disqualified litigants.
Id. at 850 n. 1. As this Circuit said in Sindram, extending
the immunity to clerks will protect them from "disappointed
litigants, blocked by the doctrine of absolute immunity from
suing the judge directly . . . venting their wrath on clerks,
court reporters, and other judicial adjuncts." Sindram,
986 F.2d at 1461 (quoted in McAllister, 635 A.2d at 851).
Third-Party Plaintiffs first argue that Ms. Smith and Ms. Koo
are not entitled to judicial immunity because "Third-Party
Defendants [sic]*fn3 did not deal with Judge Mize in his
judicial capacity with respect to the proceeding that preceded
the negligence complained of." Opp'n at 5-6. This argument fails
here for the same reason this Court rejected it when applied to
Second, Third-Party Plaintiffs argue that Ms. Smith is not
entitled to judicial immunity because her actions, allegedly
failing to properly supervise Ms. Koo,*fn4 were
"ministerial." This argument fails because in Sindram this
Circuit specifically rejected the notion that ministerial functions fell outside the protection of judicial immunity.
Sindram 986 F.2d at 1461. In Sindram, the functions the
plaintiff complained of included preparation and dissemination of
one of the defendant judge's opinions, directing the plaintiff's
causes of actions to the defendant judges, and instituting an
order barring the plaintiff from the court. The Court found these
function to be "indisputably integral parts of the judicial
process." Id. If, as Third-Party Plaintiffs contend, Ms. Smith
was responsible for supervising Ms. Koo and ensuring that Ms. Koo
notified Third-Party Plaintiffs, Opp'n at 6, then this function
was an integral part of the judicial process, analogous to
dissemination of orders, and Ms. Smith is entitled to the
protections of judicial immunity. Count IV of the Third-Party
Complaint is dismissed.
Ms. Koo is protected by absolute judicial immunity because
dissemination of orders is a function integrally related to the
judicial process. Sindram, 986 F.2d at 1461. Notification of
the Third-Party Plaintiffs is analogous to the dissemination of
orders the Circuit found to be "indisputably" integral to the
judicial process. Furthermore, the Third-Party Plaintiffs concede
that the act of notifying Third-Party Plaintiffs was ordered by
Judge Mize. Third-Party Compl. ¶ 25. Therefore it is undisputable
that Ms. Koo was acting under the authority of Judge Mize, who,
it has already been found, was acting in his judicial capacity.
Count V of the Third-Party Complaint is dismissed.
B. Counts VI and VII: Respondeat Superior
Third-Party Plaintiffs allege in Counts VI and VII that Judge
Mize and the District of Columbia are both liable for damages
under the theory of respondeat superior. While both Judge Mize
and the District of Columbia assert similar defenses, they will
be discussed separately.*fn5
1. Judge Mize Count VI
Third-Party Plaintiffs allege that Judge Mize is liable for the
actions of Ms. Smith and Ms. Koo under the theory of respondeat
superior because Judge Mize "was the supervisor and employer of"
Ms. Smith and Ms. Koo. Third-Party Compl. ¶ 67. However, because
this Court has already found that Judge Mize is absolutely immune
from this damages action because he acted under his judicial
capacity, and that Ms. Smith and Ms. Koo are immune because their
actions were integral to the judicial process, it follows then
that the defense of absolute judicial immunity insulates Judge
Mize from this claim of liability under respondeat superior.
Judge Mize cannot be held liable for actions of employees if both
he and his employees are immune from the action. Therefore Count
VI of the Third-Party Complaint is dismissed.
2. District of Columbia Count VII
Third-Party Plaintiffs also allege that the District of
Columbia is liable for the actions of Judge Mize, Ms. Smith, and
Ms. Koo as their "supervisor and employer." Third-Party Compl. ¶
70. Municipalities are entitled to assert the defenses of their
employees in a respondeat superior claim. The District of
Columbia Court of Appeals accepted this argument in Powell v.
District of Columbia when it held that "since the individual
employee cannot be held personally liable . . . neither can the
municipality under a respondeat superior theory since the
employer is entitled to its employees' defenses." Powell v.
District of Columbia, 602 A.2d 123, 1127-28 (D.C. 1992). The
Court of Appeals has also adopted this theory of imputed defenses
in a case analogous to this one. In McAllister v. District of Columbia,
the plaintiff sued a judge and a courtroom clerk. He also sued
the District of Columbia under the theory of respondeat
superior. The Court of Appeals found that the judge and the
clerk were entitled to judicial immunity. Consequently it also
found that "[t]he immunity enjoyed by the judge and courtroom
clerk is imputed to the District." McAllister v. District of
Columbia, 653 A.2d 849, 851 (D.C. 1995). Therefore here, where
Judge Mize, Ms. Smith, and Ms. Koo have all successfully asserted
the defense of absolute judicial immunity, the District of
Columbia is entitled to assert the defense as well. Absolute
judicial immunity thus protects the District of Columbia, and it
cannot be held liable for the actions of its employees in this
case. Count VII of the Third-Party Complaint is dismissed.
C. Indemnification and Contribution Count VIII
The indemnification and contribution claim must also fail
because all four Third-Party Defendants are entitled to the
defense of absolute judicial immunity.*fn6 Since each
Third-Party Defendant is immune from actions for damages,
Third-Party Plaintiffs cannot recover on this count. Therefore
Count VIII of the Third-party Complaint is dismissed.
For the reasons set forth above, Counts III-VIII of the
Third-Party Complaint are dismissed.
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