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JORDAN v. CASTLE MANAGEMENT CORPORATION

September 30, 2005.

MARQUETTA D. JORDAN, DIAMOND A. JORDAN, AHKILAH C. CARTER, AND CLAYTON C. CARTER, Plaintiffs,
v.
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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

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.

I: BACKGROUND

  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 ...


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