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Bennett v. Stotler

October 5, 2006

JAMES DAVIS BENNETT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ALICEMARIE STOTLER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court on initial review of plaintiff's pro se complaint and request for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction. The Court, sua sponte, will dismiss the complaint.

I. BACKGROUND

According to plaintiff, the defendants, among whom are "an unscrupulous judge, errant prosecutor[s], a mischievous investigator, and a court appointed panel attorney," conducted an "Illegal crime conviction ring."*fn1 Compl. at 7. Special Agent Michael Rawlins of the Federal Bureau of Investigation allegedly obtained a search warrant "through perjury designed to create[] probable cause and perjury designed to create federal jurisdiction." Id. at 9 (emphasis in original). After a search of plaintiff's residence and business office, Special Agent Rawlins and Assistant United States Attorney David Hofer allegedly "used the illegally obtained documents from the search" to cause plaintiff's arrest and to bring criminal charges against him. Id. at 10. The presiding judge, Alicemarie Stotler, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Central District of California, allowed Assistant United States Attorney Brett A. Sagel, "who was unlicensed," to try the case for the government. Id. at 11. Further, Chief Judge Stotler allegedly forced plaintiff to accept the substandard services of appointed defense counsel and ruled against plaintiff on his motions to suppress evidence, to call a handwriting expert as a witness at the criminal trial, and for acquittal. Id. at 10, 11. In addition, Chief Judge Stotler allegedly "changed the Grand Jury Indictment by adding 15 additional counts used to increase the probability of convictions." Id. at 11 (emphasis in original). Plaintiff faulted Alberto Gonzales, United States Attorney General, and James Sensenbrenner, Chair of the House Committee on the Judiciary, for their alleged failure to formulate policies and to provide oversight designed to prevent the violations of plaintiff's constitutional rights. Id. at 7.

Plaintiff demands unspecified monetary and punitive damages from all defendants. Compl. at 17-18. In addition, he demands that Representative Sensenbrenner initiate "investigative proceedings against [C]hief [J]udge Alicemarie Stotler for possible filing of impeachment resolution for high crimes and misdemeanors and proof of same," and that Attorney General Gonzales investigate "Chief [J]udge Alicemarie Stotler, David Hoffer, Brett A. Sagel and Michael Rawlins for the constitutional violations [alleged in the complaint], for obstruction of justice, perjury, subornation of perjury and other crimes against minorities and others." Id. at 17.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiff's Claims for Monetary Damages are Barred

1. Immunity Bars Claims for Money Damages

"Judges enjoy absolute judicial immunity from suits for money damages for all actions taken in the judge's judicial capacity, unless these actions are taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction." Sindram v. Suda, 986 F.2d 1459, 1460 (D.C. Cir. 1993) (per curiam) (citing Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11-12 (1991)); see Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 225 (1988); Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 355-56 (1978); Bradley v. Fisher, 13 Wall. 335, 347 (1872). As the Supreme Court has stated,

This immunity applies even when the judge is accused of acting maliciously and corruptly, and it is not for the protection or benefit of a malicious or corrupt judge, but for the benefit of the public, whose interest it is that the judges should be at liberty to exercise their functions with independence and without fear of consequences.

Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554 (1967) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

It cannot be said that a district judge presiding over a criminal case exceeds her jurisdiction by appointing defense counsel, ruling on a motion to suppress evidence, instructing a jury, and ordering plaintiff's detention pending sentencing. These acts were undertaken in Chief Judge Stotler's judicial capacity, and plaintiff's claims against her are barred by absolute judicial immunity. See Clark v. Taylor, 627 F.2d 284, 288 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (per curiam) (finding that Superior Court judges' disposition of motions in criminal proceeding "can only be characterized as judicial action"). Plaintiff's challenges to his conviction and sentence may be proper subjects for a post-conviction motion in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, or an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, but they are not a proper basis for a damages claim against the judge.

Prosecutors, too, are absolutely immune from civil suits for damages arising from the performance of their official duties. See Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 422-24 (1976); Gray v. Bell, 712 F.2d 490, 499 (D.C. Cir.1983) (limiting absolute prosecutorial immunity to conduct "so closely associated with judicial process that it can be characterized as advocatory"), cert. denied, 465 U.S. 1100 (1984). Actions taken in the course of prosecuting the criminal case against plaintiff, such as initiating criminal proceedings and presenting evidence at criminal trials, are "intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process." Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. at 430. Plaintiff's claims for monetary damages against Assistant United States Attorneys Hofer and Sagel are thus barred by prosecutorial immunity. See, e.g., Moore v. Motz, 437 F.Supp.2d 88, 91-92 (D.D.C. 2006) (concluding that claims against prosecuting attorneys of Justice Department's Criminal Division are barred by prosecutorial immunity).

Finally, legislative immunity bars plaintiff's claims for monetary damages against Representative Sensenbrenner. "It is the purpose and office of the doctrine of legislative immunity, having its roots as it does in the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution . . . , that legislators engaged in the sphere of legitimate legislative activity . . . should be protected not only from the consequences of litigation's results but also from the burden of defending themselves." Dombrowski v. Eastland, 387 U.S. 82, 84-85 (1967) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). The Speech or Debate Clause, U.S. Const. art. I, § 6, cl. 1, confers on members of Congress immunity for all actions "within the 'legislative sphere,' even though their conduct, if performed in other than legislative contexts, would in itself be unconstitutional or otherwise contrary to criminal or civil statutes." Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. v. Williams, 62 F.3d 408, 415 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (quoting Doe v. McMillan, 412 U.S. 306, 312-13 (1973)); see Eastland v. United States ...


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