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Richardson v. District of Columbia

May 14, 2010

T. CARLTON RICHARDSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

T. Carlton Richardson's license to practice law has been suspended as a result of disciplinary proceedings brought against him in Florida and in the District of Columbia. See In re Richardson, 692 A.2d 427 (D.C. 1997). He brings this action against entities and individuals involved in the District of Columbia proceedings, including the District of Columbia Court of Appeals-as an institution and its judges, individually-the District of Columbia Board on Professional Responsibility, the Office of Bar Counsel, the District of Columbia Bar, and several individuals presently or formerly associated with these entities (collectively "defendants"). Proceeding pro se, Richardson, in an extraordinarily prolix complaint, alleges numerous causes of action, including "various common law torts (including, but not limited to-wrongful conviction; civil conspiracy; fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation; abuse and misuse of official authority and fraud upon the courts)" as well as "U.S. Constitutional and federal statutory torts[,] including but not limited to[,] violations of the plaintiff's rights to due process, fair trial procedures and other civil rights secured to the plaintiff under the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th Amendments, as well as the Civil Rights Act, [42] U.S.C. §1983." Compl. at 3.

Before the Court are defendants' motions to dismiss [## 25, 26]. Upon consideration of the motions, the oppositions thereto, and the record of this case, the Court concludes that the motions must be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Richardson was temporarily suspended from practicing law in Florida in 1990 for charging his clients a "clearly excessive fee." See Fla. Bar v. Richardson, 574 So. 2d 60 (Fla. 1990). Richardson filed his first of many cases in this Court when he "challenge[d] the procedures and results of the Florida disciplinary proceedings on federal antitrust and constitutional grounds." Richardson v. Fla. Bar, 1990 WL 116727, at *2 (D.D.C. May 15, 1990). Finding that the case was "a poorly-veiled attempt to obtain collateral, pseudo-appellate review of the Supreme Court of Florida's . . . decision," Id. at *2, this Court dismissed Richardson's complaint for lack of jurisdiction.

After Richardson's suspension in Florida, the District of Columbia Board on Professional Responsibility ("the Board") recommended that Richardson face reciprocal discipline in the District of Columbia, and the D.C. Court of Appeals accordingly imposed a ninety-one day suspension. See In re Richardson, 602 A.2d 179, 180 (D.C. 1992). While another complaint against Richardson for charging excessive fees was pending before the Florida Bar, see Fla. Bar v. Richardson, 604 So. 2d 489 (Fla. 1992), Richardson filed a petition for resignation from that bar, which the Supreme Court of Florida granted in 1992.

On June 27, 1995, the D.C. Court of Appeals temporarily suspended Richardson from the practice of law in the District to enable the Board to consider whether it would impose reciprocal discipline against him in the District based on his resignation from the Florida Bar while disciplinary charges were pending there. In Richardson v. D.C. Court of Appeals, Civ. No. 95-1272, slip op. (D.D.C. 1996) ("Richardson I"), Richardson challenged the temporary suspension in this Court, "alleging that [the] suspension, and the D.C. Bar rule that permits it . . . unconstitutionally deprive[d] him, without due process, of his liberty interest in practicing law." Richardson v. D.C. Court of Appeals, 83 F.3d 1514, 1514 (D.C. Cir. 1996). This Court dismissed Richardson's suspension claim for lack of jurisdiction based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and abstained from hearing his claim regarding the unconstitutionality of the D.C. Bar rule under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). See id. Affirming this Court's decision, the D.C. Circuit held that this Court lacked jurisdiction of both of Richardson's claims because they fell "squarely within the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, under which federal district courts lack jurisdiction to review judicial decisions by state and District of Columbia courts." Richardson v. D.C. Court of Appeals, 83 F.3d at 1514.*fn1

The D.C. Court of Appeals temporarily suspended Richardson from the District of Columbia Bar again on March 12, 1996. See Richardson v. D.C. Court of Appeals, 962 F. Supp. 1, 1 (D.D.C. 1997) ("Richardson II"). In response, Richardson filed another action in this Court, this time challenging the constitutionality of the second interim suspension order that the D.C. Court of Appeals imposed in accordance with D.C. Bar Rule XI § 11(d). Id. Richardson argued that the D.C. Court of Appeals did not provide him a hearing before temporarily suspending him, thereby violating his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. This Court dismissed the complaint, noting that Richardson had not "distinguished this case from the suit he [previously] brought" challenging the first suspension, which was dismissed by this Court on jurisdictional grounds and affirmed by the D.C. Circuit. Id. Again, Richardson appealed and the D.C. Circuit summarily affirmed. See Richardson v. D.C. Court of Appeals, 1997 WL 811754, at *1 (D.C. Cir. Dec. 9, 1997) (stating that because Richardson's "general constitutional challenge . . . is inextricably intertwined with [previous D.C. Court of Appeals] decisions, the district court correctly found jurisdiction lacking").

During Richardson's second interim suspension, the D.C. Office of Bar Counsel began investigating allegations that Richardson had continued to practice law despite the interim suspension orders. The Bar Counsel had obtained a copy of a check that Richardson had written for a Continuing Legal Education ("CLE") class and it was used in contempt proceedings brought against him. In response, Richardson again filed suit in this Court, this time against the D.C. Bar, two employees of the Office of Bar Counsel, and the Clerk of the D.C. Court of Appeals. Richardson alleged that conduct related to this investigation, specifically the D.C. Bar's provision of "a copy of a personal check to the Office of Bar Counsel," which revealed information that was used to obtain a subpoena for Richardson's bank records, constituted an invasion of his privacy and a violation of his constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. See Compl. ¶¶ 1-10, Richardson v. D.C. Bar, No. 96-2286 (D.D.C. Jan. 13, 1997). This case was dismissed for failure to state a claim and the Circuit Court again summarily affirmed the dismissal. See Richardson v. D.C. Bar, No. 96-2286, slip op. (D.D.C. Jan. 13, 1997), aff'd, Richardson v. D.C. Bar Ass'n, 1997 WL 404321, at *1 (D.C. Cir. June 30, 1997).

On April 17, 1997, the D.C. Court of Appeals imposed final discipline against Richardson, suspending him from practicing law in the District of Columbia for three years with reinstatement conditioned on proof of fitness. In re Richardson, 692 A.2d at 428, cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1118 (1998).

Undeterred, in 2006, Richardson filed another case in this Court related to the bar disciplinary proceedings that had been brought against him. Richardson alleged that his "civil rights were violated when he was suspended from the District of Columbia Bar, and that these violations have continued throughout the proceedings in his subsequently filed civil litigation."*fn2

Richardson v. District of Columbia, 2007 WL 2007591, at *2 (D.D.C. July 11, 2007) ("Richardson V"), aff'd, Richardson v. District of Columbia, 2008 WL 2396186, at *1 (D.C. Cir. Feb. 13, 2008). Richardson's civil rights claims were dismissed on Rooker-Feldman grounds. The Court observed that "the issue of whether the district court has jurisdiction to review the state court decision has previously been litigated four times."*fn3 Id.

Again, undeterred, Richardson filed the instant case asserting, once more, claims arising from bar disciplinary proceedings against him that resulted in his suspension.

II. ANALYSIS

Defendants move to dismiss Richardson's complaint on multiple grounds. First, pursuant to Rule (12)(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, defendants argue that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.Defendants assert that the doctrine operates to deprive this Court of subject matter jurisdiction because all of Richardson's claims are premised on, or are inextricably intertwined with, proceedings involving claims resolved by the D.C. Court of Appeals or that court's decision affirming Richardson's criminal contempt conviction. Second, defendants assert that Richardson's claims should be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on res judicata grounds. Finally, defendants argue that each defendant enjoys absolute immunity from Richardson's claims. Each argument will be addressed in turn.

A. Rooker-Feldman

Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, this Court is not able to exercise jurisdiction over actions that essentially seek "appellate review of [a] state judgment . . ., based on the losing party's claim that the state judgment itself violates the loser's federal rights," Johnson v. De Grandy, 512 U.S. 997, 1005-06 (1994), or over claims that are "inextricably intertwined" with the state court judgment, D.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 486-88 (1983). Defendants argue that because Richardson's claims directly attack, or are "inextricably intertwined" with, decisions of the D.C. Court of Appeals, his claims fall squarely within the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.*fn4 Defendants are correct. In a nutshell, Richardson essentially asks this Court to review decisions of the D.C. Court of Appeals, which the Court "may not do." See Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 483 n.16 (1983).

Moreover, the application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine has been previously litigated and decided against Richardson with respect to the same claims, or those that are inextricably intertwined with such claims, as he raises here. Richardson, therefore, is precluded from relitigating the doctrines's application to this case. See GAF Corp. v. United States, 818 F.2d 901, 912 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (stating that a judgment ordering dismissal has "preclusive effect as to matters actually adjudicated; it will . . . preclude relitigation of the precise issue of jurisdiction that led to the initial dismissal.") (emphasis added).

Richardson argues that the Supreme Court's decision in Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., 544 U.S. 280 (2005), alters the legal landscape to his advantage insofar as the proper application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is concerned. According to Richardson, Exxon Mobil "add[s] a third plank to [the Rooker-Feldman] analysis." Pl.'s Combined Resp. to D.C. Bar Regulators' [1] Reply to Opp'n. To Pl.'s Mots. For Leave to Take Disc. and [2] Cross-Mot. to Dismiss ("Pl.'s Opp'n") at 2 n.3. Richardson relies heavily on the following language in Exxon Mobil in ...


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