United States District Court, D. Columbia.
ARAYA HENOK, Plaintiff, Pro se, Washington, DC.
For GLADYS KESSLER, GARY C. DENNIS, MICHAEL K. FAUNTROY, NOEL J. FRANCISCO, SHIRLEY ANN HIGUCHI, WILLIAM P. LIGHTFOOT, CLAUDIA A. WITHERS, Defendants: Gregory F. Linsin, Henry Frederick Schuelke, III, LEAD ATTORNEYS, BLANK ROME, LLP, Washington, DC.
For DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant: Shana Lyn Frost, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Public Interest Division, Washington, DC.
PAUL L. FRIEDMAN, United States District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on two motions to dismiss filed by the defendants,
the District of Columbia (" the District" ) and the District of Columbia Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure (" the Commission" ), and on plaintiff Henok Araya's motion to amend his complaint. Dr. Araya, proceeding pro se, asserts that the defendants failed to maintain proper oversight of a judge who sits on the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and who adjudicated Dr. Araya's divorce proceedings in that court. Dr. Araya contends that the judge brought the " Catholic Bible" into the courtroom and forced him to swear upon it, and he also asserts that the judge suffered from a hearing impairment that interfered with the judge's ability to conduct fair trial proceedings, in addition to various other allegations.
Dr. Araya seeks damages and injunctive relief, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, as well as a claim for breach of fiduciary duty. The District and the Commission respond that Dr. Araya's claims for retrospective relief are untimely and that he fails to state a claim under Section 1983. The defendants also contend that Dr. Araya lacks standing to assert a claim for injunctive relief. Upon careful consideration of the parties' arguments, the relevant legal authorities, and the entire record in this case, the Court will grant the defendants' motions and will dismiss this action.
Dr. Araya was a party to divorce proceedings before D.C. Superior Court Judge John H. Bayly, Jr. A trial was held over several days between July 28, 2010 and January 6, 2011, and on August 24, 2011 Judge Bayly issued a 44-page ruling in the case. See Araya v. Keleta, 65 A.3d 40, 43-44 (D.C. 2013), cert. denied, 134 S.Ct. 426, 187 L.Ed.2d 282 (2013). Judge Bayly granted the petitions for divorce filed by Dr. Araya and his wife; awarded joint legal custody of the parties' children; awarded Dr. Araya's wife sole
physical custody of the children; granted Dr. Araya visitation with the children; awarded Dr. Araya's wife ownership and possession of certain real properties; and ordered Dr. Araya to pay child support, as well as spousal support for a limited period. Id. Dr. Araya appealed Judge Bayly's decision, which was affirmed by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Id. at 59.
The present action is Dr. Araya's third lawsuit filed in this federal District Court relating to his divorce case. See Henok v. Dist. of Columbia, Civil Action No. 13-1621 (PLF), 58 F.Supp.3d 93, 2014 WL 3542121 (D.D.C. July 18, 2014) (dismissing Dr. Araya's Fifth Amendment takings claims, premised on Judge Bayly's award of real properties to Araya's wife, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rooker-Feldman doctrine); Araya v. Bayly, 875 F.Supp.2d 1 (D.D.C. 2012), aff'd, No. 12-7069, 2013 WL 500819 (D.C. Cir. Jan. 18, 2013) (per curiam), cert. denied, 134 S.Ct. 266, 187 L.Ed.2d 150 (2013) (dismissing under Rooker-Feldman numerous other claims arising from the divorce proceedings). In his complaint and proposed amended complaint in this case, Dr. Araya sets forth a variety of allegations, including that: (1) Judge Bayly improperly possessed and used the " Catholic Bible" in the courtroom, see Proposed Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 8, 19, 22, 33, 42, 44; (2) Judge Bayly forced Dr. Araya to swear an oath on the Bible, see id. ¶ ¶ 12, 17, 19, 22, 38, 44; (3) Judge Bayly forced Dr. Araya to pray in the courtroom, see id. ¶ ¶ 9, 16, 34, 37, 42; (4) Judge Bayly was biased in favor of the Catholic faith, shared by himself and Dr. Araya's wife, see id. ¶ ¶ 32, 44, 46; (5) Judge Bayly suffered from hearing loss, which interfered with his ability to conduct a fair trial, see id. ¶ ¶ 10, 11, 29, 35, 36, 42; and (6) Judge Bayly frequently cancelled scheduled court dates without notice, causing Dr. Araya to miss work and to incur substantial financial losses.
See id. ¶ 30.
Based on these various allegations, Dr. Araya asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the D.C. Human Rights Act (" DCHRA" ), as well as a claim for breach of fiduciary duty. The premise of these claims is that the defendants -- the District of Columbia and the Commission -- breached a duty to ensure that judges of the Superior Court act in a manner that affords litigants fair trials and that does not violate litigants' rights under the First Amendment or the DCHRA. Dr. Araya demands compensatory, punitive, special, statutory, exemplary, and treble damages, as well as an award of litigation costs. Proposed Am. Compl., Prayer for Relief ¶ ¶ 1-5, 7-8. In addition, Dr. Araya seeks an injunction restraining the defendants from " carrying, placing, [or] using ANY [B]ible or anything religious" in the D.C. Superior Court, as well as an order " to remove any and all religious paraphernalia" from the grounds of that court. Id. ¶ 6. Alternatively, Dr. Araya seeks injunctive relief that would permit him and other citizens to place their own preferred religious materials on the grounds of the Superior Court. Id. ¶ 11.
The District maintains that all of Dr. Araya's claims for retrospective relief -- relating to the injuries that Araya says he suffered during the trial proceedings -- are barred by applicable statutes of limitations. District MTD Mem. at 5-7. The District also argues that Araya's Section 1983 claim fails on its merits because he has not set forth factual allegations that plausibly demonstrate his asserted injuries were caused by a custom or policy of the
District. Id. at 7-8. With respect to Dr. Araya's claim for an injunction requiring the removal of all religious materials from the D.C. Superior Court's grounds, the District responds that Araya lacks standing to assert such a claim. Id. at 9-10. The District adds an additional argument for dismissal in its opposition to Dr. Araya's motion to amend his complaint, contending that Araya's claims are barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel based on the prior decision of the D.C. Court of Appeals affirming Judge Bayly's ruling. District Opp'n Mot. to Amend at 4-5. The Commission joins in the District's untimeliness arguments, see Comm'n MTD Mem. at 2 nn.2-3, as well as in the District's standing argument. See Comm'n Opp'n Mot. to Amend at 4. It further argues that Araya's Section 1983 claim against the Commission fails because the Commissioners' purported fiduciary duties do not arise by virtue of state law. Comm'n MTD Mem. at 3.
II. LEGAL STANDARDS
A. Motion to Amend the Complaint