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Dougherty v. United States

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 19, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.



Pro se plaintiff Keith Dougherty (“Plaintiff”), who is a resident of Pennsylvania, has filed a lengthy complaint that recites block quotes from various court opinions in seriatim and appears to challenge the rulings of numerous judges assigned to various lawsuits that Plaintiff previously filed in federal and state courts in Pennsylvania and Maryland. (See, e.g., Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶¶ VII.I.A-VII.I.D.32.) As far as this Court can discern, the gravamen of Plaintiff’s complaint is his disagreement with the judges’ determination that, as a non-lawyer, Plaintiff is prohibited from representing in court various entities that he has incorporated. (See, e.g., id. ¶ III.1.) Plaintiff has named as defendants the United States; the Clerk of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and the judges of that Court; the Chief Deputy of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania and three judges of that court; two judges of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland; various Pennsylvania state judicial officers; a Maryland state judicial officer; and a variety of other individuals and companies. (See id. at 1-3.)[1] Moreover, Plaintiff purports to sue the judicial officer defendants (i.e., the judges, court clerks, and other court staff) and certain non-judicial defendants both in their official and personal capacities.

Before this Court at present are seven separate motions to dismiss the complaint that various Defendant groups have filed.[2] The Defendants’ motions assert myriad and overlapping bases for dismissal of Plaintiff’s complaint, including lack of personal jurisdiction, failure to state a plausible claim, sovereign immunity, Eleventh Amendment immunity, improper venue, res judicata, statute of limitations, standing, and failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Having considered Plaintiff’s complaint, as well as Defendants’ motions and Plaintiff’s responses thereto, this Court concludes that it must dismiss the instant complaint in its entirety for several reasons, which are explained further below. In short, this Court finds that it lacks jurisdiction to entertain the claims for monetary damages that Plaintiff makes against the United States and the judicial officer defendants in their official capacity-due to sovereign immunity with respect to the federal defendants and the Eleventh Amendment with respect to the state defendants-and the Court further finds that it does not have personal jurisdiction over the S&L Defendants, Snyder, or any of the judicial officer defendants in their individual capacities. The Court also concludes that Plaintiff has failed to state any plausible claim for monetary relief against any of the other defendants named in the complaint, and to the extent that Plaintiff is seeking injunctive relief with respect to the claims he has made against any of the defendants, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to state any claim that would entitle him to such relief. Consequently, the seven pending motions to dismiss will be GRANTED to varying degrees and Plaintiff’s entire complaint will be DISMISSED. Moreover, although the Court will refrain from issuing a pre-filing injunction at this time, it will caution Plaintiff against seeking to continue his litigation crusade by filing additional actions in this Court arising from these same matters.

A separate order consistent with this opinion will follow.


The story underlying the instant lawsuit appears to begin in 2007, when, according to Plaintiff, defendant Snyder issued a “retaliatory Stop Work Order” related to construction work that Plaintiff was performing on a building in Pennsylvania. (Compl. ¶ VII.D.2.) Plaintiff responded to this stop work order by filing a lawsuit in Pennsylvania state court-a lawsuit that was ultimately dismissed, and the dismissal of the action was eventually affirmed on appeal. See Dougherty v. Snyder, No. 1200 C.D. 2009, 2009 WL 9108133, at *1-3 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Jan. 29, 2009) (summarizing Plaintiff’s litigation history in Pennsylvania state courts). In the years that followed, Plaintiff filed several lawsuits in state and federal courts relating to the dismissal of his first complaint and Snyder’s issuance of the stop work order (collectively, the “Snyder Litigation”), each of which was unsuccessful. See id.; In re Dougherty, 563 F. App’x 96, 97 (3d Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (recounting history of Plaintiff’s federal court litigation); see also In re Dougherty, 563 F. App’x at 97, 98 n.3 (describing Plaintiff as “a frequent and frequently vexatious litigator [who] has filed petitions for writs of mandamus relying largely on arguments we already have rejected in other cases[, ]” and describing the various complaints as “largely unintelligible”); see, e.g., Best v. U.S. Foods, Inc., No. 14-00922 (M.D. Pa. 2014) (tort action that Plaintiff brought against Judges Bratton and Hess arising from decisions those judges made in another matter Plaintiff had filed).

Apparently, in the course of the Snyder Litigation, Plaintiff unsuccessfully sought “to assert claims pro se on behalf of his single-member Pennsylvania limited liability company, Docson Consulting LLC” (“Docson Consulting”). Dougherty v. Snyder, 469 F. App’x 71, 72 (3d Cir. 2012) (per curiam). Contemporaneously with pursing the Snyder Litigation, Plaintiff also sought, and was denied, the ability to represent Docson Consulting in other lawsuits. See, e.g., Cluck-U, Corp. v. C.U.C. of Md., Inc., No. 10cv2105, 2010 WL 3516937, at *2 (D. Md. Sept. 7, 2010) (remanding to state court a case that Plaintiff had removed on behalf of Docson Consulting, where notice of removal was defective because Plaintiff could not represent Docson Consulting); see also In re Dougherty, 408 F. App’x 692, 692 (4th Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (declining to grant mandamus relief to allow Plaintiff to represent the interests of his company in the Cluck-U matter).

Plaintiff filed the instant complaint on April 15, 2015. Although it is difficult to ascertain the legal bases for Plaintiff’s allegations, the complaint makes a series of references to various of legal standards. For example, Plaintiff asserts that the actions of the judicial defendants that he names in the instant complaint evince “a pattern of RICO corruption by local custom in violation of ‘due process due[.]’” (Compl. ¶ I.A.2.) Plaintiff also maintains that “[t]he 3rd and 4th Cir have/has become a RICO enterprise ‘whereby the Chief of the Circuit’ uses ‘mob tactics’ to enforce ‘Simbraw [or LR 101(a)] as the Prime Directive’ denying ‘due process due’ [as a retaliation] for all ‘closely held for profit entities and owners’ [who attempt to appear ‘personally’][.]” (Id. ¶ IV.A (second through fourth brackets in original).)[3] And Plaintiff generally purports to bring certain claims against different subclasses of defendants-i.e., Bivens claims against “Chief McKee and the Clerks, Judges and Lawyers” of the Third Circuit (id. ¶ I.A.2 (referring to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971)); a Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) claim against the United States, see 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671-820 (id.); a Monell claim against the “Superior Court Staff Attorneys” and the State Court Judges, staff, and attorneys (id. (appearing to reference Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs. of the City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658 (1978))); and a “defamation suit” against unspecified defendants (id. ¶ I.B). With respect to the remedy sought, Plaintiff asks this Court to “‘invalidat[e] . . . Simbraw’ 367 F.2d 373 (3rd Cir. 1966) on constitutional and statutory grounds” (id. ¶ I.A), and to issue a preliminary injunction that, in effect, would void all judgments of the Third Circuit that rely on the Simbraw decision and “‘compel the 3rd Cir[cuit] to produce a Rule in compliance with both 28 USC § 46(b) and 28 USC § 2077’” (id. at 31).

Seven groups of defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint, each asserting a number of arguments in support of dismissal, many of which overlap. (See, e.g., Fed. Defs.’ Mot. at 6 (sovereign immunity, personal jurisdiction, failure to state a plausible claim, judicial immunity, venue, statute of limitations, and failure to exhaust FTCA remedies); PA State Judiciary Defs.’ Mot. at 1-2 (Eleventh Amendment immunity, personal jurisdiction, failure to plead a plausible claim, judicial immunity, res judicata, and statute of limitations); Geter Mot. at 1-2 (Eleventh Amendment immunity, personal jurisdiction, failure to state a plausible claim, judicial immunity, statute of limitations, and Rooker-Feldman doctrine[4]); S&L Mot. at 1 (personal jurisdiction and failure to plead a plausible claim); Mem. in Supp. of Snyder Mot., ECF No. 17-1, at 1, 2-6 (personal jurisdiction, failure to plead a plausible claim, res judicata, and statute of limitations); Daniels Mot. at 1-2 (failure to state a plausible claim, res judicata, lack of standing, and Rooker-Feldman doctrine); Mem. in Supp. of Cluck-U Mot., ECF No. 23-1, at 2-3 (failure to state a plausible claim and res judicata).) In addition, some of the defendants have asked the Court to impose a pre-filing injunction against Plaintiff, barring him from initiating future actions in this Court without first obtaining leave to file. (See Fed. Defs.’ Mot. at 31; PA State Judiciary Defs.’ Mot. at 2.) In addition to filing oppositions to the motions to dismiss, Plaintiff has also filed a follow-on motion for a preliminary injunction that seeks the same injunctive relief that he requests in his complaint, and two motions for leave to amend his complaint. (See Pl.’s Mot. for Prelim. Inj., ECF No. 4; Mots. to Amend Caption and or File an Am. Compl., ECF Nos. 11, 32.) Each of these motions is now ripe for consideration.


A. Motions To Dismiss For Lack Of Subject Matter Jurisdiction Under Rule 12(b)(1)

A motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity or Eleventh Amendment immunity is evaluated under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) as a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. It is clear beyond cavil that the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992); Halcomb v. Office of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms of the U.S. Senate, 209 F.Supp.2d 175, 176 (D.D.C. 2002). Indeed, when it comes to Rule 12(b)(1), it is “‘presumed that a cause lies outside [the federal courts’] limited jurisdiction, ’ unless the plaintiff establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that the Court possesses jurisdiction[.]” Muhammad v. FDIC, 751 F.Supp.2d 114, 118 (D.D.C. 2010) (first alteration in original) (quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)).

“When a defendant files a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6), this Circuit has held that the court must first examine the Rule 12(b)(1) challenges . . . because if it must dismiss the complaint for lack of subject[-]matter jurisdiction, the accompanying defenses and objections become moot and do not need to be determined[.]” Schmidt v. U.S. Capitol Police Bd., 826 F.Supp.2d 59, 64 (D.D.C. 2011) (first alteration in original) (citations omitted); see also Gen. Motors Corp. v. EPA, 363 F.3d 442, 448 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (“As a court of limited jurisdiction, we begin, and end, with an examination of our jurisdiction.” (citation omitted)). Moreover, “the court must scrutinize the plaintiff’s allegations more closely when considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) than it would under . . . Rule 12(b)(6).” Schmidt, 826 F.Supp.2d at 65 (citing Macharia v. United States, 334 F.3d 61, 64, 69 (D.C. Cir. 2003)). Still, the court must accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff, Brown v. District of Columbia, 514 F.3d 1279, 1283 (D.C. Cir. 2008), but it need not “accept inferences unsupported by the facts alleged or legal conclusions that are cast as factual allegations[, ]” Rann v. Chao, 154 F.Supp.2d 61, 64 (D.D.C. 2001).

B. Motions To Dismiss For Lack Of Personal Jurisdiction And Insufficient Service Of Process ...

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