United States District Court, District of Columbia
E. BOASBERG United States District Judge
se Plaintiffs Rodney and DeAlva Graves brought this
action for money damages against Cynthia Callahan, a judge on
the Montgomery County (Maryland) Circuit Court. The Graveses
are unhappy with certain rulings Judge Callahan made in their
foreclosure proceedings. Defendant now moves to dismiss on
myriad grounds. As judicial immunity (among other doctrines)
bars this suit, the Court will grant the Motion.
their Complaint can be hard to follow at times (and
apparently omits several pages), Plaintiffs allege that,
during litigation concerning a foreclosure of their property,
Judge Callahan '"acted non judicially'
by inter alia, failing to acknowledge Rodney's
'legal interest' and standing, already
established by Judge Greenberg nearly 2 years prior."
Compl. at 5. She also purportedly erred "by not
following [Maryland Rule 14-211] and unlawfully enjoining
Rodney from further filing pleadings in foreclosure process,
which deprived him of due process of law for appeal."
Id. (brackets original). The Graveses also allege
that "Judge Callahan is not an appellant judge, thus her
actions were in 'clear absence of all
jurisdiction' when she unlawfully overruled Judge
Greenberg." LI She further "acted outside her
delegated jurisdiction while not performing functions
normally performed by judges of the Circuit Court for
Judicial Circuit 6.” Id. Some of her conduct
“intentionally violated [Plaintiffs'] protected
constitutional and civil rights because of their
‘race and color.'” Id.
result of Defendant's alleged transgressions, Plaintiffs
seek $850, 000 in compensatory damages, treble damages, and
$10 million in punitive damages. Id. at 6-7.
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a Court to dismiss
any count of a complaint that fails “to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted.” In evaluating a
motion to dismiss, the Court “must treat the
complaint's factual allegations as true and must grant
plaintiff ‘the benefit of all inferences that can be
derived from the facts alleged.'” Sparrow v.
United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir.
2000) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d
605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)) (citation omitted). The Court need
not accept as true, however, “a legal conclusion
couched as a factual allegation” or an inference
unsupported by the facts set forth in the Complaint.
Trudeau v. FTC, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006)
(quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286
12(b)(6)'s pleading standard is “not meant to
impose a great burden upon a plaintiff, ” Dura
Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005), as a
count will survive so long as there is a
“‘reasonably founded hope that the [discovery]
process will reveal relevant evidence' to support the
claim.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 563 n.8 (2007) (quoting Dura Pharm., 544 U.S.
at 347). While “detailed factual allegations” are
not necessary to withstand a dismissal motion, id.
at 555, a complaint still “must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.'”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). In other words, a
plaintiff must put forth “factual content that allows
the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant
is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. A
complaint may survive even if “‘recovery is very
remote and unlikely'” or the veracity of the claims
are “doubtful in fact” if the factual matter
alleged in the complaint is “enough to raise a right to
relief above the speculative level.” Twombly,
550 U.S. at 555-56 (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416
U.S. 232, 236 (1974)).
evaluating the sufficiency of Plaintiff's Complaint under
Rule 12(b)(6), the Court may consider “the facts
alleged in the complaint, any documents either attached to or
incorporated in the complaint[, ] and matters of which [the
court] may take judicial notice.” EEOC v. St.
Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C.
Cir. 1997). In addition, the Court must consider a pro
se litigant's Complaint “in light of”
all filings, including those responsive to a motion to
dismiss. Brown v. Whole Foods Market, 789 F.3d 146,
152 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quotation omitted). In so doing, the
Court is also mindful that complaints filed by pro
se litigants are “h[e]ld to less stringent
standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.”
Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).
Defendant appropriately raises a host of infirmities with
Plaintiffs' pleadings, some would just delay the
litigation either here or elsewhere. For example, although
Judge Callahan questions personal jurisdiction in this case,
it is unclear without discovery or further briefing whether
she may be sued here. Given that the doctrine of judicial
immunity plainly shields her, however, this seems the wisest
basis on which to dispose of the matter. See Sinochem
Int'l Co. v. Malaysia Int'l Shipping Corp., 549
U.S. 422, 431 (2007) (“[A] federal court has leeway to
choose among threshold grounds for denying audience to a case
on the merits.”) (quotation omitted).
doctrines were more solidly established at common law than
the immunity of judges from liability for damages for acts
committed within their judicial jurisdiction.”
Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 553-54 (1967). One
purpose of the doctrine is to “protect judicial
independence by insulating judges from vexatious actions
prosecuted by disgruntled litigants, ” Forrester v.
White, 484 U.S. 219, 225 (1988) - precisely the case
here. As a result, “judges of courts of superior or
general jurisdiction are not liable to civil actions for
their judicial acts, even when such acts are in excess of
their jurisdiction, and are alleged to have been done
maliciously or corruptly.” Stump v. Sparkman,
435 U.S. 349, 355-56 (1978) (quotation omitted). Such
immunity even covers suits claiming a deprivation of
constitutional rights. See Apton v. Wilson, 506 F.2d
83, 90 (D.C. Cir. 1974) (“The common law immunity of
judges is fully applicable in suits under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 alleging deprivations of constitutional rights.”).
Graveses here complain solely of acts taken by Judge Callahan
in her judicial role, and as they seek money damages (as
opposed to some type of injunctive or declaratory relief),
their suit cannot survive. Moore v. Motz, 437
F.Supp.2d 88, 93 (D.D.C. 2006) (citing Mireles v.
Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991)).