United States District Court, District of Columbia
E. BOASBERG United States District Judge
se Plaintiff Jancis Fuller originally brought this suit
to compel Defendants - Court Clerks for the Supreme Court of
the United States - to file her petition for writ of
certiorari, which they had refused as untimely. This Court
dismissed her case without prejudice because it cannot order
officials of a higher court to take such an action. Now,
taking a second swing, Fuller seeks to file an Amended
Complaint, this time asking for damages and declaratory
relief. Defendants, however, have absolute immunity from her
claim for damages, and this Court lacks jurisdiction to
entertain her further request for declaratory relief. The
Court will thus deny Fuller's attempt to revive this
case, as it would be futile to do so.
is a Connecticut state prisoner who is currently serving a
30-year sentence. See ECF No. 4-1 (Amended
Complaint) at 1. In June 2014, she sought to file a petition
for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court of the United
States in relation to a civil-rights action, the dismissal of
which the Second Circuit had affirmed. Id. at 2-3,
5. Declaring such petition untimely filed, Defendants - Court
Clerks Scott Harris and Clayton Higgins - refused to accept
it. Id. at 5-6.
this refusal, Fuller filed this action on May 9, 2017, asking
this Court to order Defendants to file her petition.
See ECF No. 1 (Complaint) at 20. Because this Court
has no jurisdiction to compel officers of a higher court to
so proceed, it dismissed her case without prejudice three
days later. See ECF Nos. 2 & 3 (Order &
12 - 31 days after entry of that judgment - Fuller filed a
self-styled Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint
pursuant to Rule 15(a)(2). See ECF No. 4. She argues
that she should now be allowed to file a proffered Amended
Complaint because her “former legal advisor . . .
formulated every paragraph” of her original
Complaint's prayer for relief and gave her incorrect
information as to what relief she could seek. Id. at
2. Despite its reference to Rule 15(a), her Motion in essence
seeks to vacate the original judgment dismissing her case so
that she may now proceed under a different theory. Indeed,
Plaintiff must first successfully seek such an alteration of
the judgment - under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) -
before she can go forward with any amended complaint.
Bldg. Indus. Ass'n of Superior Cal. v. Norton,
247 F.3d 1241, 1245 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (explaining necessary
procedure). Because Fuller is proceeding pro se, the
Court will generously construe her pleading as properly filed
under Rule 60(b) and accordingly consider whether it merits a
resurrection of her action. See Brown v. District of
Columbia, 514 F.3d 1279, 1283 (D.C. Cir. 2008)
(explaining pro se pleadings held to less stringent
obtain relief under Rule 60(b), Fuller must give this Court a
“reason to believe that vacating the judgment will not
be an empty exercise or a futile gesture.” Murray
v. District of Columbia, 52 F.3d 353, 355 (D.C. Cir.
1995). In other words, courts deny Rule 60(b) motions when a
plaintiff's proposed amended complaint would still fail
to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.
Lepkowski v. Dep't of Treasury, 804 F.2d 1310,
1314 (D.C. Cir. 1986). Here, Fuller cannot clear this hurdle,
as Defendants enjoy absolute immunity from suit on her claim
for damages, and this Court lacks jurisdiction over her claim
for declaratory relief.
proposed Amended Complaint seeks to hold Defendants liable in
a variety of ways for their refusal to accept her petition
for writ of certiorari. In particular, she asks for a
declaratory judgment that they violated her constitutional
right of access to the courts, compensatory damages to
reimburse her for various costs related to her court filings
and this case, as well as punitive damages totaling $175,
000. See Am. Compl. at 10-11. Because these are
forms of relief “that can be granted in this Court,
” Fuller contends she now has a viable suit.
See Mot. at 4-6. She also argues that Defendants are
not entitled to immunity from these claims because the
“illegal acts” they committed “were not
done at the direct order of any [Justice] of the U.S. Supreme
Court, ” and “[t]hey didn't have the
discretion to ignore the mandatory language of” certain
Supreme Court Rules. Id. at 6.
with her claims for damages, however, Fuller misunderstands
the scope of Defendants' immunity in this context.
“Like other forms of official immunity, judicial
immunity is an immunity from suit, not just from ultimate
assessment of damages.” Mireles v. Waco, 502
U.S. 9, 11-12 (1991). Court “clerks, like judges, are
immune from [such] damage suits for performance of tasks that
are an integral part of the judicial process.”
Sindram v. Suda, 986 F.2d 1459, 1460-61 (D.C. Cir.
1993). Whether the act was “nondiscretionary” or
“ministerial” or taken at a “judge's
direction, ” moreover, is not relevant. Id. at
1461 (quotation omitted). “Rather, immunity applies to
all acts of auxiliary court personnel that are ‘basic
and integral part[s] of the judicial function, ' unless
those acts are done ‘in the clear absence of all
jurisdiction.'” Id. (quoting Mullis v.
U.S. Bank. Ct. for Dist. of Nev., 828 F.2d 1385, 1390
(9th Cir. 1987)).
clerk's refusal to file a petition for writ of certiorari
is just such a “quintessentially” judicial act
because a “clerk's receipt and processing of
plaintiff's attempted filings are part and parcel of the
process of adjudicating cases.” Reddy v.
O'Connor, 520 F.Supp.2d 124, 130 (D.D.C. 2007);
see also Trackwell v. U.S. Gov't, 472 F.3d 1242,
1247 (10th Cir. 2007) (same); Smith v. Erickson, 884
F.2d 1108, 1111 (8th Cir. 1989) (filing of documents by clerk
is integral part of judicial process and protected by
judicial immunity); Mullis, 828 F.2d at 1390 (same);
Sibley v. Roberts, 224 F.Supp.3d 29, 37 (D.D.C.
2016) (same); Sibley v. U.S. Supreme Ct., 786
F.Supp.2d 338, 344 (D.D.C. 2011) (same). There is thus no
doubt that Defendants enjoy absolute immunity from
Plaintiff's effort to seek damages based on their
decision not to file her petition for writ of certiorari, as
they plainly had jurisdiction to take that act.
leaves Fuller only with her request for a declaration that
Defendants' act violated her constitutional rights. As
the D.C. Circuit has explained, though, “The Supreme
Court . . . has inherent supervisory authority over its
Clerk.” In re Marin, 956 F.2d 339, 340 (D.C.
Cir. 1992). As such, “it is the right and duty of the
[Supreme] Court . . . to correct irregularities of its
officer and compel him to perform his duty.”
Id. (quoting Griffin v. Thompson, 43 U.S.
(2 How.) 244, 257 (1844)). Because “[t]his supervisory
responsibility is exclusive to the Supreme Court . . . [, ]
neither a district court nor a circuit court of appeals has
jurisdiction to interfere with it by mandamus or
otherwise.” Id. Indeed, the D.C. Circuit has
long held that this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction
to issue the type of declaratory relief Fuller seeks.
even if Defendants' decision was in error, as Plaintiff
claims, she cannot sue them for it here. The Court will thus
deny her Motion and ...