18 F.3d 147 (2nd Cir. 1994), 536, Sheppard v. Beerman

Docket Nº:536, Docket 93-7658.
Citation:18 F.3d 147
Party Name:Brian SHEPPARD, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Leon BEERMAN, as an individual and in his official capacity as Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:March 03, 1994
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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Page 147

18 F.3d 147 (2nd Cir. 1994)

Brian SHEPPARD, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Leon BEERMAN, as an individual and in his official capacity

as Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of

New York, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 536, Docket 93-7658.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

March 3, 1994

Argued Nov. 2, 1993.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 149

Brian Sheppard, pro se.

John J. Sullivan, Assistant Attorney General of the State of New York, New York, N.Y. (Robert Abrams, Attorney General of the State of New York, Albany, N.Y., of counsel), for Defendant-Appellee.

Before: OAKES, KEARSE, and ALTIMARI, Circuit Judges.

ALTIMARI, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff-appellant Brian Sheppard, appearing pro se, appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Glasser, J.), dismissing his complaint on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) ("Rule 12(c)"), 822 F.Supp. 931. Sheppard, a law clerk to defendant-appellee Leon Beerman, a justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, was discharged following a heated dispute with Beerman. Sheppard subsequently brought an action under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 (1988) alleging that his discharge and Beerman's conduct following the discharge violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights. In his complaint, Sheppard claimed that he was fired in "retaliation for [his] protesting, and [sic] considering to expose, judicial misconduct." He further alleged that subsequent to the discharge, Beerman illegally searched his office and seized his belongings. The district court dismissed Sheppard's claims on the pleadings, finding that he failed to state any cognizable constitutional claims. On appeal, Sheppard challenges the dismissal of each of his claims, generally arguing that the district court made certain improper factual findings in ruling on Beerman's Rule 12(c) motion to dismiss on the pleadings. For the reasons discussed below, we agree with Sheppard only as to one of his First Amendment claims. Accordingly, we affirm, in part, and vacate and remand, in part.

BACKGROUND

Sheppard served as a law clerk to Beerman from 1986 until he was fired on December 11, 1990. Because this case comes to us on a motion to dismiss, we must view the facts in the light most favorable to Sheppard. Accordingly, his view of the facts alleges the following series of events preceding and following his discharge.

Sheppard alleges that on December 6, 1990, after engaging in ex parte communications with the prosecution in a pending murder case, Beerman ordered him to draft a decision denying the defendant's pending speedy trial motion without a hearing, regardless of the motion's merits, so that the defendant would stand trial at a time advantageous to the prosecution. Sheppard refused to follow Beerman's direction, stating that he would not take part in the "railroading" of the defendant. Beerman responded that although Sheppard was not being discharged, he should seek other employment if he felt that way.

At this time, Sheppard informed Beerman that he had taken extensive notes of instances of other judicial misconduct by Beerman during the preceding four years of Sheppard's service in chambers. As an example, Sheppard noted a case that Beerman had assigned to himself in order to take personal revenge against the accused. Beerman expressed concern about Sheppard making his notes public. Harsh words were exchanged

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between the parties: Sheppard called Beerman "corrupt" and a "son of a bitch," and Beerman called Sheppard "disturbed" and "disloyal." Sheppard immediately apologized for his characterization. The argument ended with no resolution, and Sheppard worked the remainder of the day.

When Sheppard next returned to work on December 11, 1990, he was removed from chambers by court officers, who informed him that Beerman had fired him. Sheppard was forced to leave immediately and not allowed to take his belongings with him. Both before and after his discharge on that day, Sheppard's property was searched by Beerman or by others at his direction. Specifically, Sheppard's file cabinets and desk drawers were searched, and a box of his personal file cards was seized and removed to Beerman's private office and examined. On December 13, 1990, Sheppard was permitted to return to chambers accompanied by court officers to retrieve certain of his belongings. On December 21, 1990, he was permitted to retrieve the rest of his personal files.

Following his discharge, Sheppard returned to Beerman's courtroom on a number of occasions. On January 18, 1991, while attending Beerman's calendar call, Sheppard began ruffling through court files. Beerman subsequently directed him to leave the courtroom if he wished to examine documents. On January 28, 1991, Beerman told an attorney not to speak with Sheppard and warned Sheppard not to involve himself in the cases Sheppard had worked on when he was a clerk. On February 11, 1991, Sheppard was told not to keep coming in and out of the courtroom, and was told to be quiet when he sought to reply to this direction.

Sheppard's Lawsuit

In April 1991, Sheppard commenced an action under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, alleging that the above actions by Beerman violated Sheppard's First Amendment right to free speech, his First Amendment right of access to criminal proceedings and documents, his First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances, and his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures. Sheppard also asserted pendent state law tort claims for, among other things, false imprisonment, trespass, conversion, and defamation. Beerman filed an answer and then moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) on the grounds that Sheppard had not met threshold pleading requirements, that the complaint failed to state a cause of action, and that Beerman was entitled to qualified immunity.

On May 21, 1993, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Glasser, J.) granted Beerman's motion for judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that Sheppard could not state any cognizable constitutional claim under any set of facts as a matter of law. Having held that plaintiff failed to state any cognizable constitutional claims, the court declined to exercise its pendent jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claims.

Sheppard now appeals.

DISCUSSION

We review the district court's grant of Beerman's motion to dismiss Sheppard's claims de novo. See Grimes v. Ohio Edison Co., 992 F.2d 455, 456 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 114 S.Ct. 467, 126 L.Ed.2d 419 (1993). In deciding a Rule 12(c) motion, we apply the same standard as that applicable to a motion under Rule 12(b)(6). See Ad-Hoc Comm. of Baruch Black and Hispanic Alumni Ass'n v. Bernard M. Baruch College, 835 F.2d 980, 982 (2d Cir.1987). Under that test, a court must accept the allegations contained in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant; it should not dismiss the complaint " 'unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.' " Id. (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 101-02, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)). This standard is "applied with particular strictness when the plaintiff complains of a civil rights violation." Branum v....

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