472 F.3d 1242 (10th Cir. 2007), 06-3003, Trackwell v. United States Government

Docket Nº:06-3003.
Citation:472 F.3d 1242
Party Name:Byron L. TRACKWELL, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:January 05, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Page 1242

472 F.3d 1242 (10th Cir. 2007)

Byron L. TRACKWELL, Plaintiff-Appellant,



No. 06-3003.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

January 5, 2007


Submitted on the briefs:[*]

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Byron L. Trackwell, Pro Se.

Eric F. Melgren, United States Attorney, D. Brad Bailey, Assistant United States Attorney, District of Kansas, Topeka, Kansas, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before HARTZ, ANDERSON, and TYMKOVICH, Circuit Judges.

HARTZ, Circuit Judge.

Byron L. Trackwell, proceeding pro se, filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, alleging that the Clerk of the United States Supreme Court had repeatedly withheld from Justice Stephen Breyer an application he submitted that challenged the constitutionality of the Iraq War. The complaint asserted that the Clerk's failure to transmit his application violated his First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of his grievances and was improper under Supreme Court Rule 22.1, which provides, "An application addressed to an individual Justice shall be filed with the Clerk, who will transmit it promptly to the Justice concerned if an individual Justice has authority to grant the sought relief." S.Ct. R. 22.1. The prayer for relief asked the district court to order the Clerk to transmit the application to Justice Breyer and to order the Supreme Court itself to docket his case and address his claims.

The government filed a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and (6) to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The district court granted the motion, and this appeal followed. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We hold that the district court lacked jurisdiction to hear the complaint. In particular, we hold that the mandamus statute relied upon by Mr. Trackwell, 28 U.S.C. § 1361, does not apply to courts or to court clerks performing judicial functions.


We review de novo the district court's dismissal of an action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction or for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See U.S. West, Inc. v. Tristani, 182 F.3d 1202, 1206 (10th Cir. 1999) (subject-matter jurisdiction); Sutton v. Utah State Sch. for the Deaf & Blind, 173 F.3d 1226, 1236 (10th Cir. 1999) (failure to state a claim). Because Mr. Trackwell appears pro se, we review his pleadings and other papers liberally and hold them to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972); Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 & n.3 (10th Cir. 1991).

A. Identification of Proper Defendants

Before reviewing the merits of the district court's dismissal, we first must resolve who the proper defendants are in this action. In the captions of his complaint and his amended complaint, Mr. Trackwell named only the "United States Government" as a defendant. As the district court noted, however, "he actually seeks relief against the Clerk of the Supreme Court . . . and [the] Court itself." R. Doc. 23 at 6 n.2. This was a proper reading of Mr. Trackwell's pleadings. The general rule is that in the caption of the complaint, "the title of the action shall include the names of all the parties." Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(a). But in a pro se case when the plaintiff names the wrong defendant in the caption or when the identity of the defendants is unclear from the caption, courts may look to the body of the complaint

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to determine who the intended and proper defendants are. See Johnson v. Johnson, 466 F.3d 1213, 1215-16 (10th Cir. 2006); Rice v. Hamilton Air Force Base Commissary, 720 F.2d 1082, 1085 (9th Cir. 1983).

It is clear from the body of Mr. Trackwell's pleadings that he seeks relief from the Supreme Court and its Clerk. This does not, however, end the inquiry as to the Clerk, for we must further consider whether the claim is against the Clerk in his individual or his official capacity. When, as here, "the complaint fails to specify the capacity in which the government official is sued, we look to the substance of the pleadings and the course of the proceedings in order to determine whether the suit is for individual or official liability." Pride v. Does, 997 F.2d 712, 715 (10th Cir. 1993). Mr. Trackwell has not sought damages. And his request that the Clerk transmit his application to Justice Breyer is an act that the Clerk can perform only in his official capacity. Accordingly, we construe Mr. Trackwell's claim against the Clerk as an official-capacity claim. See Simmat v. U.S. Bureau of Prisons, 413...

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