734 F.3d 830 (8th Cir. 2013), 12-3564, Simes v. Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Com'n

Docket Nº:12-3564.
Citation:734 F.3d 830
Opinion Judge:RILEY, Chief Judge.
Party Name:L.T. SIMES, II, Plaintiff-Appellant v. ARKANSAS JUDICIAL DISCIPLINE AND DISABILITY COMMISSION; John Everett, individual and official capacity as member of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission; H. William Allen, individual and official capacity as member of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission; Reginald Du
Attorney:George Emanual Hairston, New York, NY, Terrence Cain, Little Rock, AR, for appellant. Mark N. Ohrenberger, AAG, Little Rock, AR, for appellee.
Judge Panel:Before RILEY, Chief Judge, BRIGHT and BYE, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:October 31, 2013
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

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734 F.3d 830 (8th Cir. 2013)

L.T. SIMES, II, Plaintiff-Appellant

v.

ARKANSAS JUDICIAL DISCIPLINE AND DISABILITY COMMISSION; John Everett, individual and official capacity as member of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission; H. William Allen, individual and official capacity as member of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission; Reginald Duane Hamman, individual and official capacity as member of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission; William A. Story, individual and official capacity as member of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission; Chris E. Williams, individual and official capacity as member of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission; David Stewart, individual and official capacity as member of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 12-3564.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

October 31, 2013

Submitted: Sept. 25, 2013.

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George Emanual Hairston, New York, NY, Terrence Cain, Little Rock, AR, for appellant.

Mark N. Ohrenberger, AAG, Little Rock, AR, for appellee.

Before RILEY, Chief Judge, BRIGHT and BYE, Circuit Judges.

RILEY, Chief Judge.

L.T. Simes, II, is the first African-American circuit court (trial court) judge elected in Phillips County, Arkansas. During disciplinary proceedings against him before the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission (commission), Simes filed a federal lawsuit, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the commission and six of its officials: five commissioners and Executive Director David Stewart (collectively, officials). 1

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The district court 2 denied Simes' request for a temporary restraining order and stayed federal proceedings in accordance with the Younger abstention doctrine, see Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971). The state disciplinary proceedings ended with a decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court (1) accepting the commission's findings that Simes violated two canons of the Arkansas Code of Judicial Conduct; (2) rejecting the commission's findings that Simes violated four other canons; and (3) ordering the commission to reprimand Simes. See Ark. Judicial Discipline & Disability Comm'n v. Simes, 381 S.W.3d 764, 769, 779 (Ark.2011) ( Simes II ). The district court then granted the commission and officials' Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b) motion to dismiss, finding no justiciable federal controversy. Considering Simes' appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and reviewing the record and the district court's well-reasoned opinions, we affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Arkansas State Proceedings

Simes alleges the following facts.3 Since 1997, Simes has been an elected trial level judge in Phillips County, Arkansas. Voters re-elected him in 2000, 2004, and 2010. Simes' judicial career did not lead him to renounce his extrajudicial activities as a " successful business man [sic]," notably co-owning a local radio station and producing a CD of religious music (composed and sung by Simes himself).

Between 2004 and 2007, more complaints were filed against Simes " than any other judge under the jurisdiction of the Commission." During this period, the commission sanctioned Simes twice, once " for appearing in his judicial robes on the cover of a CD he produced" and once for " ‘ making personal solicitations for campaign contributions' during his 2004 election." In early 2008, the commission notified Simes the commission would hold probable cause hearings in five of the pending complaints against him. Simes agreed to a letter of reprimand in one of the complaints, based upon his two-month delay in entering an order after having ruled from the bench in a time-sensitive election dispute. See Judicial Discipline & Disability Comm'n, Letter of Reprimand, Case No. 07-259 (2008). The commission dismissed one of the complaints (No. 07-142), and found probable cause for disciplinary hearings on the remaining three complaints (Nos. 06-171, 05-112, and 05-123).

The first case to proceed to a disciplinary hearing was number 06-171, referred to by Simes as the " Chandler case." Proceedings took place in early 2009, and the commission recommended the Arkansas Supreme Court " permanently remove[ ] [Simes] from his position as Circuit Judge for practicing law and serving as a fiduciary while on the bench." In Judicial Discipline & Disability Comm'n v. Simes, 354 S.W.3d 72 (Ark.2009) ( Simes I ), the Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously agreed with the commission that Simes " created the appearance, in reasonable minds, that [he] was unable to perform his duties with integrity, impartiality, and competence." Id. at 79; see id. at 85 (Hannah, C.J., concurring and dissenting);

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id. at 87 (Danielson, J., concurring and dissenting). The Arkansas Supreme Court also found Simes improperly " engaged in the practice of law" and " served as a fiduciary ... while he was a judge." 4 Id. at 78-79 (majority opinion). Although two justices would have permanently removed Simes from the bench, see id. at 85 (Hannah, C.J., concurring and dissenting), the majority voted to suspend Simes without pay until the end of his term, allowing him to run for re-election and, if re-elected, resume his judicial duties. See id. at 85.

The remaining two complaints, numbers 05-112 and 05-123, which both arose from what Simes calls " the Weaver case," were " merged on November 21, 2008 for a disciplinary hearing." Hearings on these complaints occurred in 2010, leading to a second recommendation for Simes' removal based on six violations of Arkansas' judicial code. The Arkansas Supreme Court upheld two and rejected four of the violations based in part upon procedural irregularities related to other charges that Simes should not have personally overseen proceedings in which he sua sponte sanctioned parties for requesting his recusal. See Simes II, 381 S.W.3d at 772, 774, 779.

B. Federal Proceedings

On July 23, 2010, amid ongoing disciplinary proceedings in " the Weaver case," Simes filed a federal complaint in the Eastern District of Arkansas and moved for a temporary restraining order. The district court denied Simes' TRO motion on July 27, 2010, finding none of the four temporary injunction factors weighed in Simes' favor. Faced with a motion to dismiss, Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), (2), & (4)-(6), the district court stayed proceedings, finding Younger abstention was warranted to avoid interference with ongoing state proceedings.

After the state proceedings ended with a reprimand order in Simes II, Simes amended his federal complaint. His amended complaint asserted two causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 related to the commission's handling of the many judicial complaints filed against him. The first cause of action alleged the commission and officials " targeted [Simes] for permanent removal" based on his race in violation of the U.S. and Arkansas Constitutions and state law. The second cause of action, directed solely against Stewart, alleged " false and intentionally defamatory statements" in violation of the " First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States ... and State law as well." According to Simes, " Stewart announced publicly that [Simes] had been accused of ordering a newspaper reporter not to write a story, of improperly pressuring a Mayor of Helena-West Helena to reinstate a fired employee, and attempting to prevent people from talking to the Commission." Simes demanded declaratory judgment relief, injunctions, compensatory and punitive damages, and legal fees. The commission and officials promptly moved to dismiss.

On September 27, 2012, the district court granted the defendants' motion and dismissed the case. The district court found all the defendants were entitled to immunity from damages: the commission, a state entity, by virtue of the Eleventh...

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