877 F.3d 1293 (11th Cir. 2017), 16-12007, Stevens v. Osuna

Docket Nº:16-12007
Citation:877 F.3d 1293, 27 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. C 448
Opinion Judge:EDMONDSON, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:Jacqueline STEVENS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. U.S. Attorney General, Juan OSUNA, Director, Executive Office of Immigration Review, in his official capacity, Fran Mooney, Assistant Director for the Office of Management Programs, Executive Office of Immigration Review in her individual and official capacity, Marybeth Keller, Assistant Chief ...
Attorney:Bruce P. Brown, Bruce P. Brown Law, Robert Keegan Federal, Jr., Rene Octavio Lerer, The Federal Firm, LLC, Atlanta, GA, for Plaintiff-Appellant. Aileen Bell Hughes, Samuel Scott Olens, U.S. Attorney's Office, Atlanta, GA, Christopher W. Hollis, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Division, Washingt...
Judge Panel:Before JULIE CARNES and EDMONDSON, Circuit Judges, and WILLIAMS, District Judge. WILLIAMS, District Judge, concurring:
Case Date:December 15, 2017
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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Page 1293

877 F.3d 1293 (11th Cir. 2017)

27 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. C 448

Jacqueline STEVENS, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

U.S. Attorney General, Juan OSUNA, Director, Executive Office of Immigration Review, in his official capacity, Fran Mooney, Assistant Director for the Office of Management Programs, Executive Office of Immigration Review in her individual and official capacity, Marybeth Keller, Assistant Chief Immigration Judge, Executive Office of Immigration Review, in her individual and official capacity, Gary Smith, Assistant Chief Immigration Judge, Executive Office of Immigration Review, in his individual and official capacity, et al., Defendants-Appellees, Inspector Doe, Federal Protective Services, et al., Defendants.

No. 16-12007

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

December 15, 2017

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          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, D.C. Docket No. 1:12-cv-01352-ODE.

         Bruce P. Brown, Bruce P. Brown Law, Robert Keegan Federal, Jr., Rene Octavio Lerer, The Federal Firm, LLC, Atlanta, GA, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

         Aileen Bell Hughes, Samuel Scott Olens, U.S. Attorney's Office, Atlanta, GA, Christopher W. Hollis, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Division, Washington, DC, for Defendants-Appellees.

         Before JULIE CARNES and EDMONDSON, Circuit Judges, and WILLIAMS,[*] District Judge.

         OPINION

         EDMONDSON, Circuit Judge.

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          Plaintiff Jacqueline Stevens appeals the dismissal of claims she filed pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971). Briefly stated, Plaintiff contends that her constitutional rights were violated when she was denied access to hearings at the Atlanta Immigration Court. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages, as well as injunctive and declaratory relief. We affirm the district court's decision.

          I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is a journalist and a university professor of political science. Her area of study focuses on the due process rights of those persons involved in deportation proceedings and on the conduct of Immigration Judges within the Executive Office of Immigration Review (" EOIR" ).[1] Before the occurrences underlying this civil action, Plaintiff had published criticisms of deportation proceedings in general and of Immigration Judge William Cassidy's performance in particular.

          This civil action arises from two dates on which Plaintiff sought to attend immigration hearings at the Atlanta Immigration Court.2 On 7 October 2009, Plaintiff

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wished to attend three hearings listed on Judge Cassidy's afternoon docket. One of the hearings was rescheduled at the request of respondent's lawyer. Judge Cassidy then closed to the public the remaining two hearings. Because Plaintiff was no party, family member, or attorney-of-record for the respondents in those cases, she was not permitted to observe the hearings.

         On 19 April 2010, Plaintiff returned to the Atlanta Immigration Court and did observe morning hearings held before Judge Cassidy. The docket listed one additional hearing scheduled before Judge Cassidy for that afternoon. Judge Cassidy closed that hearing to the public and, accordingly, asked Plaintiff to leave the courtroom. In her complaint, Plaintiff alleged she was asked to leave the courtroom " shortly after 3 p.m." Plaintiff asked Judge Cassidy for a " legal reason" for his request and referred him to 8 C.F.R. § 1003.27, which deals with the public's access to immigration hearings. When Judge Cassidy repeated his request that Plaintiff leave his courtroom, Plaintiff asked whether the respondent had requested a closed hearing. Judge Cassidy replied " no" and that the respondent was proceeding pro se . Judge Cassidy then told Plaintiff that he could order security guards to remove her. In response, Plaintiff asked Judge Cassidy again for " a legal reason for closing the hearing." Judge Cassidy said " no," told Plaintiff to remain in the courtroom, and that he would return with the pertinent regulation. Judge Cassidy then left the courtroom. Plaintiff alleges her verbal exchange with Judge Cassidy lasted about 90 seconds and occurred in " normal conversational tones." Plaintiff— concerned that Judge Cassidy had returned to his chambers to order guards to remove her physically from the courtroom— told Judge Cassidy's assistant that she would be waiting in the Immigration Court lobby in the event the respondent requested her presence as an observer.

         Plaintiff moved to the Immigration Court lobby, where she complained to " an EOIR court staff member about Defendant Cassidy's unlawful actions" in closing the courtroom. Plaintiff then began documenting the incident in her notebook. Between 3:15 and 3:20 p.m., three building security guards3 entered the lobby area. One of the officers asked Plaintiff to leave the building; and after a brief verbal exchange, the guards escorted Plaintiff outside. The parties dispute whether Plaintiff was removed from the building on Judge Cassidy's orders. According to Plaintiff, she overheard one guard tell another guard that Judge Cassidy wanted her out of the building.[4]

         Plaintiff filed this civil action in district court. In pertinent part, Plaintiff purported to raise these claims:[5] (1) a Bivens claim for damages against Judge Cassidy in his individual capacity; (2) a claim for injunctive

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relief against all defendants, including Judge Cassidy; (3) Bivens claims for damages against Fran Mooney, Assistant Director of the EOIR's Office of Management Programs, in her individual capacity; and (4) a claim for declaratory judgment.

         The district court dismissed Plaintiff's Bivens claim against Judge Cassidy in his individual capacity on grounds that Judge Cassidy was entitled to absolute judicial immunity. The district court also concluded that Judge Cassidy was entitled to judicial immunity from Plaintiff's claim for injunctive relief. About Plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief against the remaining defendants, the district court dismissed those claims for lack of standing. The district court also dismissed for failure to state a claim Plaintiff's Bivens claims against Mooney. The district court then declined to exercise jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claim for declaratory relief.

          II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

          Whether an official is entitled to absolute immunity is a question of law that we review de novo . Mikko v. City of Atlanta, 857 F.3d 1136, 1142 (11th Cir. 2017). We also review de novo the district court's dismissal for failure to state a claim, accepting as true the factual allegations in the complaint and construing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Butler v. Sheriff of Palm Beach Cnty., 685 F.3d 1261, 1265 (11th Cir. 2012). We review a district court's decision not to exercise jurisdiction over a claim for declaratory judgment under an abuse-of-discretion standard. Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515 U.S. 277, 289-90, 115 S.Ct. 2137, 132 L.Ed.2d 214 (1995).

          III. DISCUSSION

          A. Absolute Judicial Immunity

          1. Immigration Judges

         " Few doctrines were more solidly established at common law than the immunity of judges from liability for damages for acts committed within their judicial jurisdiction." Cleavinger v. Saxner, 474 U.S. 193, 199, 106 S.Ct. 496, 88 L.Ed.2d 507 (1985). The immunity applies even when the judge's conduct " was in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his authority ...." Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-57, 98 S.Ct. 1099, 55 L.Ed.2d 331 (1978).

          This absolute immunity is intended " for the benefit of the public, whose interest it is that the judges should be at liberty to exercise their functions with independence and without fear of consequences." Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554, 87 S.Ct. 1213, 18 L.Ed.2d 288 (1967). A judge has a duty to decide all cases brought before him, including those cases that are controversial and that may " arouse the most intense feelings in the litigants." Id. A judge's " errors may be corrected on appeal, but he should not have to fear that unsatisfied litigants may hound him with litigation charging malice or corruption. Imposing such a burden on judges would contribute not to principled and fearless decision-making but to intimidation." Id.; see also

Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 226-27, 108 S.Ct. 538, 98 L.Ed.2d 555 (1988) (" If judges were personally liable for erroneous decisions, the resulting avalanche of suits, most of them frivolous but vexatious, would provide powerful incentives for judges to avoid rendering decisions likely to provoke such suits. The resulting timidity would be hard to detect or control, and it would manifestly...

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