Pickett v. Williams

Decision Date24 June 2019
Docket NumberNo. 3:17-CV-557-C-BH,3:17-CV-557-C-BH
PartiesJODY WAYNE PICKETT, Plaintiff, v. BRIAN WILLIAMS, et. al, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Texas
Referred to U.S. Magistrate Judge
FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION

By Special Order 3-251, this pro se case has been automatically referred for full case management. Based on the relevant filings and applicable law, the plaintiff's complaint should be DISMISSED.

I. BACKGROUND

Jody Wayne Pickett (Plaintiff) sues Rockwell County, Texas, a Rockwell County judge in his individual capacity, and ten unnamed employees, agents, or private contractors of Rockwall County or the State of Texas, for alleged violation of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, 1986, and 1988. (doc. 1 at 2-4, 8-11; doc. 12 at 2-7.)1 He alleges that he was a spectator in the gallery of a courtroom during a hearing on June 1, 2016, when an attorney alleged that Plaintiff was filming the hearing. (doc. 1 at 5; doc. 12 at 2.) A bailiff told Plaintiff to stand up, and the judge ordered him to the bench and said that he would be held in contempt of court. (doc. 1 at 5.) The attorney asked the judge to confiscate Plaintiff's phone, and the judge ordered the defendant bailiff to seize the phone and examine it for any recordings. (Id.) Another unnamed defendant helped the bailiff search the phone, he but did not find any recordings of the court proceedings. (Id.) There was no sign prohibiting recordings. (Id.)

Plaintiff alleges that the defendants violated his rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments and the state constitution, and he seeks monetary damages, and declaratory and injunctive relief. (doc. 1 at 4, 8-12; doc. 12 at 2-7.)2 He alleges that the violation of his constitutional rights was the result of an official policy of Rockwall County, but that the policy or custom, the policymaker, and how the policy or custom was the moving force behind the constitutional violations are unknown and will be determined through discovery. (doc. 12 at 5.) For the unnamed defendants, he states that their names and descriptions, their addresses, the capacity in which they are sued, the causes of action against them, the constitutional or federal law provisions they violated, their actions, and the relief he seeks from them are also unknown and will be determined through discovery. (doc. 12 at 5-6.) No process has been issued.

II. PRELIMINARY SCREENING

Because Plaintiff has been permitted to proceed in forma pauperis, his complaint is subject to screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Section 1915(e)(2)(B) provides for sua sponte dismissal of the complaint, or any portion thereof, if the Court finds it is frivolous or malicious, if it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or if it seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.

A claim is frivolous when it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). A claim lacks an arguable basis in law when it is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory." Id. at 327. A claim fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted when it fails to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on itsface." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); accord Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

III. SECTION 1983

Plaintiff sues under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (doc. 1 at 1.) Section 1983 "provides a federal cause of action for the deprivation, under color of law, of a citizen's 'rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws' of the United States." Livadas v. Bradshaw, 512 U.S. 107, 132 (1994). It "afford[s] redress for violations of federal statutes, as well as of constitutional norms." Id. To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege facts that show (1) he has been deprived of a right secured by the Constitution and the laws of the United States; and (2) the deprivation occurred under color of state law. See Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 155 (1978); Cornish v. Corr. Servs. Corp., 402 F.3d 545, 549 (5th Cir. 2005).

A. Judge

The Supreme Court has recognized absolute immunity for judges acting in the performance of their judicial duties. See Nixon v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 731, 745-46 (1982). Judges are immune from suit for damages resulting from any judicial act. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11-12 (1991). Allegations of bad faith or malice do not overcome judicial immunity. Id. at 11. A plaintiff can overcome the bar of judicial immunity only under two very limited circumstances. See Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11-12; see also Boyd v. Biggers, 31 F.3d 279, 284 (5th Cir. 1994).

First, a judge is not immune from suit for actions that are not "judicial" in nature. See Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11. "[W]hether an act by a judge is a 'judicial' one relate[s] to the nature of the act itself, i.e., whether it is a function normally performed by a judge, and to the expectations of the parties, i.e., whether they dealt with the judge in his judicial capacity." Davis v. TarrantCounty, Tex., 565 F.3d 214, 222 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoting Mireles, 502 U.S. at 12). "[T]he relevant inquiry is the 'nature' and 'function' of the act, not the 'act itself.' In other words, [a court should] look to the particular act's relation to a general function normally performed by a judge . . . ." Id.

[The Fifth Circuit] has adopted a four-factor test for determining whether a judge's actions were judicial in nature: (1) whether the precise act complained of is a normal judicial function; (2) whether the acts occurred in the courtroom or appropriate adjunct spaces such as the judge's chambers; (3) whether the controversy centered around a case pending before the court; and (4) whether the acts arose directly out of a visit to the judge in his official capacity. These factors are broadly construed in favor of immunity.

Davis, 565 F.3d at 222-23 (citations omitted). "The absence of one or more factors will not prevent a determination that judicial immunity applies." Carter v. Carter, No. 3:13-CV-2939-D (BF), 2014 WL 803638, at *1 (N.D. Tex. Feb. 20, 2014) (citing Ballard v. Wall, 413 F.3d 510, 515 (5th Cir. 2005)). Second, a judge is not immune from suit for actions that although judicial in nature, are taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction. See Mireles, 502 U.S. at 12; see also Malina v. Gonzales, 994 F.2d 1121, 1124 (5th Cir. 1993).

Although Plaintiff alleges that the judge was not acting in his judicial capacity and was acting without jurisdiction (doc. 12 at 2), he does not allege any facts in support of those allegations. The facts that he does allege show that the judge was acting in his judicial capacity and within his jurisdiction. The events of Plaintiff complains occurred during a court proceeding in the judge's courtroom where Plaintiff was a spectator and resulted from information that Plaintiff was recording the proceedings. Judges act within their jurisdiction and are entitled to absolute immunity when they "maintain the decorum and security of their courtrooms and the courthouses in which those courtrooms are located." Huminski v. Corsones, 396 F.3d 53, 77-78 (2d Cir. 2005). Plaintiff's claims against the judge are therefore based on actions that are normally performed by a judge. Seeid. Plaintiff's claims against the judge are barred by judicial immunity.3

B. County

Municipalities, including counties, may be held liable under § 1983. Hampton Co. Nat'l Sur., LLC v. Tunica Cty., 543 F.3d 221, 224 (5th Cir. 2008). A municipality may be liable under § 1983 if the execution of one of its customs or policies deprives a plaintiff of his or her constitutional rights. Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978); Jones v. City of Hurst, Tex., No. 4:05-CV-798-A, 2006 WL 522127, at *3 (N.D. Tex. Mar. 2, 2006) (citing Board of County Comm'rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997)). It is well-settled that a municipality cannot be liable under a theory of respondeat superior, however. Piotrowski v. City of Houston, 237 F.3d 567, 578 (5th Cir. 2001) (citing cases). "Under the decisions of the Supreme Court and [the Fifth Circuit], municipal liability under section 1983 requires proof of three elements: a policy maker; an official policy; and a violation of constitutional rights whose 'moving force' is the policy or custom." Id. (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 694); see also Valle v. City of Houston, 613 F.3d 536, 541-42 (5th Cir. 2010); Cox v. City of Dallas, 430 F.3d 734, 748 (5th Cir. 2005). Official municipal policy includes the decisions of a government's lawmakers, the acts of its policymaking officials, and practices so persistent and widespread as to practically have the force of law. Monell, 436 U.S. at 691-95.

"Official policy" is defined as:

1. A policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision that is officially adopted and promulgated by the municipality's lawmaking officers or by an official to whom the lawmakers have delegated policy-making authority; or
2. A persistent, widespread practice of city officials or employees, which, although not authorized by officially adopted and promulgated policy, is so common and well settled as to constitute a custom that fairly represents municipal policy. Actual or constructive knowledge of such custom must be attributable to the governing body of the municipality or to an official to whom that body had delegated policy-making authority. Actions of officers or employees of a municipality do not render the municipality liable under § 1983 unless they execute official policy as above defined.

Webster v. City of Houston, 735 F.2d 838, 841 (5th Cir. 1984) (per curiam); accord Pineda v. City of Houston, 291 F.3d 325, 328 (5th Cir. 2002). Where a policy is facially constitutional, a plaintiff must demonstrate that it was promulgated with deliberate indifference to known or obvious...

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