Stafne v. Zilly, Case No. 2:17-cv-01692-MHS

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Washington)
Citation337 F.Supp.3d 1079
Docket NumberCase No. 2:17-cv-01692-MHS
Parties Scott E. STAFNE, Plaintiff, v. Thomas S. ZILLY, John C. Coughenour, Barry G. Silverman, and Ty Trenary, Defendants.
Decision Date09 October 2018

Scott E. Stafne, Stafne Trumbull LLC, 239 North Olympic Avenue, Arlington, WA 98223. Pro se.

Jared D. Hager, Special Assistant United States Attorney, United States Attorney's Office for the District of Oregon, 1000 SW Third Avenue, Suite 600, Portland, OR 97202. Of Attorneys for Defendants Thomas S. Zilly, John C. Coughenour, and Barry G. Silverman.

Geoffrey A. Enns, Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney, Civil Division, 3000 Rockefeller Avenue, M/S 504, Everett, WA 98201. Of Attorneys for Defendant Ty Trenary.


Michael H. Simon, District Judge.

Plaintiff Scott E. Stafne ("Stafne") is an attorney in the State of Washington. He brings this action on his own behalf. Stafne asserts claims against three senior federal judges and a county sheriff.1 Before Stafne filed this lawsuit, each Federal Judge Defendant had elected what is known as "senior status" under 28 U.S.C. § 371(b)(1).2 In this lawsuit, Stafne challenges the constitutionality of that statute under the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.3

Stafne argues that after the Federal Judge Defendants elected senior status, they became mere "judicial volunteers," who cannot lawfully exercise federal jurisdiction over Stafne, or any litigant whom Stafne represents, without the express consent of all parties in any particular lawsuit. Stafne also alleges that the Federal Judge Defendants have erroneously concluded in other cases that the court in those cases had subject matter jurisdiction over the dispute and made other errors. In the lawsuit now before this Court, Stafne seeks various forms of relief against the Federal Judge Defendants, including: (1) a declaration that any orders issued by the Federal Judge Defendants in other cases are void; (2) an injunction requiring the Federal Judge Defendants to withdraw from continuing to preside over or hear any case in which Stafne is a lawyer or litigant; and (3) money damages. Against Sheriff Trenary, Stafne seeks declaratory relief, asking the Court to declare the legal consequences if Sheriff Trenary were to comply with a specific order that Judge Zilly previously issued in one of Stafne's cases. The Federal Judge Defendants have moved to dismiss the pending action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and, alternatively, for failure to state a claim. Sheriff Trenary has moved to dismiss this lawsuit for failure to state a claim.

A person allegedly aggrieved by an order, decision, or judgment in a federal case has several avenues for relief. "Congress has provided carefully structured procedures for taking appeals, including interlocutory appeals, and for petitioning for extraordinary writs in Title 28 of the United States Code." Mullis v. U.S. Bankr. Ct. for Dis. of Nev. , 828 F.2d 1385, 1394 (9th Cir. 1987). The collateral attack doctrine directs that challenges to the orders, decisions, or judgments of a court other than through these well-recognized procedures are generally improper, and to allow such collateral attacks would "seriously undercut[ ] the orderly process of law." Celotex Corp. v. Edwards , 514 U.S. 300, 313, 115 S.Ct. 1493, 131 L.Ed.2d 403 (1995). The complementary doctrine of absolute judicial immunity also serves to "discourage[ ] collateral attacks" and to "help[ ] to establish appellate procedures as the standard system for correcting judicial error." Forrester v. White , 484 U.S. 219, 225, 108 S.Ct. 538, 98 L.Ed.2d 555 (1988). Stafne currently has two cases before the Federal Judge Defendants. Rather than seek relief for any alleged errors through proper channels in those cases, Stafne filed this lawsuit. Through this action, Stafne attempts an end-run around the carefully-crafted and well-recognized processes designed to protect the rights of all litigants and the orderly administration of law.

Longstanding principles providing for appellate review, finality, and the orderly process of law dictate dismissal of this lawsuit. Much of Stafne's Complaint is merely a collateral attack on the orders and decisions made by other judges in other cases, which a different judge in a different case is without jurisdiction to hear. This district judge also lacks the authority to grant Stafne the declaratory or injunctive relief that he seeks because doing so would require this Court to issue what is, in effect, a writ of mandamus on a parallel or even superior court. Further, equitable relief is improper when a litigant has an adequate remedy at law. Under the facts alleged, even when viewed in the light most favorable to Stafne, he has an adequate remedy at law through direct appeal or mandamus in the cases in which he or his clients claim to have been injured. That is the proper route for addressing the arguments that Stafne raises in this lawsuit.

In addition, the doctrine of absolute judicial immunity—itself a bulwark against collateral attack—bars Stafne's monetary claims against the Federal Judge Defendants. Judicial immunity is not overcome by Stafne's allegation that the position of "senior federal judge" violates the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Finally, Stafne's claims against Defendant Trenary must be dismissed because they constitute a collateral attack on an order of another district court and, to the extent Stafne seeks money damages, that claim is not ripe for review because Sheriff Trenary has not yet executed the court order at issue. Thus, the Court grants with prejudice the motions to dismiss filed by the Federal Judge Defendants and Sheriff Trenary.

A. Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Gunn v. Minton , 568 U.S. 251, 256, 133 S.Ct. 1059, 185 L.Ed.2d 72 (2013) (quotation marks omitted). A federal court is to presume "that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction, and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am. , 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673, 128 L.Ed.2d 391 (1994) (citations omitted); see also Robinson v. United States , 586 F.3d 683, 685 (9th Cir. 2009) ; Safe Air for Everyone v. Meyer , 373 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2004). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for lack of "subject matter jurisdiction, because it involves a court's power to hear a case, can never be forfeited or waived." United States v. Cotton , 535 U.S. 625, 630, 122 S.Ct. 1781, 152 L.Ed.2d 860 (2002). An objection that a particular court lacks subject matter jurisdiction may be raised by any party, or by the court on its own initiative, at any time. Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp. , 546 U.S. 500, 506, 126 S.Ct. 1235, 163 L.Ed.2d 1097 (2006) ; Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). The Court must dismiss any case over which it lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3) ; see also Pistor v. Garcia , 791 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2015) (noting that when a court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, meaning it lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate a case, the court must dismiss the complaint, even sua sponte if necessary).

B. Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim may be granted only when there is no cognizable legal theory to support the claim or when the complaint lacks sufficient factual allegations to state a facially plausible claim for relief. Shroyer v. New Cingular Wireless Servs., Inc. , 622 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2010). In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint's factual allegations, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded material facts alleged in the complaint and construe them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Wilson v. Hewlett-Packard Co. , 668 F.3d 1136, 1140 (9th Cir. 2012) ; Daniels-Hall v. Nat'l Educ. Ass'n , 629 F.3d 992, 998 (9th Cir. 2010). To be entitled to a presumption of truth, allegations in a complaint "may not simply recite the elements of a cause of action, but must contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively." Starr v. Baca , 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011). All reasonable inferences from the factual allegations must be drawn in favor of the plaintiff. Newcal Indus. v. Ikon Office Solution , 513 F.3d 1038, 1043 n.2 (9th Cir. 2008). The court need not, however, credit the plaintiff's legal conclusions that are couched as factual allegations. Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678-79, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).

A complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations to "plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief, such that it is not unfair to require the opposing party to be subjected to the expense of discovery and continued litigation." Starr , 652 F.3d at 1216. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) ).

A. Stafne's Earlier Lawsuits

Stafne is an attorney admitted to practice before the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and the United States Supreme Court. Stafne has represented clients before the Western District of Washington and the Ninth Circuit and states that he intends to continue to do so. Stafne also has represented himself as a party before the Western District of Washington and the Ninth Circuit and states that he likely will do so again. In addition to his legal practice, Stafne is engaged in educational and...

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