United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
WILLIAM H. STEELE, Chief District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on a filing styled "Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsiration [ sic ] to the Court Un-Lawfully [ sic ] Granting the Defendant Jack B. Weaver Immunity" (doc. 15).
Plaintiff, Simp McCorvey, who is proceeding pro se, commenced this lawsuit against multiple defendants, including Jack B. Weaver, a Circuit Judge in Monroe County, Alabama. In his Complaint, McCorvey sharply criticized Judge Weaver's handling of a state-court matter in which McCorvey was a litigant. Specifically, McCorvey alleged that Judge Weaver had failed to send him written notice of the trial setting, that McCorvey (who resides out of state) had learned of the trial date too late to arrange his attendance, that Judge Weaver refused to grant McCorvey a continuance and conducted the trial without him, that Judge Weaver granted the other party's request to dismiss the jury demand and proceed as a bench trial, that Judge Weaver ruled against McCorvey, and that Judge Weaver delayed sending written notice of his ruling until it was too late for McCorvey to appeal. The Complaint repeatedly brands Judge Weaver as "corrupt" and suggests that his conduct was motivated by a desire for personal financial gain via the other litigant. In terms of relief sought, the Complaint requests that Judge Weaver's ruling be rescinded and that McCorvey be awarded monetary damages totaling $400, 000.
On October 21, 2014, the undersigned entered an Order (doc. 11) granting Judge Weaver's Motion to Dismiss, on grounds of both judicial immunity and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. With regard to the former, the October 21 Order explained that Judge Weaver was insulated from this lawsuit by absolute judicial immunity. In particular, the October 21 Order found that Judge Weaver's challenged acts and omissions were undertaken in his judicial capacity, inasmuch as he was clearly performing a normal judicial function ( i.e., hearing and deciding a case assigned to him as a Monroe County Circuit Judge), and the subject events happened in his chambers or courtroom. The October 21 Order further explained that the Complaint was devoid of factual allegations supporting an inference that Judge Weaver was acting in the clear absence of all jurisdiction; therefore, both prongs of the judicial immunity doctrine were satisfied. Alternatively, the October 21 Order concluded that McCorvey's claims against Judge Weaver were barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, inasmuch as McCorvey is a state-court loser seeking what in substance would be appellate review of a state-court judgment rendered before these federal proceedings commenced and inviting this Court to reject such a judgment based on alleged constitutional infirmities.
Now, McCorvey comes forward and requests reconsideration of the October 21 Order on the following grounds: (i) the October 21 Order wrongfully "blames the plaintiff" for his misfortune; (ii) the October 21 Order is riddled with "knowing" and "willful" false statements of fact; (iii) the absence of notice received by McCorvey negates judicial immunity for Judge Weaver; (iv) principles of prosecutorial immunity require a different result; and (v) lack of notice to plaintiff precludes dismissal pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.
As an initial matter, McCorvey's Motion for Reconsideration fails to identify or comport with the stringent legal standard governing such motions. Although McCorvey does not acknowledge it, his Motion appears to have been filed pursuant to Rule 59(e), Fed.R.Civ.P. Under that rule, a dissatisfied federal litigant is not entitled to reconsideration of anything and everything, merely because he disagrees with a court's ruling or thought of something else to say. To the contrary, "[t]he only grounds for granting a Rule 59 motion are newly-discovered evidence or manifest errors of law or fact." United States v. Marion, 562 F.3d 1330, 1335 (11th Cir. 2009) (citation and internal marks omitted); see also Arthur v. King, 500 F.3d 1335, 1343 (11th Cir. 2007) (similar). Authority is legion for the proposition that motions to reconsider "may not be used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment." Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 485 n.5, 128 S.Ct. 2605, 171 L.Ed.2d 570 (2008) (citation omitted). Rule 59(e) motions do not afford an unsuccessful litigant "two bites at the apple." American Home Assur. Co. v. Glenn Estess & Associates, Inc., 763 F.2d 1237, 1239 (11th Cir. 1985). Nor are such motions properly filed "as a kneejerk reaction by a dissatisfied federal court loser." Lee v. Thomas, 2012 WL 3137901, *2 (S.D. Ala. Aug. 1, 2012). "They are neither appeal substitutes nor a dry run' to test arguments in anticipation of a forthcoming appeal." Id. McCorvey's Motion consists in large part of arguments that either (i) were considered and rejected previously, or (ii) could have been raised previously but were not. Either way, the Motion for Reconsideration falls outside the narrow parameters in which Rule 59(e) relief may be appropriate.
Even if the Motion were proper, it would fail. The five "errors" on which McCorvey relies as the basis for his Rule 59(e) Motion are the product of either imagined slights or McCorvey's fundamental misunderstanding of the law. First, plaintiff repeatedly criticizes the October 21 Order for "wrongly blaming the Plaintiff" for the events occurring in state court. (Doc. 15, at 1-2.) The October 21 Order does no such thing. Nowhere does that Order state, opine, or insinuate that it was McCorvey's fault he allegedly did not receive timely notice of the state court trial.
Second, McCorvey suggests that the October 21 Order reflects judicial bias against him, as he contends that this Court engaged in "knowingly false statements" and "willful mis-stating the facts" in that Order. (Doc. 15, at 2, 3, 4, 13.) Plaintiff even asserts that the October 21 Order was "based solely on the Judge's emotions, " rather than the law. ( Id. at 12.) Plaintiff's reckless accusations of partiality have no basis in reality. The undersigned is well versed in the legal standard for judicial disqualification under 28 U.S.C. § 455 and knows of no facts or circumstances that might reasonably call into question his impartiality in this matter. More to the point, each of the alleged "false statements" that McCorvey cites from the October 21 Order are, in fact, well grounded in the pleadings and court documents.
Third, McCorvey maintains that it was error for the October 21 Order to dismiss Judge Weaver on grounds of judicial immunity because Judge Weaver had provided "no-Notice to the Plaintiff that this defendant would be the New Judge, No &mdash: Notice of Hearing, No-Notice to the Plaintiff... that this Defendant was be starting at 9/11/2013 at 7:00am acting as a Judge and would act in an official Judicial Capacity." (Doc. 15, at 4.) In McCorvey's view, the lack of notice issue absolutely forecloses Judge Weaver from claiming judicial immunity. ( Id. at 12.) Once again, plaintiff is wrong.
"Whether a judge's actions were made while acting in his judicial capacity depends on whether: (1) the act complained of constituted a normal judicial function; (2) the events occurred in the judge's chambers or in open court; (3) the controversy involved a case pending before the judge; and (4) the confrontation arose immediately out of a visit to the judge in his judicial capacity." Sibley v. Lando, 437 F.3d 1067, 1070 (11th Cir. 2005). The only facts before this Court are that Judge Weaver was the assigned state-court judge presiding over the Monroe County Circuit Court action, that McCorvey is complaining about events that occurred in Judge Weaver's chambers or courtroom, and that the entire thrust of this lawsuit is McCorvey's dissatisfaction with Judge Weaver's handling of a case assigned to him and his unfavorable rulings in such case. These circumstances are a textbook example of those in which judicial immunity applies. For purposes of this immunity, it does not make any difference whether Judge Weaver gave McCorvey notice or not, whether Judge Weaver was motivated by corrupt or improper objectives, whether Judge Weaver acted in violation of the Constitution, and so on. See, e.g., Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 359, 98 S.Ct. 1099, 55 L.Ed.2d 331 (1978) ("A judge is absolutely immune from liability for his judicial acts even if his exercise of authority is flawed by the commission of grave procedural errors."); Harris v. Deveaux, 780 F.2d 911, 914 (11th Cir. 1986) ("Judicial immunity is an absolute immunity; it applies even where a judge acts maliciously."). Judicial immunity applies.
Fourth, McCorvey devotes several pages of his Motion for Reconsideration to a discussion of prosecutorial immunity. ( See doc. 15, at 4-6.) Prosecutorial immunity has no application here. Judge Weaver is a judge, not a prosecutor; therefore, McCorvey's claims against him are properly analyzed through the lens of judicial immunity, not prosecutorial immunity. To the extent that McCorvey seeks reconsideration of the October 21 Order based on principles of prosecutorial immunity, then, his Motion is frivolous.
Fifth, McCorvey assigns error to the October 21 Order's alternate holding that dismissal of the claims against Judge Weaver was appropriate under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. In doing so, McCorvey reasons that the lack of notice and the paucity of state-court rulings during the pendency of that case foreclose application of that doctrine. (Doc. 15, at 13.) However, the law is crystal clear that Rooker-Feldman "continues to apply with full force to cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments." Casale v. Tillman, 558 F.3d 1258, 1261 (11th Cir. 2009); see also Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, Fla., 713 F.3d 1066, 1072 (11th Cir. 2013) ("The Rooker-Feldman doctrine states that federal district courts have no authority to review final judgments of a state court.") (citations omitted). That is precisely the case here; therefore, McCorvey's claims against Judge Weaver (wherein he seeks to have this Court review and overturn Judge Weaver's rulings in the underlying state court litigation) were properly dismissed via Rooker-Feldman principles.
For all of the foregoing reasons, plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration ...