United States District Court, M.D. Alabama
OWEN BOWDRE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Edward Teitel, a pro se plaintiff, sued Defendants
Capell & Howard, P.C.; C. Clay Torbert; Cynthia
Holland-Torbert; Barbara Wells; and former U.S. District
Judge Mark Fuller, alleging they fraudulently conspired
against him to “effect a wrongful award” in an
ERISA case filed against Teitel in September 2001. This
matter comes before the court on Defendants Torbert and
Capell & Howard's motion to dismiss (doc. 5), and
Defendants Wells, Holland-Torbert, and Judge Fuller's
motion to dismiss (doc. 11). Because this suit names former
District Judge Fuller and members of the court staff, all
judges in the Middle District of Alabama were recused and the
case was assigned to this court. For the reasons discussed in
this Memorandum Opinion, the court will GRANT both motions.
September 17, 2001, one of Teitel's former employees
filed suit against him in the U.S. District Court for the
Middle District of Alabama. The claims included failure to
provide certain information about plans established pursuant
to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, failure to
provide certain benefits from ERISA plans, and bad faith.
See Cromer-Tyler v. Teitel, No. 1:01-cv-1077-MEF,
2006 WL 2355415 (M.D. Ala. Aug. 14, 2006). United States
District Judge Mark Fuller presided over the case. The case
was assigned to U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Walker on
September 17, 2001, and reassigned to Judge Fuller on March
25, 2003. C. Clay Torbert, a named defendant here, was of
counsel at Capell & Howard and represented the plaintiff
in the ERISA case against Teitel.
October 15, 2001, Teitel filed a motion to dismiss the ERISA
case for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted, but the motion remained on the court's docket
for approximately 16 months without any activity. On February
28, 2003, Magistrate Judge Walker issued an order giving the
employee two weeks to respond to Teitel's motion to
dismiss. The order allowed Teitel to reply to any response on
or before March 26, 2003. (Doc. 6, Case 1:01-cv-01077-MEF).
Teitel retained counsel on March 7, 2003; the case was
reassigned to Judge Fuller on March 25, 2003; and
Teitel's attorney filed his reply on April 23,
2003. The employee then filed a motion to strike
Teitel's reply because it was untimely and made new
arguments for dismissal not found in the motion to dismiss.
Judge Fuller granted the motion, sruck Teitel's reply,
and then denied Teitel's motion to dismiss.
case proceeded to the summary judgment phase, where Judge
Fuller remanded the case to the administrator of the
“Edward R. Teitel, M.D., P.C. Money Purchase Pension
Plan” to allow the employee to exhaust her remedies
under the plan by appealing the denial of her claim. (Doc. 61
at 11, Case 1:01-cv-01077-MEF). Judge Fuller also permitted
the employee to reopen the case and challenge the
administrator's determination should she find it
necessary to do so.
remand to the plan administrator, Teitel
“granted” the employee's request for
benefits. (Doc. 1 at 5). Then the employee reopened the case
before Judge Fuller to pursue statutory penalties and
attorney's fees. Teitel's suit culminated in a bench
trial before Judge Fuller, in which he awarded the employee
over $240, 000 in statutory penalties, attorney's fees,
the district court entered judgment against Teitel, he
apparently avoided payment of the judgment until July 2009.
In his complaint, Teitel states Torbert and Capell &
Howard “continued to pursue the judgment in Texas,
” where they “retained local counsel . . . and
directed an effort to perfect and enforce the judgment,
” eventually resulting “in enough pressure on
[Teitel] that he ultimately agreed to pay the
judgments.” (Doc. 1 at 6). Teitel completed the payment
schedule, “which had been required by the fraudulently
obtained settlement, ” in 2013. (Doc. 1 at 6).
around October 2014, Teitel became curious when he saw a news
article about Judge Fuller's arrest for domestic violence
in August 2014. Teitel conducted an internet investigation
and found information “that implicated Defendants in a
serious conflict of interest which was present during the
pendency of the ERISA case” before Judge Fuller. (Doc.
1 at 7). He discovered reports implicating Judge Fuller in a
number of “'unfair' results, resulting from
conflicts of interest.” (Id.) Based on the
media criticism, Teitel alleges Judge Fuller's conduct
left him “vulnerable to undue influence by anyone who
knew of his shenanigans.” (Id.). Yet aside
from “inferences in the media that Fuller might be
susceptible to extortion or coercion to keep ‘the open
secrets' secret at the office” (id.),
Teitel provides no facts or information regarding how these
internet search results or Judge Fuller's alleged
vulnerability relate to this case.
also discovered that Defendant Barbara Wells had joined
Torbert's firm, Capell & Howard, in 1996 and became a
shareholder in 2001-the same year the ERISA case was filed
against Teitel. Teitel states that given her practice focus,
it is likely that she had “actual knowledge of the
case, ” “may have worked on it at the office,
been consulted at the office, done research relative to the
case, or, at least, knew of the case from firm
meetings.” (Doc. 1 at 8). Then Wells became Judge
Fuller's career law clerk in December 2002, just three
months before the magistrate judge allowed the employee in
the ERISA suit to file a late response to Teitel's motion
also discovered that Defendant Cynthia Holland-Torbert is
Defendant Torbert's wife. She was a staff attorney at the
Middle District of Alabama while her husband was representing
the plaintiff in Teitel's ERISA case. Teitel does not
provide any facts showing that Wells or Holland-Torbert
actually worked on or otherwise influenced his ERISA case
during their time at the Middle District. Rather, Torbert
simply states that, “on information and belief,
Defendant Torbert used these connections to obtain an
unfairly one-sided victory in favor of his client, avoiding
claims of malpractice and brining financial reward to all
Defendants.” (Doc. 1 at 10-11).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss attacks the legal sufficiency of
the complaint. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require
the complaint to provide “a short and plain statement
of the claim” demonstrating that the plaintiff is
entitled to relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(1). A plaintiff must
provide the grounds of her entitlement, but Rule 8 rarely
requires detailed factual allegations. Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v.
Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Rule 8 does, however,
demand “more than an unadorned,
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).
Pleadings that contain nothing more than a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action do not meet
Rule 8 standards. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557.
Supreme Court explained that “[t]o survive a motion to
dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 678 (quoting and explaining its decision in
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). To be plausible on its
face, the claim must contain enough facts that “allow[
] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Although “[t]he
plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability
requirement, '” the complaint must demonstrate
“more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has
acted unlawfully.” Id. “Where a
complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a
defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line
between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to
relief.'” Id. (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. at 557).
Supreme Court has identified “two working
principles” for the district court to use in applying
the facial plausibility standard. The first principle is
that, in evaluating motions to dismiss, the court must assume
the veracity of well-pleaded factual allegations;
however, the court does not have to accept as true legal
conclusions even when “couched as  factual
allegation[s]” or “threadbare recitals of the
elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory
statements.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The
second principle is that “only a complaint that states
a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to
dismiss.” Id. at 679.
under prong one, the court determines the factual allegations
that are well-pleaded and assumes their veracity, and then
proceeds, under prong two, to determine the claim's
plausibility given the well-pleaded facts. That task is
“context-specific” and, to survive the motion,
the allegations must permit the court based on its
“judicial experience and common sense. . . to infer
more than the mere possibility of misconduct.”
Id. If the court determines that well-pleaded facts,
accepted as true, do not state a claim that is plausible, the
claim must be dismissed. Id.
Claims Against the ...