United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
F. BIVINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
who is proceeding pro se, and in forma pauperis,
filed an amended complaint at the Court's direction.
(Docs. 7, 12). Plaintiff's amended complaint was referred
to the undersigned for appropriate action pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and Local Rule 72.2(c)(1). Because
Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the
undersigned is required to screen her amended complaint
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Troville v.
Venz, 303 F.3d 1256, 1260 (11th Cir. 2002) (applying
§ 1915(e) to non-prisoner actions). After carefully
screening Plaintiff's amended complaint (Doc. 12), it is
recommended that Plaintiff's claims against Defendant
Robert A. Agerton be dismissed with prejudice, prior to
service of process, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and (iii), and that Plaintiff's amended
complaint be served on the remaining Defendants.
Nature of Proceedings.
amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Robert
A. Agerton, the probate judge of Escambia County, Alabama,
Margaret Wilson, a case worker with the Alabama Department of
Human Resources, Stephanie Brown, an employee with Southwest
Alabama Mental Health Center, and Joe Whitt, an attorney, all
deprived her of her liberty, and conspired to violate her due
process rights and equal protection rights under the U.S.
Constitution. (Doc. 12). According to Plaintiff, on August
28, 2017, her estranged sister, Nicole Santoro, filed a
petition asserting that Plaintiff was abusing and stealing
from their elderly mother, that Plaintiff was seriously
mentally ill, and that Plaintiff needed to be involuntarily
committed. (Id. at 2).
to Plaintiff, Judge Agerton signed an order on August 29,
2017, requiring that Plaintiff be transported to Southwest
Alabama Mental Health Center for evaluation. (Id. at
2). Plaintiff alleges that she was placed in three point
shackles by local law enforcement and transported to
Southwest Alabama Mental Health Center where she was seen by
Defendant Stephanie Brown. Brown evaluated her for ten
minutes, diagnosed her with bi-polar disorder, and told her
that she would be involuntarily committed. (Id.).
This resulted in Plaintiff being confined to the psychiatric
unit at Crenshaw Hospital. (Id. at 2-3).
contends that she was scheduled to be taken to Court on
September 5, 2017, for a preliminary hearing and that a
hospital official completed a discharge form indicating that
Plaintiff had reached maximum improvement. (Id. at
5-6). However, Plaintiff was later informed that the hearing
had been rescheduled for the next day. Plaintiff contends
that she subsequently learned that, on September 5, 2017, Joe
Whitt, who was appointed by the Court to serve as her
guardian ad litem, had informed the Court that Plaintiff
needed to be involuntarily committed for not more than 150
days despite the fact that he had not spoken with Plaintiff.
Plaintiff contends that Judge Agerton decided that it was in
Plaintiff's best interest to forgo a preliminary hearing
and to commit Plaintiff for no more than 150 days.
(Id. at 9).
asserts that, at the preliminary hearing held the next day on
September 6, 2017, her sister and Plaintiff's estranged
daughter both provided false testimony and that Joe Whitt
failed to extensively cross examine them. (Id. at
8-9). Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that Judge Agerton
interrupted her while she was trying to testify, and he
refused to allow her mother to speak. (Id. at 9).
According to Plaintiff, Judge Agerton went back to chambers
for a long time, and when he came out, he announced the same
decision that had been reached in her absence the day before,
namely that she would to be involuntarily committed for not
more than 150 days. (Id.). Plaintiff asserts that,
subsequent thereto, she retained counsel and was released a
week later, on September 13, 2017. (Id. at 10).
Plaintiff seeks both compensatory and punitive damages for
the sixteen (16) days that she was committed, and she
requests a trial by jury.
Standards of Review Under 28 U.S.C. §
Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court
is reviewing her amended complaint (Doc. 12) under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B). Pursuant to § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), a
claim may be dismissed as “frivolous where it lacks an
arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Neitzke
v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). A claim is
frivolous as a matter of law where, inter alia, the
defendants are immune from suit, id. at 327 or the
claim seeks to enforce a right that clearly does not exist.
a complaint may be dismissed under 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) for failure to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted. Mitchell v. Farcass, 112 F.3d
1483, 1490 (11th Cir. 1997). To avoid dismissal
for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted, the allegations must show plausibility. Bell
Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007).
“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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009). That is, “[f]actual allegations
must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level” and must be a “‘plain
statement' possess[ing] enough heft to ‘sho[w] that
the pleader is entitled to relief.'”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557 (second brackets in
considering a pro se litigant's allegations, a
court gives them a liberal construction, holding them to a
more lenient standard than those of an attorney. Haines
v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). A court, however,
does not have “license . . . to rewrite an otherwise
deficient pleading [by a pro se litigant] in order
to sustain an action.” GJR Investments v. County of
Escambia, Fla., 132 F.3d 1359, 1369 (11th Cir. 1998),
overruled in part on other grounds, Randall v.
Scott, 610 F.3d 707, 709 (11th Cir. 2010).
Furthermore, a pro se litigant “is subject to
the relevant law and rules of court, including the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure.” Moon v. Newsome,
863 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 493
U.S. 863 (1989).
Agerton is the probate court judge who presided over
Plaintiff's civil commitment proceedings. (Doc. 12).
“[J]udicial immunity is an immunity from suit, not just
from ultimate assessment of damages.” Mireles v.
Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991) (citation omitted).
“Judges are entitled to absolute immunity from suits
for acts performed while they are acting in their judicial
capacity unless they acted in complete absence of all
jurisdiction.” Allen v. Florida, 458 Fed.Appx.
841, 843 (11th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted).
“A judge will not be deprived of immunity because the
action he took was in error, was done maliciously, or was in
excess of his authority; rather, he will be subject to
liability only when he has acted in the clear absence of all
jurisdiction.” Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S.
349, 356-57 (1978) (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted); Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11 (holding that
“[j]udicial immunity is not overcome by allegations of
bad faith or malice”); Allen, 458 Fed.Appx. at
843 (same). “[T]he relevant inquiry ...