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Dorsey v. 22nd Judicial Branch

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

November 26, 2019

22nd JUDICIAL BRANCH, et al., Defendants.


          Susan Russ Walker United States Magistrate Judge


         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is pending before the court on a complaint filed by Leonard E. Dorsey, an indigent inmate currently incarcerated in the Covington County Jail on criminal charges pending against him for negotiating worthless instruments (that is, checks), in violation of state law. See Ala. Code § 13A-9-13.1. In the instant complaint, Dorsey challenges the constitutionality of convictions imposed upon him for negotiating worthless instruments from 2005 until 2014 and the charges currently pending against him for this offense before the state courts of Covington Count, Alabama, which comprise the 22nd Judicial Circuit of Alabama. Doc. 1 at 3; Doc. 1-1 at 1-2. Dorsey names the 22ndJudicial Branch/Circuit; Walter Merrell, the District Attorney for Covington County; Lex Short, a judge for the Circuit Court of Covington County; and Julie Moody, a judge for the District Court of Covington County, as defendants in this case. Dorsey seeks monetary damages from the defendants for the alleged violations of his constitutional rights and declaratory relief from both the pending criminal charges for negotiating worthless instruments and his prior convictions for such offenses. Doc. 1 at 4.

         Upon a thorough review of the complaint, the undersigned concludes that this case is due to be dismissed prior to service of process in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), (ii) and (iii).[1]


         A. 22nd Judicial Branch

         Dorsey names the 22nd Judicial Branch/Circuit as a defendant in this case. The state courts of Covington County, Alabama encompass this judicial circuit. However, state courts are not persons within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for purposes of suit or liability. Moity v. Louisiana State Bar Association, 414 F.Supp. 180, 182 (E.D. La 1976), aff'd, 537 F.2d 1141 (5th Cir. 1976). Summary dismissal of the complaint against the 22ndJudicial Branch/Circuit is therefore appropriate under 28 U.S.C. U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i).

         B. Claims Related to Criminal Proceedings

         Dorsey alleges that District Attorney Walter Merrell and Judges Lex Short and Julie Moody violated his constitutional rights during criminal proceedings related to his prior convictions for negotiating worthless instruments and the current criminal proceedings undertaken with respect to the charges now pending against him for this criminal offense.

         Dorsey presents the untenable legal theory that the State cannot prosecute him for negotiating worthless checks because, ultimately, these charges relate to debts owed those he provided the worthless instruments, which he contends are purely civil matters. Doc. 1-1 at 1-2.

         1. Judges Short and Moody.

         “[J]udicial immunity is an immunity from suit, not just from ultimate assessment of damages.” Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991) (internal 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. Fla., Fed.Appx. 841, 843 (11th Cir. 2012). “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 is the nature and function of the act, not the act itself.” Mireles, 502 U.S. at 12 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “This immunity applies to proceedings under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” Wahl v. McIver, 773 F.2d 1169, 1172 (5th Cir. 1981).

         All of the allegations made by Dorsey against Judges Short and Moody clearly emanate from actions taken by these defendants in their judicial capacity during state court proceedings over which they had jurisdiction. Judges Short and Moody are therefore absolutely immune from civil liability for acts taken pursuant to their judicial authority. Hyland v. Kolhage, 267 Fed.Appx. 836, 840-41 (11th Cir. 2008) (holding that because judge's “actions were taken within his judicial capacity and he did not act in the absence of all jurisdiction [in altering minutes of a sentencing hearing after completion of such hearing], he was entitled to absolute judicial immunity.”); Stump, 435 U.S. at 356 (holding that where judge was not acting in the “clear absence of all jurisdiction” he is entitled to immunity even if Plaintiff alleges the action taken was erroneous, malicious or without authority). Consequently, Dorsey's claims against these judges are “based on an indisputably meritless legal theory” and fail to state any claim on which relief may be granted, and, as such, are subject to summary dismissal pursuant to provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and (iii).

         2. District ...

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