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Ilya Boguslavsky v. Robert J. Conway

October 19, 2012

ILYA BOGUSLAVSKY,
PLAINTIFF
v.
ROBERT J. CONWAY, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Munley)

MEMORANDUM

On October 9, 2012, Plaintiff Ilya Boguslavsky (hereinafter "plaintiff") filed the instant pro se civil rights complaint against the Honorable Robert J. Conway (hereinafter "defendant"), a judge of the Court of Common Pleas for Wayne County, Pennsylvania.*fn1 (Doc. 1, Compl. (hereinafter "Compl.")). Plaintiff seeks relief in the form of a declaratory judgment that defendant violated his constitutional rights by dismissing a state court civil action he filed in 2006. For the reasons stated below, the court finds that plaintiff's claims are absolutely devoid of merit and plainly unsubstantial. Accordingly, the court will order the dismissal of this action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1).

Background*fn2

This civil rights complaint arises from plaintiff's dissatisfaction with the outcome of his 2006 Wayne County Court of Common Pleas lawsuit against the Lake Watawga Property Owners Association (hereinafter "LWPOA").*fn3

(Compl. ¶¶ 9-10). Plaintiff's state court action sought a declaratory judgment and monetary relief.*fn4 (Id. ¶ 9). In July 2006, LWPOA filed preliminary objections to the complaint pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1017. (Id. ¶ 12). Plaintiff subsequently filed preliminary objections to LWPOA's preliminary objections. (Id. ¶ 16). Defendant, who was "[a]cting in his judicial capacity, . . . dismissed Plaintiff's civil action based on factual allegations contained in the pleading of his opposing party, without affording Plaintiff an opportunity to respond to these factual allegations."*fn5 (Id. ¶ 8).

Plaintiff moved for reconsideration of defendant's order dismissing the case on the basis that defendant had no authority to dismiss the case without first granting plaintiff an opportunity to "plead over." (Id. ¶ 21). Defendant "ignored" plaintiff's motion for reconsideration. (Id. ¶ 22). Plaintiff maintains that defendant erred in overruling his objections and granting LWPOA's objections without giving him an opportunity to "plead over." (Id. ¶¶ 17-18). Plaintiff specifically alleges that defendant "deprived Plaintiff of his basic procedural right to file a responsive pleading and disobeyed the rules of procedure. 'If the preliminary objections are overruled, the objecting party shall have the right to plead over within twenty days after the notice of the order . . . .' PA. R. C. P. 1028(d)." (Id. ¶ 18).

Plaintiff raised this same issue in a timely appeal to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. (Id. ¶ 23). In March 2010, the Commonwealth Court affirmed defendant's order dimsissing LWPOA.*fn6 (Id. ¶ 24; Doc. 1-3, Mem. dated Mar. 3, 2010). Plaintiff raised the issue of defendant's denial of his ability to "plead over" before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. (Compl. ¶ 25). On January 6, 2011, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied plaintiff's Petition for Allowance of Appeal. (Id. ¶ 26; Doc. 1-4, Order dated Jan. 6, 2011).

Plaintiff maintains in the instant action that defendant's order denying his objections, granting the LWPOA's objections and dismissing the case denied him of property without due process of law. (Compl. ¶¶ 29-31). Plaintiff's claim rests on his contention that defendant violated his procedural due process rights by not following the rules of civil procedure and state law. (Id. ¶ 32). Plaintiff seeks relief in the form of a declaratory judgment that defendant "violated Plaintiff's constitutional due process rights and has dismissed the civil action brought by Plaintiff without affording him [sic] full and fair opportunity to litigate." (Id. ¶ 37).

Discussion

The court will sua sponte dismiss plaintiff's complaint. A federal court may sua sponte dismiss a complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) when the complaint's allegations "are so attenuated and unsubstantial as to be absolutely devoid of merit, wholly insubstantial, obviously frivolous, plainly insubstantial, or no longer open to discussion." Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 536-37 (1974) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted); Degrazia v. F.B.I., 316 F. App'x 172, 173 (3d Cir. 2009) (holding that the district court properly dismissed claims sua sponte under Rule 12(b)(1) when those claims met the Hagans standard).

Defendant is a Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas judge and, as such, claims against him for his judicial acts are barred by judicial immunity. See Azubuko v. Royal, 443 F.3d 302, 303 (3d Cir. 2006) ("A judicial officer in the performance of his duties has absolute immunity from suit and will not be liable for his judicial acts." (citing Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 12 (1991))). "'Few doctrines were more solidly established at common law than the immunity of judges from liability for damages for acts within their judicial jurisdiction.'" Cleavinger v. Saxner, 474 U.S. 193, 199 (1985) (quoting Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 553-54 (1967), overruled in part on other grounds by Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982)). "Judicial immunity provides complete immunity from suit, not merely from an ultimate assessment of damages." Smith v. Stark, 777 F. Supp. 2d 795, 801 (D. Del. 2011) (citing Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11 (1991)). "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) (citation omitted). Indeed the doctrine of judicial immunity applies even to allegations of malice or judicial corruption. See Pierson, 386 U.S. at 554.

Public policy supports the broad grant of judicial immunity found in federal precedent. The Supreme Court has recognized that although "unfairness and injustice to a litigant may result on occasion, 'it is a general principle of the highest importance to the proper administration of justice that judicial officer, in exercising the authority vested in him, shall be free to act upon his own convictions, without apprehension of personal consequences to himself.'" Mireles, 502 U.S. at 10 (quoting Bradley v. Fisher, 13 Wall. 335, 347 (1872)). As the Supreme Court explained, "[i]f judges were personally liable for erroneous decisions, the resulting avalanche of suits, most of them frivolous and vexatious, would provide powerful incentive for judges to avoid rendering decisions likely to provoke such suits." Forester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 226 (1988).

Plaintiff, however, does not seek monetary damages from defendant; plaintiff seeks declaratory relief. The doctrine of judicial immunity does not prohibit all actions against judicial officers for declaratory relief. In 1996, Congress amended 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to provide that, "in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable."*fn7 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (abrogating in part Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522, 541-42 (1984) (holding that judicial immunity is not a bar to prospective injunctive relief against a judge acting in his or her judicial capacity)); see also Azubuko, 443 F.3d at 303-04 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1983).

The 1996 amendment to Section 1983, however, does not alter case law regarding the availability of declaratory relief against judicial officers. Corliss v. O'Brien, 200 F. App'x 80, 84 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Brandon E. ex rel. Listenbee v. Reynolds, 201 F.3d 194, 197-98 (2000)). Congress has provided that, in certain situations, district courts "may declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such declaration . . . ." 28 U.S.C. ยง 2201. Declaratory judgment is an inappropriate remedy, however, if it is used solely to adjudicate past conduct. See Corliss, 200 F. App'x at 84 (citing Gruntal & Co., Inc. v. Steinberg, 837 F. Supp. 85, 89 (D.N.J. 1993)). ...

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