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Johnson v. United States Department of Justice

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 8, 2013

DERRICK JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE and ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

MALACHY E. MANNION, District Judge.

Before the court is the report and recommendation, (Doc. No. 5), of Judge Martin C. Carlson recommending that plaintiff's complaint, (Doc. No. 1), be dismissed without leave to amend. In particular, Judge Carlson finds that plaintiff's claims are categorically barred by various principles of immunity and prohibitions against private criminal prosecutions in federal court. (Doc. No. 5.) After reviewing the record de novo, the court will adopt the report and recommendation and dismiss plaintiff's complaint with prejudice.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

When objections are timely filed to the report and recommendation of a magistrate judge, the district court must review de novo those portions of the report to which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1); Brown v. Astrue , 649 F.3d 193, 195 (3d Cir. 2011). Although the standard is de novo, the extent of review is committed to the sound discretion of the district judge, and the court may rely on the recommendations of the magistrate judge to the extent it deems proper. Rieder v. Apfel , 115 F.Supp.2d 496, 499 (M.D.Pa. 2000) (citing United States v. Raddatz , 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980)).

For those sections of the report and recommendation to which no objections are made, the court should, as a matter of good practice, "satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), advisory committee notes; see also Univac Dental Co. v. Dentsply Intern., Inc. , 702 F.Supp.2d 465, 469 (M.D.Pa. 2010) (citing Henderson v. Carlson , 812 F.2d 874, 878 (3d Cir. 1987) (explaining judges should give some review to every report and recommendation)). Nevertheless, whether timely objections are made or not, the district court may accept, reject or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1); Local Rule 72.31.

DISCUSSION

As an initial matter, plaintiff's objections to the report and recommendation merely reiterate arguments made in his original complaint. Although he asks the court to dismiss the complaint without prejudice "in order to allow the plaintiff time to effectively compile the necessary facts and constitutional language to substantiate the grounds for complaint [sic], " (Doc. No. 6, at 1), he also challenges the constitutionality of judicial and prosecutorial immunity, (Doc. No. 10), and continues to request criminal prosecution of the government officials involved.[1] (Doc. No. 13.) After a meticulous review of the record and a liberal interpretation of plaintiff's objections, the complaint will be dismissed with prejudice. Although the court would ordinarily grant plaintiff leave to amend, an amended complaint would prove futile in this case for the reasons explained below. (See Doc. No. 5, at 13-14; Alston v. Parker , 363 F.3d 229, 235 (3d Cir. 2004) ("We have held that even when a plaintiff does not seek leave to amend, if a complaint is vulnerable to 12(b)(6) dismissal, a District Court must permit a curative amendment, unless an amendment would be inequitable or futile.")).

As Judge Carlson pointed out in his report, plaintiff's complaint contains various explanations of his personal constitutional interpretations. (Doc. No. 1.) For example, plaintiff states:

[T]hat the declaration of immunity, by any person of a judicial and/or prosecutorial position who has violated either their oath or the law, is unconstitutional on its face. The implied powers of the judiciary does not extend to a blanket absolution of those who serve under color. Such is a clear self service that demonstrates a hypocritical "do as I say, not as I do" mentality which has absolutely no legal basis aside of the narrow agenda to which it is utilized. Yet its incorporation by the Department of Justice, and its utilization by the courts for those of its own, entirely usurp the standards outlined in the Constitution and the provisions provided to the judicial branch. (Doc. No. 1, at 2.)

Plaintiff continues to express his views, making out claims against the courts, federal prosecutors, and the Department of Justice. (Doc. No. 1, at 2-5.) However, as Judge Carlson noted, the courts and prosecutors are entitled to absolute immunity, so plaintiff cannot state a claim on which relief can be granted. In particular, judges are "immun[e] from suit, not just from ultimate assessment of damages." Lash v. George, 12-CV-966, 2012 WL 6812446, *4 (M.D.Pa. 2012) (citing Mireles v. Waco , 502 U.S. 9 (1991)). Judicial immunity may only be overcome where "a judge's acts are nonjudicial in nature, or where such actions, while judicial in nature, are taken in the complete absence of any jurisdiction." Catanzaro v. Collins, 09-CV-922, 2010 WL 1754765, *6 (M.D.Pa. 2010) (citing Mireles v. Waco , 502 U.S. 9 (1991)). Merely alleging that a judge acted in bad faith or with malice is insufficient to warrant a deviation from the settled doctrine of judicial immunity. Id.

In the present case, plaintiff writes extensively as to why he believes judicial immunity is unconstitutional. (Doc. No. 1, at 2-3.) Yet he makes no allegations that the judge presiding over his criminal trial acted outside the scope of judicial duties or without jurisdiction. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate his criminal charges.[2] Therefore, absolute judicial immunity bars plaintiffs claims, regardless of their merits.

Plaintiff next turns his attention to the federal prosecutors that were involved in his trial. (Doc. No. 1, at 3-4.) Government attorneys, like judges, enjoy absolute immunity "when performing official duties during a criminal prosecution of a defendant." Shreve v. Minium, 12-CV-2128, 2012 WL 6137992, *8 (M.D.Pa. 2012) (citing Sanders v. Downs , 420 Fed.Appx. 175, 180 (3d Cir. 2011)). Essentially, a prosecutor is entitled to absolute immunity if "she was functioning as the state's advocate while engaging in the alleged conduct that gives rise to the constitutional violation." Yarris v. County of Delaware , 465 F.3d 129, 136 (3d Cir. 2006). Samuels v. Monroe County, 12-CV-2320, 2013 WL 504281, *2 (M.D.Pa. 2013). The Third Circuit has said:

Following the Supreme Court's guidance, our prosecutorial immunity analysis focuses on the unique facts of each case and requires careful dissection of the prosecutor's actions. We have rejected bright-line rules that would treat the timing of the prosecutor's action (e.g. pre- or postindictment), or its location (i.e. in- or out-of-court), as dispositive. We have found these considerations relevant, however, to the extent that they bear upon the nature of the function the prosecutor is performing. Odd v. Malone , 538 F.3d 202, 210 (3d Cir. 2008).

Here, plaintiff does not claim that the prosecutor's actions fell outside the scope of his official duties; rather, he claims that every form of immunity is unconstitutional. (Doc. No. 1, at 3-4.) While this may be his opinion, it is certainly not the law. Yet even if plaintiff had argued the very limited exception to immunity, he would be unable to make such a showing here. His allegations state that prosecutors violated his rights by filing a criminal complaint against him and pursuing criminal convictions (Doc. No. 1, at 3-4.), which are clearly discretionary functions protected by immunity. See Yarris v. County of Delaware , 465 F.3d 129, 135 (3d Cir. 2006) (conferring immunity to "acts intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process"); Fuchs v. Mercer County , 260 Fed. Appx 472, *476 (3d Cir. 2008) ("Prosecutors enjoy absolute immunity for the decision to initiate a prosecution."); Stankowski v. Farley , 487 F.Supp.2d 543, 552 (M.D.Pa. 2007) ...


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