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Mickell v. Geroulo

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 8, 2019

JOHNNIE MICKELL, Plaintiff,
v.
JUDGE VITO P. GEROULO, et al., Defendants.

          MARIANI, D.J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          JOSEPH F. SAPORITO, JR., UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This federal civil rights action was commenced on October 4, 2019, when the pro se plaintiff, Johnnie Mickell, lodged the complaint with the Clerk of Court for filing. (Doc. 1.) Mickell has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis in this action.

         This action represents Mickell's third (at least) challenge to a series of state court convictions and sentences for misdemeanor and summary offenses arising out of incidents that occurred in 2015 and earlier. See generally Mickell v. Geroulo, Civil Action No. 3:18-cv-01540, 2019 WL 3484142 (M.D. Pa. July 10, 2019), report and recommendation adopted by 2019 WL 3484487 (M.D. Pa. July 31, 2019), appeal filed, No. 19-2813 (3d Cir. Aug. 7, 2019); Mickell v. Police Dep't of Scranton, Civil Action No. 3:16-cv-00291, 2017 WL 4532160 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 10, 2017), report and recommendation adopted by 2017 WL 4516748 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 10, 2017). In this case, however, Mickell does not challenge the convictions or sentences themselves, but he instead alleges that, in 2018 and 2019, the defendants conspired to falsify state court records to inflate the total balance of fines and costs he owed for these and earlier convictions, dating back to 2002, and to preclude the reinstatement of his driver's license by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (“PennDOT”).

         Among the various defendants to Mickell's damages claims is the Honorable Vito P. Geroulo, one of several common pleas judges who presided over Mickell's myriad criminal proceedings. Mickell alleges that Judge Geroulo conspired with other defendants to refer Mickell to the county's Office of Court Collections and to inflate the total balance of fines and court costs he owed. Mickell alleges that Judge Geroulo was also responsible for Mickell's inability to get his driver's license reinstated by PennDOT even after his court-imposed license suspension expired.

         But “[a] judicial officer in the performance of his duties has absolute immunity from suit and will not be liable for his judicial acts.” Azubuko v. Royal, 443 F.3d 302, 303 (3d Cir. 2006) (per curiam). “Like other forms of official immunity, judicial immunity is immunity from suit, not just from ultimate assessment of damages.” Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991) (per curiam). “[S]o long as (1) the judge's actions are taken in his judicial capacity (determined by the nature of the acts themselves) and (2) the judge has some semblance of jurisdiction over the acts, he will have immunity for them.” Mikhail v. Kahn, 991 F.Supp.2d 596, 660 (E.D. Pa. 2014) (citing Gallas v. Supreme Court of Pa., 211 F.3d 760, 768- 69 (3d Cir. 2000); see also Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11-12. Indeed, “[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) (quoting Bradley v. Fisher, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 335, 351 (1871)). “This immunity applies even when the judge is accused of acting maliciously and corruptly . . . .” Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554 (1967). “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 a 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 12 (quoting Bradley, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) at 347).

         Based on the allegations of the complaint, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Mickell's claims exclusively concern judicial acts taken by Judge Geroulo in his role as the presiding state court judge in Mickell's criminal proceedings, and none of the alleged acts were taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction. See Mireles, 502 U.S. at 12- 13; Gallas, 211 F.3d at 768-69; Mikhail, 991 F.Supp.2d at 660. Under these circumstances, Mickell's claim for damages against Judge Geroulo must be dismissed on immunity grounds.

         Accordingly, it is recommended that the plaintiff's claim for damages against Hon. Vito P. Geroulo be dismissed for failure to state a claim, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), and that it be dismissed without leave to amend, as any amendment would be futile with respect to this defendant. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002).

         NOTICE

         NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN that the undersigned has entered the foregoing Report and Recommendation dated October 8, 2019. Any party may obtain a review of the Report and Recommendation pursuant to Local Rule 72.3, which provides:

Any party may object to a magistrate judge's proposed findings, recommendations or report addressing a motion or matter described in 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) or making a recommendation for the disposition of a prisoner case or a habeas corpus petition within fourteen (14) days after being served with a copy thereof. Such party shall file with the clerk of court, and serve on the magistrate judge and all parties, written objections which shall specifically identify the portions of the proposed findings, recommendations or report to which objection is made and the basis for such objections. The briefing requirements set forth in Local Rule 72.2 shall apply. A judge shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made and may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. The judge, however, need conduct a new hearing only in his or her discretion or where required by law, and may consider the record developed before the magistrate judge, making his or her own determination on the basis of that record. The judge may also receive further evidence, recall witnesses or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.

         Failure to file timely objections to the foregoing Report and Recommendation may constitute a ...


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