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Chang v. Strine

United States District Court, D. Delaware

April 3, 2018

WEIH STEVE CHANG, Plaintiff,
v.
THE HON. LEO E. STRINE, JR., THE HON. JAMES T. VAUGHN, JR., and THE STATE OF DELAWARE, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On November 14, 2016, the Plaintiff, Weih Steve Chang ("Plaintiff'), initiated this action against The Honorable Leo E. Strine, Jr., The Honorable James T. Vaughn, Jr., and the State of Delaware, ("Defendants") alleging what the court believes to be violations of the Equal Protection Clause pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (D.I. I.)[1] Presently before the court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (D.I. 4.) The court will grant Defendants' Motion.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On July 27, 2016, Plaintiff filed a civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations ("RICO") Act action in the Superior Court of Delaware alleging sexual molestation by a judicial officer on behalf of hundreds of alleged victims. (D.I. 1, ¶ 2.) The RICO action was bifurcated from a civil action originally filed in the Court of Chancery of Delaware on October 22, 2017. (D.I. 1, ¶¶ 4-5.) The Chancery Court dismissed the action "primarily because Plaintiff is not an attorney." Id. Plaintiff alleges that on October 21, 2016, Defendant Justice Vaughn "denied Plaintiffs Petition [for legal representation] without performing the "Matthews Test" or the "Tabron Test" and on November 6, 2016, Defendant Chief Justice Strine "ordered that Plaintiff submit his opening brief by November 14, 2016, without legal representation." (D.I. 1, ¶¶ 20-23.)

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for dismissal where the plaintiff "fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In considering a motion to dismiss, the court "accept[s] all factual allegations as true, construe[s] the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine[s] whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Or. 2008). A Plaintiff must provide sufficient factual allegations "to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Ail. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). This requirement of plausibility is satisfied when "the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Defendants argue that Plaintiffs action arising from the Defendants' failure "to perform the Matthews Test and/or the Tabron Test on Plaintiffs Petition for Court-Appointed Counsel[]" should be dismissed for failure to state a claim, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (D.I. 4); (D.I. 1, ¶ 26.)[2]Defendants argue that Plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted for at least two reasons. (D.I. 4.) First, Defendants allege that the Complaint expressly acknowledges that there is a pending state court appeal relating to Plaintiffs instant claim. Id. at 2. Second, Defendants argue that the claims are otherwise barred by absolute judicial immunity and qualified immunity. Id.[3]The court agrees.

         A. Immunity

         To state a claim under Section 1983, Plaintiff must show "(1) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and (2) that the conduct deprived the plaintiff of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States." Schneyder v. Smith, 653 F.3d 313, 319 (3d Cir. 2011). Plaintiff does not plead any conduct relating to the State of Delaware in his Complaint and, therefore, the claim against the State is frivolous and devoid of any merit. (D.I. 1.) Because there are no facts to support any claim against the State of Delaware, the court will grant Defendants' motion as to the State.[4]

         Next, Plaintiffs sole assertion against Chief Justice Leo E. Strine, Jr., and Justice James T. Vaughn, Jr. is that they violated the Due Process Clause by "refusing to perform the Matthews Test and/or the Tabron Test on Plaintiffs Petition for Court-appointed Counsel[]." (D.I. 1, ¶ 26.)[5]Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, and compensatory damages for the expenses accumulated during litigation. (D.I. 1 at 5-6.)

         Judicial officers are immune from damage suits arising out of their official duties. Stump v. Sparhnan, 435 U.S. 349 (1978). "A judge will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of authority. ..." Sparhnan, 435 U.S. at 356. Judicial immunity may only be overcome in limited circumstances when: (i) the challenged actions were not taken in the judge's judicial capacity; or (ii) the challenged actions, "though judicial in nature, were taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction." Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11-12 (1991). Although the Supreme Court has held that a cause of action for injunctive relief may be maintained against judicial officers or the federal government, see Larson v. Domestic & Foreign Commerce Corp., 337 U.S. 682 (1949), immunity principles still apply, and, except in very limited circumstances, judges are immune from suits for injunctive relief. See Rush v. Wiseman, 2010 WL 1705299 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 27, 2010) (judge's immunity from civil liability can only be overcome for non-judicial actions and where actions of judicial nature are taken in the "complete absence of all jurisdiction."); Klein v. U.S. Bank, 2010 WL 5018881 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 15, 2010). Congress amended 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to provide that "injunctive relief shall not be granted" in an action brought against a judicial official for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. Azubuko v. Royal, 443 F.3d 302, 304 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1983;, - 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (abrogating in part Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522, 541-42 (1984) (holding judicial immunity is not a bar to prospective injunctive relief against a judge acting in her judicial capacity)).

         Here, Plaintiffs factual allegations are based solely on the judicial actions taken by Defendants. While Plaintiff disagrees with the decision-making process, nothing in Plaintiffs complaint can be interpreted as an allegation that any of the Defendants acted outside of their judicial functions or in the clear absence of jurisdiction. Even if these rulings were in error or in excess of authority, there is no plausible allegation that they were undertaken without appropriate jurisdiction. The court will, therefore, grant Defendants' motion as to Defendants Chief Justice Leo E. Strine, Jr., and Justice James T. Vaughn, Jr.

         V. ...


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