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Prisbry v. Barnes

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

March 27, 2018

TERRY PRISBRY, [1] Plaintiff,
v.
KEITH C. BARNES, GARY R. HERBERT, and MATTHEW B. DURRANT, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          DAVID NUFFER DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The Report and Recommendation[2] issued by United States Magistrate Judge Paul M. Warner on March 1, 2018 recommends that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss[3] be granted; Plaintiff's Motion to Amend Complaint[4] be denied; and this case be dismissed with prejudice.

         Plaintiff timely objected to the Report and Recommendation on March 14, 2018.[5]Specifically, Plaintiff objected to the Magistrate Judge's determinations that (1) Plaintiff is not entitled to the appointment of counsel; (2) judicial immunity precludes Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Keith C. Barnes (“Judge Barnes”); (3) Plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief are barred; (4) Plaintiff failed to state a claim on which relief may be granted against Defendants Gary R. Herbert (“Governor Herbert”) and Matthew C. Durrant (“Chief Justice Durrant”); and (5) amendment of Plaintiff's complaint would be futile.

         De novo review[6] has been completed of those portions of the Report and Recommendation to which objection was made, including the record that was before the Magistrate Judge and the reasoning set forth in the Report and Recommendation. Because the analysis and conclusions of the Magistrate Judge are correct, they are accepted and the Report and Recommendation[7] is ADOPTED.

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff is Not Entitled to the Appointment of Counsel

         Plaintiff asserts that he has a disability caused by a traumatic brain injury.[8] He argues that “[t]his court has the ability to appoint council [sic] for a fair trial [and] equal protection under the law yet it has elected not to . . . .”[9]

         “There is no constitutional right to appointed counsel in a civil case.”[10] Rather, “[t]he appointment of counsel in a civil case is left to the sound discretion of the district court.”[11]Factors for making this determination include: “the merits of the litigant's claims, the nature of the factual issues raised in the claims, the litigant's ability to present his claims, and the complexity of the legal issues raised by the claims.”[12]

         As discussed below, Plaintiff's claims are without merit. This is not because Plaintiff lacks the ability to present his claims or to adequately convey information and argument. Plaintiff's Complaint[13] and his arguments[14] are thorough and readily understandable. Nor are Plaintiff's claims deficient because Plaintiff is appearing pro se, and the factual and legal issues are complex. They are not. Rather, Plaintiff's claims fail because the facts Plaintiff alleges cannot support his claims as a matter of law. These circumstances do not justify the appointment of counsel. Appointed counsel would not materially assist Plaintiff or the disposition of this case. Therefore, Plaintiff is not entitled to the appointment of counsel. The Magistrate Judge's determination was correct.

         Judge Barnes is Entitled to Absolute Judicial Immunity

         Judge Barnes is a state court judge for Utah's Fifth Judicial District Court, who presided over Plaintiff's divorce case.[15] Plaintiff alleges that Judge Barnes's rulings in that case violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights.[16] He seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief.[17]

         “[J]udges of general jurisdiction are absolutely immune from monetary liability for their judicial acts, even when such acts are in excess of their jurisdiction, and are alleged to have been done maliciously or corruptly.”[18] The only exceptions are when the “actions are not taken in the judge's judicial capacity[, ]” or when the actions, “though judicial in nature, [are] taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction.”[19]

         The facts alleged in support of Plaintiff's claims against Judge Barnes pertain to and arise out of judicial actions taken by Judge Barnes in his judicial capacity.[20] And Judge Barnes had jurisdiction to take these judicial actions in Plaintiff's divorce case.[21] Therefore, Judge Barnes is entitled to absolute judicial immunity, and Plaintiff's claim for monetary damages against Judge Barnes fails as a matter of law. The Magistrate Judge's determination was correct.

         Plaintiff's Claims for Injunctive Relief are Barred

         Plaintiff seeks various forms of injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 from Judge Barnes's rulings in Plaintiff's divorce case.[22] Section 1983 provides 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.”[23]

         Plaintiff does not allege and cannot show that Judge Barnes violated a declaratory decree or that declaratory relief was unavailable. Therefore, Section 1983 bars Plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief. The Magistrate Judge's determination was correct.

         Plaintiff Fails to State a Claim Against Governor Herbert and Chief Justice Durrant

         Plaintiff asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Governor Herbert and Chief Justice Durrant for failing to properly train, monitor, and oversee Judge Barnes.[24] “Under [Section] 1983, government officials are not vicariously liable for the misconduct of their subordinates.”[25] “Supervisors are only liable under [Section] 1983 for their own culpable involvement in the violation of a person's constitutional rights.”[26] “[I]t is not enough for a plaintiff merely to show a defendant was in charge of other state actors who actually committed the violation.”[27] “[T]he plaintiff must establish a deliberate, intentional act by the supervisor to violate constitutional rights.”[28] In other words, “the supervisor must be personally involved in the constitutional violation, and a sufficient causal connection must exist between the supervisor and the constitutional violation.”[29]

         Governor Herbert is the chief executive officer of the State of Utah, and as such, is not Judge Barnes's supervisor. Separation of Powers prohibits such interference with the judicial system by the executive branch.[30] Chief Justice Durrant is also not Judge Barnes's supervisor by virtue of position as the Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court. Therefore, Plaintiff's claims against Governor Herbert and Chief Justice Durrant fail as a matter of law.

         But even if Governor Herbert and Chief Justice Durrant were Judge Barnes's supervisors, Plaintiff fails to allege any personal involvement on their part in the alleged constitutional violations of Judge Barnes. The only instance in which Chief Justice Durrant is referenced in Plaintiff's Complaint is the caption. And the allegations the Governor Herbert and Chief Justice Durrant failed to properly train, monitor, and oversee Judge Barnes are generalized and conclusory. These allegations are insufficient to state a claim.[31] Therefore, Plaintiff fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted against Governor Herbert and Chief Justice Durrant. The Magistrate Judge's determination was correct.

         Amendment of Plaintiff's ...


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