United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division
WILLIAM M. McCAVEY, Plaintiff,
MARSHA DEBRA GOLD, GARY MARKWELL & PC, GEORGIA LORD, PAST CHIEF JUDGE CYNTHIA D. WRIGHT, JUDGE GAIL S. TUSAN, JUDGE BENSONETTA T. LANE, JOHN EAVES, CHARLES L. RUFFIN, DR. HOWARD DRUTMAN, and DOE INSURER (all in an individual and official capacity), Defendants.
RICHARD W. STORY, District Judge.
This case comes before the Court on Judge Defendants' Pre-Answer Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint , Defendant Georgia Lord's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint , Defendant Marsha Debra Gold's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint , Special Appearance and Defendant [Charles Ruffin]'s Motion to Dismiss , Defendants Gary Markwell's and and Gary J. Markwell, P.C.'s Motion to Dismiss , Defendant Dr. Howard Drutman's Pre-Answer Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint , Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves' Motion to Dismiss , and Defendant Marsha Debra Gold's Motion for Rule 11 Sanctions Against Plaintiff and Brief in Support . After reviewing the record, the Court enters the following order.
This case arises out of Plaintiff's divorce proceedings in the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia, No. 2010CV192894 (the "divorce action"). Defendant Judge Bensonetta T. Lane was the judge presiding over Plaintiff's divorce action. Plaintiff also names Fulton Superior Court Judge Gail S. Tusan, who presided over a mandamus petition Plaintiff filed against Judge Lane, and then-Chief Judge Cynthia D. Wright as defendants. Collectively, these defendants are styled the "Judge Defendants."
Defendant Marsha Debra Gold is the guardian ad litem who was appointed to represent the best interests of the minor children in the divorce action. Plaintiff also names Dr. Howard Drutman, the court-appointed custody evaluator, and Gary Markwell,  his ex-wife's counsel, as Defendants. Finally, Plaintiff names John Eaves, Chairman of the Fulton County Commission, and Charles L. Ruffin, then-President of the State Bar of Georgia. Plaintiff names all Defendants "[i]n an individual capacity, and official capacity." (Compl., Dkt.  at 1.)
Plaintiff brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 1988, 18 U.S.C. § 241, and various state statutes alleging that Defendants engaged in "a pattern of misconduct, collusion, conspiracy, and bias" that violated his rights under the United States Constitution in numerous ways during the divorce proceedings. (See Compl., Dkt.  ¶ 7.) Plaintiff seeks monetary damages from each Defendant in the amount of $2 million, injunctive relief, and interest and costs. (Id. ¶16.) Defendants move to dismiss based on grounds that can be grouped into three categories: (1) lack of subject matter jurisdiction, (2) immunity, and (3) failure to state a claim. (See Motions to Dismiss, Dkt. , , , , , , .) Defendants also move to strike Plaintiff's amended complaint  and for Rule 11 sanctions against Plaintiff . The Court now considers each motion in turn.
I. Defendants' Motions to Dismiss , , , , , , 
A. Legal Standard
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a pleading contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." While this pleading standard does not require "detailed factual allegations, " "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). In order to withstand a motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id . (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A complaint is plausible on its face when the plaintiff pleads factual content necessary for the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the conduct alleged. Id.
At the motion to dismiss stage, "all-well pleaded facts are accepted as true, and the reasonable inferences therefrom are construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Bryant v. Avado Brands, Inc., 187 F.3d 1271, 1273 n.1 (11th Cir. 1999). However, the same does not apply to legal conclusions set forth in the complaint. Sinaltrainal v. Coca-Cola Co., 578 F.3d 1252, 1260 (11th Cir. 2009) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Furthermore, the court does not "accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
"The district court generally must convert a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment if it considers materials outside the complaint." D.L. Day v. Taylor, 400 F.3d 1272, 1275-76 (11th Cir. 2005); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 12(d). However, documents attached to a complaint are considered part of the complaint. FED. R. CIV. P. 10(c). Documents "need not be physically attached to a pleading to be incorporated by reference into it; if the document's contents are alleged in a complaint and no party questions those contents, [the court] may consider such a document, " provided it is central to the plaintiff's claim. D.L. Day, 400 F.3d at 1276. At the motion to dismiss phase, the Court may also consider "a document attached to a motion to dismiss... if the attached document is (1) central to the plaintiff's claim and (2) undisputed." Id . (citing Horsley v. Feldt, 304 F.3d 1125, 1134 (11th Cir. 2002)). "Undisputed' means that the authenticity of the document is not challenged." Id . Finally, because Plaintiff is acting pro se, his "pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys and will, therefore, be liberally construed." Tannenbaum v. United States, 148 F.3d 1262, 1263 (11th Cir. 1998). "This leniency, however, does not require or allow courts to rewrite an otherwise deficient pleading in order to sustain an action." Thomas v. Pentagon Fed. Credit Union, 393 F.App'x 635, 637 (11th Cir. 2010).
The Court begins by considering whether it has subject matter jurisdiction to entertain Plaintiff's Complaint. "A federal court must always dismiss a case upon determining that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction, regardless of the stage of the proceedings, and facts outside of the pleadings may be considered as part of that determination." Goodman ex rel. Goodman v. Sipos, 259 F.3d 1327, 1332 n. 6 (11th Cir. 2001). Accordingly, the Court first inquires whether this action is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and thus due to be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. See Cormier v. Horkan, 397 Fed.App'x 550 (11th Cir. 2010) (vacating the district court's dismissal of a complaint alleging constitutional and statutory violations in connection with state court divorce proceedings for failure to state a claim and remanding with instructions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction under Rooker-Feldman ).
After thorough review of the record and the parties' briefs, the Court concludes that Plaintiff's Complaint is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and is due to be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 486 (1983); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 415-16 (1923).
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine provides that "lower federal courts are precluded from exercising appellate jurisdiction over final state-court judgments." Nicholson v. Shafe, 558 F.3d 1266, 1268 (11th Cir. 2009) (quoting Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 463 (2006)). While the Supreme Court has clarified that the scope of the doctrine is narrow, it continues to apply with full force to "cases of the kind from which the doctrine acquired its name: cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings ...