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Moreland v. Wood

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Brunswick Division

April 16, 2015

DAVID L. MORELAND, Plaintiff,
v.
CHIEF JUDGE LISA GODBEY WOOD, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

J. RANDAL HALL, District Judge.

This case presents the Court with allegations of an elaborate conspiracy accusing Defendants of treason, trespass of law, corruption, and racism. In response to what he perceives to be an orchestrated and deliberate scheme to sabotage his 2008 employment discrimination lawsuit, Plaintiff David L. Moreland ("Moreland") filed the instant 100-page complaint against the judges in his case, a clerk at the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, opposing counsel, and his former employer and co workers. Now before the Court are several motions to dismiss (docs. 30, 31, 33, & 47), supplemental motions to dismiss (docs. 40 & 43), a motion to amend the complaint and transfer venue (doc. 36), a motion for entry of default (doc. 37), a motion to dismiss Defendant Calvin Lawson without prejudice (doc. 38), a motion to withdraw the motion to dismiss Defendant Calvin Lawson (doc. 42), and a motion for oral argument (doc. 55), all of which were filed over just two months' time.

I. BACKGROUND

Moreland has sued three groups of individuals. First, Moreland named Chief Judge Lisa Godbey Wood, Magistrate Judge James E. Graham, and deputy clerk of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Lois Tunstall (collectively "the Judicial Defendants").[1] In the second category, Moreland names the law firm Brown, Readdick, Bumgartner, Cater, Strickland & Watkins and attorneys of that firm Terry Readdick and Garret Meader ("the Attorney Defendants"), who were opposing counsel in the discrimination lawsuit. Finally, Moreland names his former employer Glynn Iron & Metal, Inc. and his former boss and a number of co-workers, Michael Fairman, Tony Corbett, Eddie Corbett, Beth Spain, Shaun Conway, William Lewis, Calvin Lawson, and Norberto Vazquez ("the Glynn Iron Defendants").[2]

A. The Underlying Discrimination Lawsuit

On August 13, 2008, Moreland filed suit against Michael Fairman and Glynn Iron & Metal, Inc. alleging employment discrimination based on race. (Moreland v. Glynn Iron & Metal, Inc. et al., No. 2:08-cv-104, Doc. 1 (S.D. Ga. Aug. 13, 2008).) In addition to his complaint, Moreland requested that the court appoint him an attorney, which was denied by Judge Graham. (Id., Docs. 4-5.) Thereafter, Moreland moved to voluntarily dismiss his complaint without prejudice, which was granted. (Id., Docs. 7-8.) Moreland later reopened his case. (Id., Doc. 10.) The late Judge Anthony Alaimo presided over the case. Before Judge Alaimo's passing, both parties filed motions for summary judgment, on which Judge Alaimo heard argument December 21, 2009. (Id., Docs. 44, 48, 63.) Both motions for summary judgment were denied. (Id., Doc. 64.) Following Judge Alaimo's passing, Chief Judge Wood was reassigned the case. (Id., Doc. 68.) Chief Judge Wood held a status conference on March 22, 2010 and heard argument on a pending defense motion to reconsider the summary judgment ruling. (Id., Doc. 79.) Chief Judge Wood later granted the motion for reconsideration in part, dismissing Michael Fairman in his individual capacity, but denied the motion as to Glynn Iron & Metal, Inc. (Id., Doc. 84.) From this point forward, the Court refers to Moreland's 100-page, 212-paragraph handwritten complaint for its understanding of the alleged conspiracy. Given the disjointed nature of Moreland's complaint, the Court summarizes the allegations in bullet format:

• During discovery, the Attorney Defendants "acted in bad faith interference in a [sic] investigation" and withheld information to which Moreland was entitled because of his race and pro se status. (Compl., Doc. 1, ¶¶ 26, 200.)
• The hearing on the motion for reconsideration was simply "an opportunity to find a way to get the case thrown out of court." (Id. • 32.)
• Chief Judge Wood and Judge Graham "were having ex parte communication behind [Moreland's] back plotting against him and the United States Government."[3] (Id. ¶ 35.)
• The Attorney Defendants fabricated the truth in the hearing on the motion for reconsideration by forcing Luther Stephenson, Johnny Reese, and Reggie Nixon to sign affidavits against their will. (Id. ¶ 212)
• The Attorney Defendants would not work with Moreland on meeting to discuss pretrial issues. (Id. ¶ 215.)
• At the pretrial conference, Chief Judge Wood gave Moreland until 5:00 p.m. to properly tag and initial all exhibits and to submit certain exhibits not brought to the conference, while the defendant was given until that Friday. (Id. ¶¶ 38, 216.)
• Defendant Meader acted in bad faith during the pretrial conference "to further the conspiracy ex parted [sic] between the conspirators of the conspiracies" and that the Attorney Defendants filed "three objection [sic] to Plaintiff tr[ia]l exhibits to misrepresentate [sic], and mislead the jury hiding and concealing the truth violating Plaintiff [sic] right [sic] under the Constitution." (Id. ¶¶ 37, 39.)
• On September 14, 2010, Judge Graham held a settlement conference during which he "tried to intimidate the plaintiff into settling for 3, 000.00 dollars" and "acted as an attorney for the defendant Michael Fairman, and his attorneys." (Id. ¶ 40.) When Moreland told Judge Graham that he would accept 1.5 million to settle his claims, he alleges that Judge Graham responded "oh no we will never pay you that. You can take your chances with a jury, but no jury every [sic] found a white man guilty of race discrimination in this Court." (Id.)
• Following the settlement conference, Judge Graham had Chief Judge Wood move the trial date from October 25, 2010 to December 6, 2010 "so the conspirators can make sure the conspiracies is [sic] done correctly." (Id. ¶ 41.)
• Judge Graham and Chief Judge Wood removed Moreland's evidence based on hearsay, Rule 801, and authentication issues - which he claims did not apply - and Chief Judge Wood "tried to intimidate [Moreland] before and during trial, stating if Plaintiff tries to use any evidence at trial, Plaintiff could be held in contempt of court and get in a lot of trouble." (Id. ¶¶ 42-45.) Moreland alleges that the evidence was actually removed to mislead the jury, force a different outcome, and discriminate against him because his race and pro se status. (Id. KH 42-44.)
• Chief Judge Wood and Judge Graham directed court personnel to engage in the conspiracy. (Id. ¶ 229.) Moreland additionally makes a number of more general allegations regarding the biases of Chief Judge Wood and Judge Graham. (Id. ¶¶ 225-29, 210-11[4].)

Following the trial, the jury returned a defense verdict. (Id. ¶ 46.) During this trial, Moreland additionally alleges that the Attorney Defendants presented false evidence to the jury. (Id. ¶ 212.) Moreland then filed a notice of appeal with the Eleventh Circuit, followed by a motion for new trial, which was denied on jurisdictional grounds by Chief Judge Wood. (Moreland v. Glynn Iron & Metal, Inc. et al., No. 2:08-cv-104, Docs. 130, 134, 164 (S.D. Ga. Aug. 13, 2008).) On November 22, 2011, the Clerk of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Moreland's appeal for want of prosecution because Moreland "failed to file an appellant's brief and record excerpts within the time fixed by the rules[.]"[5] (Id., Doc. 168.) According to Moreland, Chief Judge Wood and Judge Graham convinced the Court of Appeals to conceal the truth by dismissing the appeal. (Compl. ¶ 49.)

Plaintiff alleges that as a result of this conspiracy, he "is still being black ball by the conspirators" and is "suffering emotional and physically from the conspirators' reckless malicious[] action." (Id. ¶¶ 47, 50.)

B. Procedural History

Moreland filed his present complaint on September 17, 2014, nearly four years after the conclusion of his trial.[6] After attempting to serve the Judicial Defendants, including the judges of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, United States Magistrate Judge Brian Epps ordered Moreland to cease and desist all efforts to serve persons not listed in the complaint and instructed Moreland on the appropriate method of serving employees of the United States. (Doc. 10.) After Moreland attempted to personally serve Judge Graham and Chief Judge Wood, he was shown and read Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4 and the deputy clerk offered to issue another set of summons. From January 5 to January 9, 2015, Moreland served all of the named Defendants save one: Calvin Lawson. (Docs. 17-28.) On January 16, 2015, Moreland moved for an extension of time to serve Defendant Lawson, which was granted by Judge Epps. (Docs. 16, 29.) Moreland was given until February 23, 2015 to serve Defendant Lawson. (Doc. 29.) Moreland then moved on February 18 to dismiss Defendant Lawson without prejudice, asserting that he could not find him. (Doc. 38.) Just five days later, Moreland moved to withdraw his motion to dismiss, stating that he did not realize Defendant Lawson had been found and served on February 10, 2015. (Doc. 42.)

The Attorney Defendants filed two motions to dismiss, one on behalf of the individually-named attorneys and one on behalf of the law firm, each on January 26, 2015. (Docs. 30, 33.) The Glynn Iron Defendants likewise filed a motion to dismiss on that date. (Doc. 31.) The Judicial Defendants have moved to dismiss Moreland's complaint as well. (Doc. 47.)

On February 6, 2015, Moreland moved to amend his complaint to specifically name all Eleventh Circuit judges and to transfer the case to the United States Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit. (Doc. 36.) Then, on February 12, 2015, Moreland moved for entry of default against all named defendants. (Doc. 37.) In light of Moreland's motion to amend his complaint, the Attorney Defendants and the Glynn Iron Defendants each filed supplemental motions to dismiss, asserting that the amended complaint Moreland seeks to file supersedes his original complaint and does not contain any allegations against them sufficient to state a claim. (Docs. 40, 43.)

II. DISCUSSION

As detailed above, the Court is presented with many pending motions, both by Defendants and Moreland. To summarize, each Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss - some have filed two - and Moreland has filed (1) a Motion to Amend; (2) a Motion to Transfer Venue; (3) a Motion for Entry of Default; (4) a Motion to Dismiss Defendant Lawson and a Motion to Withdraw that motion; and (5) a Motion for Oral Argument. First, the Court addresses the Judicial Defendants' Motion to Dismiss on judicial immunity grounds, as well as Moreland's Motion to Amend his complaint to add the individual Eleventh Circuit judges. Next, the Court addresses Moreland's complaint and the Attorney Defendants' and Glynn Iron Defendants' Motions to Dismiss. Finally, the Court rules on the remaining motions - the Motion to Transfer Venue, Motion for Entry of Default, Motion to Dismiss Defendant Lawson, Motion to Withdraw that Motion to Dismiss, and Motion for Oral Argument.

A. Absolute Judicial Immunity

"Judges are entitled to absolute judicial immunity from damages for those acts taken while they are acting in their judicial capacity unless they acted in the clear absence of all jurisdiction.'" Bolin v. Story, 225 F.3d 1234, 1239 (11th Cir. 2000) (quoting Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-57 (1978)). Indeed, "[f]ew doctrines were more solidly established at common law than the immunity of judges from liability for damages for acts committed within their judicial jurisdiction." William B. Cashion Nev. Spendthrift Trust v. Vance, 552 F.App'x 884, 885 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 553-54 (1967)). "This immunity applies even when the judge is accused of acting maliciously and corruptly, " Pierson, 386 U.S. at 554, or when "the judge's acts are in error... or were in excess of his or her jurisdiction." Bolin, 225 F.3d at 1239

The Supreme Court has recognized just two exceptions to this broad grant of immunity: (1) for actions taken in a non judicial capacity and (2) for actions taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction. Vance, 552 F.App'x at 886.

Whether a judge's actions were made while acting in his [or her] judicial capacity depends on whether: (1) the act complained of constituted a normal judicial function; (2) the events occurred in the judge's chambers or in open court; (3) the controversy involved a case pending before the judge; and (4) the confrontation arose immediately out of a visit to the judge in his judicial capacity.

Sibley v. Lando, 437 F.3d 1067, 1070 (11th Cir. 2005). Second, determining whether a judge acted in "complete absence of all jurisdiction" requires an inquiry into whether the court had subject matter jurisdiction over the claim. Wash. Mut. Bank v. Bush, 220 F.App'x 974, 975-76 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam). The Supreme Court has provided guidance in determining whether a judge acted in complete absence of jurisdiction or simply acted in excess of jurisdiction:

[I]f a probate court, invested only with authority over wills and the settlement of estates of deceased persons, should proceed to try parties for public offences, jurisdiction over the subject of offences being entirely wanting in the court, and this being necessarily known to its judge, his commission would afford no protection to him in the exercise of the usurped authority. But if on the other hand a judge of a criminal court, invested with general criminal jurisdiction over offences committed within a certain district, should hold a particular act to be a public offence, which is not by the law made an offence, and proceed to the arrest and trial of a party charged with such act, or should sentence a party convincted [sic] to a greater punishment than that authorized by the law upon its proper construction, no personal liability to civil action for such acts would attach to the judge, although those acts would be in excess of his jurisdiction, or of the jurisdiction of the court held by him, for these are particulars for his judicial consideration, whenever his general jurisdiction over the subject-matter is invoked.

Bradley v. Fisher, 80 U.S. 335, 352 (1871).

Judicial immunity also extends beyond judges. Non-judicial officials, such as clerks, enjoy quasi-judicial immunity where their "official duties have an integral relationship with the judicial process." Caffey v. Ala. Sup. Ct., 469 F.App'x 748, 751 (11th Cir. 2012)(internal quotations omitted). See also Hyland v. Kolhage, 267 F.App'x 836, 842 (11th Cir. 2008) ("Court clerks have absolute immunity from actions for damages arising from acts they are specifically required to do under court order or at a judge's direction[.]" (internal quotations omitted)); Ghee v. United States, No. 1:10-cv-0381, 2013 WL 362858, at *2 (N.D.Ga. Jan. 30, 2013) ("To the extent [the plaintiff] intends to assert claims against the Eleventh Circuit judges or clerk based on the dismissal of her appeal, those individuals have absolute judicial immunity.").

i. Chief Judge Wood and Magistrate Judge Graham

As best the Court can discern, Moreland makes the following allegations against Chief Judge Wood and Judge Graham:

1. Chief Judge Wood's hearing on the motion for reconsideration was simply "an opportunity to find a way to get the case ...

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