United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
ORDER DENYING PAUPER APPLICATION AND DISMISSING
M. LAWSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
this past year, plaintiff Timothy Arthur Berry has filed at
least four cases in this Court against judicial officers,
complaining that they have ruled against him in pending
litigation. All but one of those cases - the present action -
have been dismissed because the defendant judges have enjoyed
judicial immunity. In the present action, Berry has sued
United States District Judge Thomas L. Ludington, alleging
that Judge Ludington's dismissal of a previous case
against another judicial officer violated Berry's rights
under the Constitution. Along the way, Berry alleges that the
doctrine of judicial immunity is a “fiction, ”
and that Judge Ludington violated his oath to support the
Constitution when he dismissed the earlier cases. Berry also
asks this Court to grant him pauper status and waive filing
doctrine of judicial immunity is hardly a fiction, and it has
been recognized by the Supreme Court for over a century.
See Bradley v. Fisher, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 335, 347
(1872). The doctrine has direct application to this case and
bars the action against Judge Ludington. Therefore, because
Berry's present complaint is frivolous, the Court will
deny pauper status and dismiss the case on its own motion.
appears that Berry's troubles started in the Ottawa
County, Michigan circuit court, when he received an
unfavorable ruling in a domestic relations case from circuit
court judge Jon A. Van Allsburg. Berry sued Judge Van
Allsburg in this Court on January 4, 2016, alleging that the
state court judge violated a number of his constitutional
rights when adjudicating two custody hearings. Berry alleged
that Judge Van Allsburg aided and abetted the violation of
his rights, which broke Judge Van Allsburg's oath to
uphold the constitution, and therefore was an act of treason.
The case was assigned to District Judge Ludington, who
referred the matter to Magistrate Judge Patricia T. Morris on
January 7, 2016 for determination of matters related to
Berry's application to proceed in forma
to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), Magistrate Judge Morris
was obliged to screen the case for merit. After doing so, she
recommended that the complaint be dismissed because Judge Van
Allsburg was acting in his judicial capacity in the
underlying state case and therefore was protected by judicial
immunity. Rather than waiting for Judge Ludington to issue
his final order on the matter, Berry filed a notice of appeal
and six additional complaints in the Eastern District of
Michigan, two of which were against Judge Morris. Berry
alleged that Judge Morris, like Judge Van Allsburg, was
guilty of an act of treason. Judge Ludington reviewed
Berry's complaint against Judge Morris and concluded that
because Judge Morris was acting in her judicial capacity she
was protected from suit by judicial immunity.
Berry then sued Judge Ludington in the present case, alleging
that the previous dismissals denied him of his day in court
against the judge who violated his constitutional rights.
Berry alleges that Judge Ludington aided and abetted the
violation of his rights, and therefore Judge Ludington
violated his oath to uphold the Constitution and committed an
act of treason. Berry is seeking money damages. As mentioned,
earlier, he also asks that fees and costs be waived because
he cannot afford them.
enacted the federal in forma pauperis statute to
“‘guarantee that no citizen shall be denied an
opportunity to commence, prosecute, or defend an action,
civil or criminal, in any court of the United States, solely
because . . . poverty makes it impossible . . . to pay or
secure the costs' of litigation.” Denton v.
Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992) (quoting Adkins v.
E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 335 U.S. 331, 342, 69
S.Ct. 85, 90, 93 L.Ed. 43 (1948)). At the same time, however,
“Congress recognized that ‘a litigant whose
filing fees and court costs are assumed by the public, unlike
a paying litigant, lacks an economic incentive to refrain
from filing frivolous, malicious, or repetitive
lawsuits.'” Ibid. (quoting Neitzke v.
Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989)).
plaintiff asks the court to waive fees and costs because he
cannot afford to pay them, the court has an obligation to
screen the case for merit and dismiss the case if it
“(i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a
claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary
relief against a defendant who is immune from such
relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). A complaint is
frivolous if it lacks an arguable basis in law or fact.
Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989);
see also Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32
(1992). “A complaint lacks an arguable basis in law or
fact if it . . . is based on legal theories that are
indisputably meritless.” Brown v. Bargery, 207
F.3d 863, 866 (6th Cir. 2000) (citing Neitzke, 490
U.S. at 327-28).
claims are indisputably meritless because he is seeking
relief from a defendant who is immune from suit. “[A]
judge is immune from a suit for money damages.”
Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 9 (1991) (citing
cases). Over a century ago, the Supreme Court declared
“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.” Bradley v. Fisher,
80 U.S. (13 Wall.) at 347. The Supreme Court has explained
that “[t]his immunity applies even when the judge is
accused of acting maliciously and corruptly.”
Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554 (1967). The reason
for this immunity is not so much for the benefit of the judge
- corrupt or not - “‘but for the benefit of the
public, whose interest it is that the judges should be at
liberty to exercise their functions with independence and
without fear of consequences.'” Ibid.
(citing Scott v. Stansfield, L.R. 3 Ex. 220, 223
are exceptions to this rule, neither of which applies here:
“(1) where the judge acts in a non-judicial capacity;
and (2) where the judge acts ‘in the complete absence
of all jurisdiction.'” Mann v. Conlin, 22
F.3d 100, 103 (6th Cir. 1994) (quoting Mireles, 502
U.S. at 9). “The Supreme Court has endorsed a
functional approach in determining whether an official is
entitled to absolute immunity.” Collyer v.
Darling, 98 F.3d 211, 221 (6th Cir. 1996) (citation and
quotation marks omitted). “Whether an action is
judicial depends on the nature and function of the act, not
the act itself.” Dixon v. Clem, 492 F.3d 665,
674 (6th Cir. 2007).
is no question that Judge Ludington was acting in his
judicial capacity when he dismissed Berry's complaint.
The act of considering the merits of a complaint is “a
function normally performed by a judge, and to the
expectations of the parties.” Mireles, 502
U.S. 9, 12 (1991). Berry does not argue that the second
exception to judicial immunity applies or that Judge
Ludington acted “in the complete absence of all
jurisdiction, ” nor could he. See Mann, 22
F.3d at 103-04. Berry invoked the jurisdiction of the United
States District Court based on his allegation that his claim
arose under the United States Constitution. See 28
U.S.C. §1331(a) (“The district courts shall have
original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the
Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United
States.”). Judge Ludington plainly had jurisdiction to
adjudicate the merits of Berry's claim.
Berry's argument that judicial immunity is a
“fiction” does not withstand even the most
cursory of analyses. The doctrine was formally recognized by
the Supreme Court in 1872 and regularly reaffirmed whenever
the Court has had occasion to address and refine it.
See, e.g., Forrester v. White, 484
U.S. 219 (1988); Cleavinger v. Saxner, 474 U.S. 193
(1985); Dennis v. Sparks, 449 U.S. 24 (1980);
Supreme Court of Va. v. Consumers Union of United States,
Inc., 446 U.S. 719 (1980); Butz v. Economou,
438 U.S. 478 (1978); Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349
(1978); Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547 (1967).
“Few doctrines were more solidly established at common
law than the immunity of judges from liability for damages
for acts committed within their ...