United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT
M. LAWSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
plaintiff has filed a pro se civil rights complaint
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against three Michigan state
court judges, alleging he was denied due process when the
trial court dismissed his fourth motion for relief from
judgment. The state trial judge rejected the petition in part
because it was precluded by Michigan Court Rule 6.502(G),
which forecloses filing successive motions for relief from
judgment. The Michigan Court of Appeals and Michigan Supreme
Court affirmed the trial court's dismissal. The plaintiff
argues that Rule 6.502(G)'s ban on successive motions for
relief from judgment under all but limited circumstances
violated his rights under the Due Process Clause. He seeks
injunctive relief, asking the Court to direct the defendants
to provide him a hearing to address the jurisdictional
defects raised in his motion.
August 21, 2017, Magistrate Judge R. Steven Whalen entered an
order granting the plaintiff's application to proceed
without prepaying fees or costs under 28 U.S.C. §
1915(a)(1). Section 1915(e)(2)(B), however, requires that the
Court 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.” To survive initial screening, “‘a
complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.'” Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 471
(6th Cir. 2010), quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009). In addition, the Court must screen for
colorable merit every prisoner complaint filed against any
state official or government entity. 28 U.S.C. §
1915A(a) (“The court shall review, before docketing, if
feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after
docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner
seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or
employee of a governmental entity.”). The Court finds
the complaint is without merit and that it ought to be
1979, the plaintiff was convicted in the Detroit
Recorder's Court of first-degree murder, armed robbery,
and possession of a firearm during the commission of a
felony. He is presently incarcerated on the murder and
firearm convictions. The plaintiff's convictions were
affirmed on direct appeal. People v. Scott, No.
48265 (Mich. Ct. App. Jan. 27, 1981). The plaintiff then
filed three separate motions for relief from judgment. The
first motion was granted in part; the plaintiff's armed
robbery conviction - which formed the predicate offense for
the felony-murder conviction - was vacated on the ground that
it was a double-jeopardy violation, but the motion was denied
in all other respects. The trial court also denied the
plaintiff's second and third successive motions for
relief from judgment, as well as a subsequent motion to
reconsider the denial of his third successive motion.
2013, the plaintiff filed a pleading styled “Petition
to Vacate the Conviction - Constructual Procedure Error,
” which the trial court interpreted as a fourth
successive motion for relief from judgment. The motion
alleged six jurisdictional defects. The trial court concluded
that Michigan Court Rule 6.502(G) foreclosed the
plaintiff's arguments, and even if it did not, the motion
failed to raise a cognizable claim of error. Ibid.
The Michigan Court of Appeals dismissed the plaintiff's
application for leave to appeal, finding that none of the
exceptions found in Rule 6.502(G)(20) were applicable. The
Michigan Supreme Court summarily denied the plaintiff's
motion on appeal.
plaintiff's complaint is based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
which allows a person to bring a civil action for damages
against another who, under color of state law, deprives that
person “of any rights, privileges, or immunities
secured by the Constitution and laws” of the United
States. When screening the case, the Court is mindful that 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). “To state a claim under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, a plaintiff must set forth facts that, when
construed favorably, establish (1) the deprivation of a right
secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States (2)
caused by a person acting under the color of state
law.” Dominguez v. Corr. Med. Servs., 555 F.3d
543, 549 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Sigley v. City of Parma
Heights, 437 F.3d 527, 533 (6th Cir. 2006)).
Court Rule 6.502(G)(1) limits a Michigan prisoner to one
post-conviction motion for relief from judgment unless the
motion is based upon a retroactive change in law or a claim
of new evidence. Mich. Ct. R. 6.502(G)(1)-(2). The plaintiff
argues that the state court erred in applying the bar to
successive motions for relief from judgment to his successive
motion because he was convicted before the Rule's
effective date. That argument is a non-starter. The relevant
time period for application of the rule is the date the
motion was filed, not the date of the conviction. Cf.
Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 326-27 (1997) (holding
that the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act
applies to those habeas petitions filed after its enactment).
He also contends that the rule unconstitutionally limits
prisoners' access to state post-conviction relief.
not clear that the plaintiff raised and lost those arguments
before the Michigan courts. If he did and now seeks a
reversal of those rulings, his claim is barred by the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine. See District of
Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482
& n. 16 (1983); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co.,
263 U.S. 413, 415-16 (1923). The Rooker-Feldman
doctrine denies federal jurisdiction to “cases brought
by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by
state-court judgments rendered before the district court
proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and
rejection of those judgments.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v.
Saudi Basic Industries Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005).
This Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over the
plaintiff's challenge to the state court's decision
that Rule 6.502(G)'s limitation are unlawful.
plaintiff's challenge to the general constitutionality of
Rule 6.502(G), rather than to the rule's application to
his state case, is not barred by Rooker-Feldman.
See Carter v Burns, 524 F.3d 796, 798-99 (6th Cir.
2008) (holding that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine did
not bar plaintiff's facial challenge to the
constitutionality of Tennessee's collateral review
statutes); see also Hood v. Keller, 341 F.3d 593,
597 (6th Cir. 2003) (“The Rooker-Feldman
doctrine . . . does not prohibit federal district courts from
exercising jurisdiction where the plaintiff's claim is
merely a general challenge to the constitutionality of the
state law applied in the state action, rather than a
challenge to the law's application in a particular state
case.”) (internal quotation marks omitted). This Court
has jurisdiction over that claim.
plaintiff's challenge to the constitutionality of
Michigan Court Rule 6.502(G) on due process grounds is
meritless. A prisoner's right to due process arises
“only if a restriction implicates a constitutionally
protected liberty interested.” Wilkinson v.
Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 221 (2005). There is no federal
constitutional right to direct appeal or post-conviction
proceedings in state court. Lackawanna County District
Attorney v. Coss, 532 U.S. 394, 402 (2001) (noting that
“each State has created mechanisms for both direct
appeal and state post-conviction review, even though there is
no constitutional mandate that they do so”) (internal
citations omitted); see also Jergens v. Brigano, 201
F.3d 440 (Table), 1990 WL 1204804, *3 (6th Cir. Dec. 9, 1999)
(“[T]here is no constitutional right to any state
post-conviction process at all . . . .”). Therefore, no
federal due process rights arise from Michigan's
collateral review procedures. Lynch-Bey v. Worthy,
No. 2:17-cv-372034, 2017 WL 372034, *3 (E.D. Mich. Jan. 26,
2017); see also Boles v. Jackson, No. 14-14074, 2015
WL 3967559, *2 (E.D. Mich. June 30, 2015)
(dismissing section 1983 complaint raising due process
challenge to Michigan's post-conviction collateral review
proceedings because “there is no constitutional right
to state post-conviction review”); Carter v.
Burns, No. 3:07-0597, 2008 WL 4525422, *9 (M.D. Tenn.
Oct. 2, 2008) (“[T]he plaintiff cannot support a claim
that Tennessee's post-conviction/collateral review
statutes violate his constitutional rights where no right to
post-conviction/collateral review exists in the first
place.”). The plaintiff has not stated a claim upon
which relief may be granted under section 1983.
a greater obstacle for the plaintiff is that each of the
defendants - state court judges all - are entitled to
absolute judicial immunity. Judges are absolutely immune from
civil rights suits for money damages when acting in a
judicial capacity unless they act in the clear absence of all
jurisdiction. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11-12
(1991). Whether an action is “judicial” depends
on the “‘nature of the act itself, i.e.,
whether it is a function normally performed by a judge,
'” and “‘the expectations of the
parties, i.e., whether they dealt with the judge in
his judicial capacity.'” Id. at 13
(quoting Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 362
(1978)). A judge's acts do not become non-judicial simply
because they are erroneous or “in excess of his
authority”; if that were the case, then “any
mistake of a judge in excess of his authority would become a
‘nonjudicial' act, because an improper or erroneous
act cannot be said to be normally performed by a
judge.” Id. at 12. Injunctive relief against a
judicial officer is also foreclosed under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 “unless a declaratory decree was violated or
declaratory relief was unavailable.” Kipen v.
Lawson, 57 F. App'x 691 (6th Cir. 2003).
conduct challenged by the plaintiff in this case arises from
the defendants' application of Rule 6.502(G) to his case.
This conduct was well within the scope of defendant Judges
Morrow's, Talbot's, and Young, Jr.'s judicial
capacity and was not done in absence of jurisdiction. Nor
does the plaintiff allege a violation of a declaratory
decree. The plaintiff is not entitled to declaratory relief
because there is no justiciable controversy between a judge
acting as a “disinterested judicial adjudicator”
and a party to the lawsuit. Declaratory relief is not
“unavailable” simply because a ...