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Stevens v. Anzalone

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

April 10, 2018

JAMES ARTHUR STEVENS, #776148, Plaintiff,
v.
ANNA ANZALONE and the 39TH CIRCUIT COURT, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER OF SUMMARY DISMISSAL

          SEAN F. COX, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This is a pro se civil rights case brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Michigan prisoner James Arthur Stevens (“Plaintiff”), currently confined at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Adrian, Michigan pleaded nolo contendere to first-degree home invasion and assault with intent to commit murder in the Van Buren County Circuit Court and was sentenced to concurrent terms of 13 to 20 years imprisonment and 17 to 20 years imprisonment in 2010. In his complaint, he alleges that his constitutional rights were violated during his state court post-conviction habeas proceedings. He names Lenawee County Circuit Court Judge Anna Anzalone and the 39th Circuit Court as defendants in this action and sues them in their official capacities for injunctive and declaratory relief. The Court has granted Plaintiff leave to proceed without prepayment of the filing fees for this action. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1).

         II. DISCUSSION

         Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 (“PLRA”), the Court is required to sua sponte dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint before service on a defendant if it determines that the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). The Court is similarly required to dismiss a complaint seeking redress against government entities, officers, and employees which it finds to be frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. A complaint is frivolous if it lacks an arguable basis in law or in fact. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that a complaint set forth “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” as well as “a demand for the relief sought.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), (3). The purpose of this rule is to “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). While such notice pleading does not require detailed factual allegations, it does require more than the bare assertion of legal conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Rule 8 “demands more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that (1) he was deprived of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the federal Constitution or laws of the United States; and (2) the deprivation was caused by a person acting under color of state law. Flagg Bros. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 155-57 (1978); Harris v. Circleville, 583 F.3d 356, 364 (6th Cir. 2009). A pro se civil rights complaint is to be construed liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972). Despite the liberal pleading standard accorded pro se plaintiffs, the Court finds that Plaintiff's civil rights complaint is subject to summary dismissal.

         A. 39th Circuit Court Not an Entity Subject to Suit

         As an initial matter, the Court notes that the Plaintiff's claims against the 39th Circuit Court must be dismissed because the state court it is not a proper defendant in this action. Neither the state, nor a governmental entity that is an arm of the state for Eleventh Amendment purposes, nor a state official who acts in his or her official capacity, is a “person” within the meaning of § 1983. Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70-71 (1989). The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has thus held that a state court is not a “person” for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and is not subject to suit under that provision. See Mumford v. Basinski, 105 F.3d 264, 287 (6th Cir. 1997); Mumford v. Zieba, 4 F.3d 429, 435 (6th Cir. 1993) (citing Foster v. Walsh, 864 F.2d 416, 418 (6th Cir. 1988)). Plaintiff's claims against the state court must therefore be dismissed.

         B. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Plaintiff challenges the constitutionality of his state court post-judgment habeas proceedings, essentially asserting that he should have been given an in-person hearing on his habeas claims. In part, he raises a due process “as applied” challenge to certain provisions of Michigan law, namely Mich. Ct. R. 3.3303(D) and Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.4316. This Court, however, lacks the authority to review any such claims under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923); District of Columbia Ct. of App. v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983), which “holds that lower federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction to engage in appellate review of state court proceedings or to adjudicate claims ‘inextricably intertwined' with issues decided in state court proceedings.” Peterson Novelties, Inc. v. City of Berkley, 305 F.3d 386, 390 (6th Cir. 2002); see also Hutcherson v. Lauderdale Co., Tenn., 326 F.3d 747, 755 (6th Cir. 2003). “The Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents the lower federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over cases brought by ‘state-court losers' challenging ‘state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced.'” Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 460 (2006) (per curiam) (quoting Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005)). The Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies “when a plaintiff complains of injury from the state court judgment itself.” Coles v. Granville, 448 F.3d 853, 858 (6th Cir. 2006). “In determining the applicability of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, federal courts . . . must pay close attention to the relief sought by the federal-court plaintiff.” Hood v. Keller, 341 F.3d 593, 597 (6th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation omitted). “If the source of the injury is that state court decision, then the Rooker-Feldman doctrine would prevent the district court from asserting jurisdiction. If there is some other source of injury, such as a third party's actions, then the plaintiff asserts an independent claim.” McCormick v. Braverman, 451 F.3d 382, 393 (6th Cir. 2006). The doctrine applies to attempts to relitigate state court judgments entered before the federal suit is filed; it does not abrogate concurrent jurisdiction in federal and state courts, nor is it analogous to a preclusion doctrine. Exxon Mobil, 544 U.S. at 292.

         “The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is a rule of federal jurisdiction.” Frederickson v. City of Lockport, 384 F.3d 437, 438 (7th Cir. 2004). Consequently, it may be raised sua sponte. Saker v. National City Corp., 90 Fed.Appx. 816, 818 n.1 (6th Cir. 2004). When a claim is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a court must dismiss the claim for lack of jurisdiction. Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Environment, 523 U.S. 83, 94 (1998).

         Applying the foregoing principles to the present complaint, the Court finds that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear Plaintiff's “as applied” challenges to Michigan's habeas or collateral review provisions pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Plaintiff challenges the application of state court rules to his case. He complains that the state court orders are procedurally and constitutionally unsound and essentially asks the Court to overrule or vacate them. That is exactly the sort of appellate review of state court judgments that federal courts are barred from engaging in under Rooker-Feldman. The complained of-injuries are the dismissals of his state habeas case and related actions, and those injuries are directly and solely traceable to the state court rulings and judgments. In other words, Plaintiff is turning to federal court to undo the state court judgments, Exxon Mobil, 544 U.S. at 293, and his “as applied” claims are based upon the premise that the state court judgments are invalid. The Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over any such claims based upon the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. See Carter v. Burns, 524 F.3d 796, 799 (6th Cir. 2008) (affirming district court's dismissal of prisoner's “as applied” civil rights challenge to the constitutionality of Tennessee's collateral review statutes); Moore v. People of State of Michigan, No. 15-CV-12430, 2015 WL 5817932, *1-2 (E.D. Mich. Oct. 6, 2015) (citing Rooker and denying prisoner permission to file civil rights complaint challenging state courts' denial of post-judgment relief).

         Moreover, Plaintiff's federal claims are barred even if they were not specifically presented in the state courts. A federal claim that calls into question the validity of the state court judgment is inextricably intertwined with the judgment even if the federal claim was not presented in the state court proceeding; all that is required is that the federal plaintiff had the opportunity to present the issues involved to the state court. Kropelnicki v. Siegel, 290 F.3d 118, 128 (2d Cir. 2002); Brown & Root, Inc. v. Breckenridge, 211 F.3d 194, 201 (4th Cir. 2000); Valenti v. Mitchell, 962 F.2d 288, 296 (3d Cir. 1992) (quoted with approval in Wilde v. Ohio Veterinary Med. Licensing Bd., 31 Fed.Appx. 164, 166 (6th Cir. Feb. 21, 2002)). Plaintiff had the opportunity to present his claims in the state trial court and/or the Michigan Court of Appeals. He could then appeal to ...


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