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Geller v. State

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

November 18, 2019


          David R. Grand, Magistrate Judge



         Plaintiff Bradley Geller, a licensed attorney acting pro se in this case, filed this action under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3729 et seq., alleging various systemic faults with Michigan's laws and practices of appointing and monitoring guardians for mentally and physically disabled individuals. The United States declined to intervene, and Geller proceeded on his own. The case eventually was dismissed, but not before a class of defendants - eight public administrator defendants - filed a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11(c) for sanctions. Magistrate Judge David Grand filed a report on August 7, 2019 recommending that the motion be denied. The public administrator defendants filed timely objections to the report and recommendation, and Geller filed a response. The case now is before the Court for fresh review of the contested parts of Judge Grand's report.


         Judge Grand summarized the proceedings in this case, and the parties are familiar with the facts. The focus of the motion is the second amended complaint, which Geller filed with permission. That pleading asserted claims against four groups of defendants: the St. Clair County defendants, the State of Michigan defendants (including Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bridgette McCormack), the Washtenaw County defendants, and eight public administrators. In addition to the fraud claims alleged under the False Claims Act, Geller alleged claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, and the Michigan Medicaid False Claims Act. Each group of defendants separately moved to dismiss the case. On April 26, 2019, Judge Grand issued a report recommending that all the plaintiffs' claims should be dismissed. The Court adopted the R&R on May 16, 2019 and denied the plaintiffs' subsequent motion to alter judgment on July 17, 2019.

         While the defendants' motions to dismiss were pending, the public administrators moved for Rule 11 sanctions against the plaintiffs. They argued that the plaintiffs violated Rule 11(b)(2) because their claims in the second amended complaint were not warranted by existing law or by a non-frivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law. They asserted that the plaintiffs lacked standing and that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine barred the plaintiffs' claims. They also contended that the plaintiffs violated Rule 11(b)(1) because their allegations of fraud so lacked in particularity as to demonstrate that the plaintiffs pursued the claims to harass the public administrators.

         Judge Grand recommended denying the motion. As to the alleged Rule 11(b)(2) violation, he pointed out that although the Rooker-Feldman doctrine barred the plaintiffs' claims against plaintiff Boucher's public guardian and those involved in the administration of the guardianship, the plaintiff never asserted those claims against the public administrators. Therefore, he suggested that there was no basis for the public administrators to seek sanctions under Rule 11(b)(2). Moreover, although the Court ruled that Geller lacked third-party standing to bring claims on behalf of certain wards, his argument about individuals under guardianship having certain inherent challenges to independently pursuing their rights was “far from frivolous.”

         Magistrate Judge Grand also found no sanctionable violation of Rule 11(b)(1). Although the claims against the public administrators “were devoid of legal merit, ” there was “simply no indication that they were brought for an improper purpose”; instead, the magistrate judge found that “Geller was motivated by a sincere desire to expose and correct subjectively-perceived deficiencies in Michigan's guardianship system.”


         The public administrator defendants filed three objections to the report and recommendation. When objections are filed, the Court must “make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified findings or recommendations to which objection is made, ” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667 (1980); United States v. Walters, 638 F.2d 947 (6th Cir. 1981), and determine whether the recommendation should be accepted, rejected, or modified in whole or in part, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). “The filing of objections provides the district court with the opportunity to consider the specific contentions of the parties and to correct any errors immediately, ” Walters, 638 F.2d at 950, enabling the court “to focus attention on those issues - factual and legal - that are at the heart of the parties' dispute, ” Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 147 (1985). As a result, “‘[o]nly those specific objections to the magistrate's report made to the district court will be preserved for appellate review; making some objections but failing to raise others will not preserve all the objections a party may have.'” McClanahan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 830, 837 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Smith v. Detroit Fed'n of Teachers Local 231, 829 F.2d 1370, 1373 (6th Cir. 1987)).

         A. First Objection

         In their first objections, the public administrator defendants rehash their Rooker-Feldman argument, contending that the magistrate judge erred by not recommending sanctions against Geller under Rule 11(b)(2). They say that the magistrate judge went astray when he declined to recommend sanctions against Geller based on the doctrine because he found that Geller's claims against the public administrators failed on other grounds. Geller's response, of course, endorses the magistrate judge's decision, but he also requests that this Court: (1) re-instate the case; (2) allow the plaintiffs to conduct discovery of all the parties; (3) entertain his motion for summary judgment; and (4) grant the remedies requested in the second amended complaint. Geller's request for affirmative relief will not be entertained because it has not been presented by proper motion, it repeats a reconsideration request that already has been denied, and jurisdiction over the dismissal of the main case is in the court of appeals, since Geller has filed a notice of appeal. See Griggs v. Provident Consumer Discount Co., 459 U.S. 56, 58 (1982) (“The filing of a notice of appeal is an event of jurisdictional significance - it confers jurisdiction on the court of appeals and divests the district court of its control over those aspects of the case involved in the appeal.”).

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11(b), a party's or attorney's signature on a pleading or other court paper amounts to a certification that “to the best of the person's knowledge, information, and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances . . . the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions are warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law or for establishing new law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(b)(2). If “the court determines that Rule 11(b) has been violated, the court may impose an appropriate sanction on any attorney, law firm, or party that violated the rule or is responsible for the violation.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(c).

         The public administrator defendants insist that the plaintiffs' claims against them were “obviously barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, ” and because a reasonable inquiry into the law would have revealed that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they had not suffered an injury traceable to the public administrators that the court could redress, those claims were meritless. That point is not much in dispute now. It is plain that if Geller's main focus was on the damage caused by a state court order, then he would have no recourse with lower federal courts, since the United States Supreme Court is the only federal court vested with the authority to consider appeals from state-court judgments. See Abbott v. Michigan, 474 F.3d 324, 326 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 463-464 (2006)); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1257.

         However, at oral argument on the public administrator defendants' motion to dismiss before the magistrate judge, Geller provided more detail about the types of claims he tried to plead in the second amended complaint and why he believed those particular claims did not implicate the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. He elaborated further in his notice of voluntary dismissal and response to the motion for sanctions. Geller conceded that federal courts do not have authority to review final judgments of a state court in judicial proceedings, but he contended that he was not seeking to overturn a particular state court decision. Instead, he argued that the public administrators also violated the Constitution and federal statutes by: (1) violating the rights of individuals under the ADA by unnecessarily institutionalizing them; (2) violating individuals' First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and freedom of assembly (by restricting visitors of their choice); (3) depriving ...

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