United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
ELBERT A. WALTON, JR., Plaintiff,
CHARLES E. RENDLEN, III, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
E. RICHARD WEBBER, Senior District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on "Defendant's Motion to Dismiss" [ECF No. 17].
Plaintiff Elbert Walton, Jr. initiated this lawsuit by filing a Petition, styled Elbert A. Walton, Jr. v. Charles E. Rendlen, III, in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis on April 14, 2014, alleging tortious interference with contract and tortious interference with business expectancy. At all times pertinent to this matter, Charles E. Rendlen, III was a duly appointed judge for the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Missouri (hereafter referred to as "Bankruptcy Court").
On May 2, 2014, Judge Rendlen removed the Petition to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1446(a) and 1442(a)(3). On May 6, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand Case to State Court (and Memorandum in Support) [ECF No. 3] and a First Amended Petition (hereafter "First Amended Complaint") [ECF No. 4]. In response, Judge Rendlen filed his Memorandum in Opposition [ECF No. 5]. Upon consideration of Plaintiff's Amended Motion to Remand [ECF No. 6], Judge Rendlen's Memorandum in Opposition [ECF No. 7], and Plaintiff's Reply [ECF No. 9], this Court issued an Order denying Plaintiff's Amended Motion to Remand, on June 10, 2014 [ECF No. 13].
On July 31, 2014, Judge Rendlen filed the pending Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (FRCP) 12(b)(6) [ECF No. 17]. Specifically, Judge Rendlen contends judicial immunity bars Walton's claims. For purposes of this Motion to Dismiss, the Court accepts as true the following facts alleged in Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint. Great Rivers Habitat Alliance v. Fed. Emergency Mgmt. Agency, 615 F.3d 985, 988 (8th Cir. 2010).
In May 2013, James Robinson retained Plaintiff to represent him as defense counsel in a "contested matter" pending in the Bankruptcy Court. Plaintiff has since appeared as Robinson's attorney in the contested matter, appearing at various hearings and making filings with the Bankruptcy Court. Judge Rendlen was and continues to be the judicial officer presiding over the contested matter, and thus knew Robinson employed Plaintiff as counsel. At some point during the proceedings, Plaintiff moved for recusal of Judge Rendlen, based on bias, prejudice, and lack of impartiality. At another point, Judge Rendlen issued sanctions against Robinson.
Eventually, an "adversarial case related to [the] contested matter" arose, and in December 2013, four defendants in that case (James Robinson; Critique Services, LLC; Beverly Diltz; and Renee Mayweather) retained Plaintiff to represent them in their defense. However, "Plaintiff entered special and limited appearance as attorney for [these defendants] in said adversarial case, solely for purposes of filing a response to said Order to Show Cause, filed a special response thereto, and in addition appeared specially, without submission to the personal jurisdiction of the court, at a hearing held on said Order to Show Cause" [ECF No. 4 at ¶ 31]. During the hearing, Plaintiff argued the adversarial case should not be transferred to Judge Rendlen, on grounds of bias, prejudice, and lack of impartiality. The presiding judge transferred the adversarial case to Judge Rendlen, and thus, Judge Rendlen knew of the defendants' hiring of Plaintiff. Robinson, Diltz, and Mayweather "had advised" Plaintiff they "intended to retain" Plaintiff to represent them in defense of the adversarial case [ECF No. 4 at ¶¶ 48, 62, 77]. At some point, the relevant parties for both the contested matter and adversarial case entered into settlement negotiations; the sanctions Judge Rendlen had issued against Robinson were one subjects of negotiation in both matters [ECF No. 4 at ¶¶ 10, 12, 35, 37].
In conjunction with the settlement negotiations, Judge Rendlen directed a member of his court staff to deliver a message "to the Chapter 7 trustee presiding over the underlying bankruptcy case with directions, instructions, and orders that said Chapter 7 trustee deliver said communications to Robinson, Critique, Diltz and Mayweather as well as to the other parties to the [contested and] adversarial case matter[s] and counsel for the parties including... Plaintiff" [ECF No. 4 at ¶¶ 41, 16]. This communication "stated that in order for the sanctions that had been issued by the court to be withdrawn that as a part of the terms of the settlement that must be agreed upon by the parties, Robinson had to terminate Walton as his counsel and could not retain Walton to provide legal services on any cases in which Robinson was a party in the future" [ECF No. 4 at ¶ 18]. The communication also demanded Robinson apologize for "filing the Motion for Recusal and the other Motions and appeals filed in Robinson's defense in [the] contested matter, as a condition or term for the parties settling the case and effecting the lifting of sanctions issued against Robinson" [ECF No. 4 at ¶ 25].
As a result of this communication, Robinson terminated Plaintiff's representation as his defense counsel in the contested matter. Similarly, Robinson, Critique, Diltz, and Mayweather terminated Plaintiff's limited representation as their defense counsel in the adversarial case. Further, Robinson, Diltz, and Mayweather advised Plaintiff they would not retain him for a general appearance in the adversarial matter. Thus, Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint alleges Judge Rendlen "intentionally, willfully, purposefully[, ] and with malice aforethought" tortiously interfered with Plaintiff's contracts with Robinson, Critique, Diltz, and Mayweather. The First Amended Complaint further alleges Judge Rendlen "maliciously" interfered with Plaintiff's business expectancies with Robinson, Diltz, and Mayweather [ECF No. 4 at ¶¶ 13, 38, 53, 67, 82]. Plaintiff seeks damages for loss of legal fees, as well as punitive damages for Judge Rendlen's "intentional, willful, purposeful, and malicious conduct" [ECF No. 4 at ¶¶ 26, 46, 55]. Judge Rendlen moves to dismiss Plaintiff's claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (FRCP) 12(b)(6).
Under FRCP 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a claim for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." The notice pleading standard of FRCP 8(a)(2) requires a plaintiff to give "a short and plain statement showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." To meet this standard and to survive a FRCP 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotations and citation omitted). This requirement of facial plausibility means the factual content of the plaintiff's allegations must "allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Cole v. Homier Distrib. Co., 599 F.3d 856, 861 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Courts must assess the plausibility of a given claim with reference to the plaintiff's allegations as a whole, not in terms of the plausibility of each individual allegation. Zoltek Corp. v. Structural Polymer Grp., 592 F.3d 893, 896 n.4 (8th Cir. 2010) (internal citation omitted). This inquiry is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.
The Court must accept the factual allegations in the Complaint as true and grant all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Lustgraaf v. Behrens, 619 F.3d 867, 872-73 (8th Cir. 2010). However, the Court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Carton v. Gen. Motor Acceptance Corp., 611 F.3d 451, 454 (8th Cir. 2010) (internal citation omitted). Where the allegations on the face of the complaint show "there is some insuperable bar to relief, dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is ...