United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division
NANETTE K. LAUGHREY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
reason discussed below, the motion by defendant Judge Ralph
Jaynes to dismiss the amended complaint by plaintiff Marshall
Peterson is granted with prejudice.
Peterson was a party in a state court lawsuit involving a
county commission's duties relating to easements in his
subdivision. One of the arguments that Mr. Peterson had
raised in his pro se answer was that the one of the
opposing parties had taken a position before that court that
was directly at odds with a position adopted by the same
party in a different lawsuit. After filing his answer, Mr.
Peterson moved for judgment on the pleadings.
Jaynes, the presiding judge, denied Mr. Peterson's motion
for judgment on the pleadings. Mr. Peterson then asked Judge
Jaynes whether that case ought to be consolidated with the
other state court case described in his answer, given that
both involved the county commissioners and concerned
easements in his subdivision. Judge Jaynes' response
revealed that he was not aware of the other case-an
indication that he had not read Mr. Peterson's answer
before ruling on the motion for judgment on the pleadings.
Peterson alleges that Judge Jaynes' conduct violated Mr.
Peterson's constitutional right to due process. Pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, he seeks damages and attorneys'
fees from Judge Jaynes in his “individual”
Court construes a complaint filed pro se liberally,
meaning “that if the essence of an allegation is
discernible, even though it is not pleaded with legal nicety,
then the [Court] should construe the complaint in a way that
permits the layperson's claim to be considered within the
proper legal framework.” Stone v. Harry, 364
F.3d 912, 915 (8th Cir. 2004). Nonetheless, dismissal under
Rule 12(b)(6) is required when a complaint on its face
reveals an insuperable bar to relief. Fusco v. Xerox
Corp., 676 F.2d 332, 334 (8th Cir. 1982).
federal law, a “judge is absolutely immune from
liability if (1) the judge had subject matter jurisdiction,
and (2) the acts complained of were judicial acts.”
Smith v. Bacon, 699 F.2d 434, 436 (8th Cir. 1983);
see also Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 9, 11-12
(1991) (“[G]enerally, a judge is immune from a suit for
money damages. . . . [T]he immunity is overcome in only two
sets of circumstances. First, a judge is not immune from
liability for nonjudicial actions, i.e., actions not taken in
the judge's judicial capacity. Second, a judge is not
immune for actions, though judicial in nature, taken in the
complete absence of all jurisdiction.”) (citations
as a Missouri circuit court judge, Judge Jaynes had broad
subject matter jurisdiction, including over the property
dispute that gave rise to Mr. Peterson's complaint.
See Mo. Constitution, Article V, § 14
(providing that “[t]he [Missouri] circuit courts shall
have original jurisdiction over all cases and matters, civil
also can be no real question that the actions of which Mr.
Peterson complains were judicial in nature. “[T]he
factors determining whether an act by a judge is a
‘judicial' one relate to the nature of the act
itself, i.e., whether it is a function normally
performed by a judge, and to the expectations of the parties,
i.e., whether they dealt with the judge in his
judicial capacity.” Stump v. Sparkman, 435
U.S. 349, 362 (1978). Mr. Peterson's complaints about
Judge Jayne's conduct concern the judge's performance
of a function normally performed by judges- reviewing
parties' written submissions and deciding a motion.
See Schottel v. Young, 687 F.3d 370, 373 (8th Cir.
2012) (holding that when a judge rules on a motion, it is
done in a judicial capacity). Even construed liberally, no
factual allegation in Mr. Peterson's complaint suggests
that he dealt with Judge Jaynes outside of his judicial
capacity. Mr. Peterson's bare statement that he sues
Judge Jaynes in his “individual” capacity does
not change the nature of the actions of which he complains.
does Mr. Peterson's claim of judicial misconduct strip
the judge of immunity. Even if Judge Jaynes failed to review
Mr. Peterson's answer before ruling on his motion for
judgment on the pleadings, as alleged, absolute judicial
immunity would apply. See Mireles, 509 U.S. at 11
(stating that “judicial immunity is not overcome by
allegations of bad faith or malice” and concluding that
“a judge's direction to police officers to carry
out a judicial order with excessive force” was judicial
in nature); Stump, 435 U.S. at 363 (holding that a
judge was entitled to absolute judicial immunity in a forced
sterilization case, notwithstanding the claim that the
judge's decision was “unfair, ” and
“totally devoid of judicial concern for the interests
and well-being of the young girl involved”); Martin
v. Aubuchon, 623 F.2d 1282, 1285 (8th Cir. 1980)
(finding that defendant judges were entitled to absolute
judicial immunity despite allegations that they failed to
give plaintiff adequate notice of a hearing to terminate his
parental rights and did not advise him of his right to
counsel). Thus, Judge Jaynes is immune to Mr. Peterson's
suit for damages and legal fees.
absolute judicial immunity bars Mr. Peterson's action,
the Court need not consider whether Mr. Peterson adequately
states a procedural due process claim.