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Adkins v. Underwood

decided: July 17, 1975.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division No. 73-2558-C WILLIAM J. BAUER, Judge.

Fairchild, Chief Judge, Pell, Circuit Judge, and Charles E. Wyzanski Jr., Senior District Judge.*fn*

Author: Per Curiam

Plaintiff brought this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the seven justices of the Supreme Court of Illinois and two judges of the Circuit Court of the County of Rock Island, Illinois. Federal jurisdiction is asserted under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343. Plaintiff's complaint seeks no damages, but asks declaratory and injunctive relief to reinstate a favorable verdict plaintiff had won in the Illinois Circuit Court, but which had been set aside on appeal. On defendant's motion, the district court dismissed the complaint for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

Plaintiff, a resident of Michigan, filed a civil action in a federal district court in Iowa on October 18, 1966 against the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad Company for damages arising out of her husband's death in an accident that occurred in Iowa. On November 6, 1967 this case was dismissed without prejudice pursuant to a stipulation agreed to by the parties. On January 16, 1968 plaintiff brought a similar action against the railroad in the Circuit Court of Rock Island County, Illinois.

In March 1968 the railroad moved to dismiss on the ground of forum non conveniens. Prior to a ruling on the motion, plaintiff amended her complaint naming three railroad employees, who were residents of Illinois, defendants. The trial judge denied the forum non conveniens motion on August 12, 1968. The case proceeded to trial, and the jury returned a verdict for plaintiff in the amount of $449,757. Both the railroad and the individual defendants raised the forum non conveniens issue in their post trial motions.

On appeal, the Illinois Appellate Court ordered remittitur of $199,757, but in all other respects, including the denial of the forum non conveniens motion, affirmed plaintiff's judgment.*fn1

After granting leave to appeal, the Supreme Court of Illinois reversed, holding that the forum non conveniens motion should have been granted, and remanded the case with directions to dismiss the action.*fn2

The Court reviewed matters of record with respect to the Iowa and the Illinois actions and concluded "All of the factors normally considered thus point to the conclusion that Rock Island County is not an appropriate forum for the trial of this case." The Court considered the joinder of the two individual defendants, the third having been dismissed. The Court pointed out that they were added four months after the Illinois action was commenced, that "It seems apparent that the individual defendants were joined in order to make the Illinois action look different from the Iowa action, and thereby provide some sort of basis upon which the denial of a motion to dismiss could be predicated," and that it was not clear as a matter of substantive law that persons occupying their positions are liable in tort for injuries such as caused the death of plaintiff's decedent. The Court concluded, "We are not convinced that the individual defendants were joined with probable cause and in good faith for the purpose of obtaining a judgment against them." Stating and applying a state rule, the Court decided to dismiss.

Plaintiff then filed a petition for rehearing contending that plaintiff had no hearing on the forum non conveniens issue nor on the issue of her good faith, and that the Supreme Court's decision violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the privileges and immunities clause of Art. IV, § 2 of the United States Constitution. The Supreme Court of Illinois denied this petition without oral argument. Plaintiff did not seek certiorari in the Supreme Court of the United States but chose to file the instant action in federal district court renewing her constitutional claims.

At the outset we note that if plaintiffs are permitted to bring suits of this ilk under the guise of the civil rights statutes, the relationship between state and federal courts will be radically altered. Plaintiff is asking an inferior federal court to order the Supreme Court of Illinois to vacate its judgment and reinstate a favorable trial court verdict and judgment.*fn3 Granting such relief would interfere with discretion at the heart of the state court decision-making process, jeopardizing the repose of state court judgments as well as offending firmly-held notions of comity. For these reasons alone equitable relief may well be inappropriate. See generally O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 499-501, 38 L. Ed. 2d 674, 94 S. Ct. 669 (1974).

Orchestrating this theme, defense counsel has argued that federal courts lack jurisdiction to hear plaintiff's claim,*fn4 that the doctrine of judicial immunity bars suit,*fn5 and that the doctrine of res judicata precludes our review of the Illinois court's decision.*fn6 Whatever the limits on the power of federal courts to compel state court judges to modify or rescind their decisions, we need not address these thorny issues for we agree that plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Plaintiff predicates her 1983 claim upon two alleged constitutional violations. First, she argues that she has been denied due process. Specifically, she contends that a hearing must be held on the questions of the convenience of alternative forums and her good faith in joining the Illinois residents as defendants. Apparently there was no evidentiary hearing devoted to these matters. Yet the forum non conveniens issue was argued at each stage of the litigation, the Supreme Court decided the issue on the facts of record before it, and plaintiff makes no claim that she was deprived of a full opportunity to put into that record any other facts in the circuit court relevant to this issue. If it be true that with respect to the question of plaintiff's good faith in joining the individual defendants, the Illinois court concluded that in the light of the facts of record plaintiff had, and failed to discharge the burden of proving good faith, there is nothing in the complaint to show that this conclusion was invidiously motivated, nor that reaching it was otherwise outside the legitimate scope of the judicial decision-making process.

Moreover, plaintiff made use of her opportunity to file a petition for rehearing and argued her present constitutional claim in that petition. She had a full hearing on her case at trial and on appeal, and her present objection can only be that the Illinois court erred in its evaluation of the facts before it.

Even if it can be said that the Supreme Court of Illinois erred in judgment, "mere errors or irregularities in the state court proceedings are not sufficient to show a purposeful conspiracy to deny ... due process." Skolnick v. Spolar, 317 F.2d 857, 859 (7th Cir. 1963), cert. denied, 375 U.S. 904, 11 L. Ed. 2d 145, 84 S. Ct. 195; Brown v. Dunne, 409 F.2d 341, 343 (7th Cir. 1969), and there are no allegations that the Supreme Court of Illinois proceedings were a sham or that the justices invidiously used their office to deprive plaintiff of her rights. Delia v. Court of Common Pleas of Cuyahoga County, 418 F.2d 205, 206 (6th Cir. 1969), cert. denied, 396 U.S. 886, 24 L. Ed. 2d 161, 90 S. Ct. 174; Sarelas v. Sheehan, 326 F.2d 490, 491-92 ...

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