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Davis v. Graves

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

August 25, 2016

JERMAINE J. DAVIS, Plaintiff
v.
JUDGE LESLIE GRAVES, Defendant.

          MERIT REVIEW OPINION

          SUE E. MYERSCOUGH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff filed this case pro se from the Sangamon County Jail. The case is before the Court for a merit review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. This statute requires the Court to review a complaint filed by a prisoner to identify the cognizable claims and to dismiss part or all of the complaint if no claim is stated.

         In reviewing the Complaint, the Court accepts the factual allegations as true, liberally construing them in Plaintiff's favor. Turley v. Rednour, 729 F.3d 645, 649 (7th Cir. 2013). However, conclusory statements and labels are insufficient. Enough facts must be provided to "'state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'" Alexander v. U.S., 721 F.3d 418, 422 (7th Cir. 2013)(quoted cite omitted).

         On August 18, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Complaint (d/e 1) against Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Leslie Graves. Plaintiff is awaiting trial on charges of first degree murder and armed robbery in Sangamon County Case No. 14-cf-194, and Judge Graves is the presiding judge.[1] Plaintiff is proceeding pro se in the state court case.

         Plaintiff alleges that he filed two motions in the state court case that Judge Graves denied without “proper case law or competing facts.” See Compl. at p. 7, ¶ 9. Plaintiff does not attach copies of the motions to the Complaint but provides a description of the motions.[2] Id. at p. 5-7, ¶¶ 2-6. The first motion asked for an investigation of certain recordings by someone other than the Springfield Police Department or the State's Attorney's office. The second motion asked that the State make the recordings available to Plaintiff, as well as provide suitable facilities for inspection, testing, copying, and photographing such material. Plaintiff expresses his belief that the recordings were tampered with and incomplete. Plaintiff also believes that Judge Graves will not be neutral and holds a vendetta against him. Id. at p. 7, ¶ 10.

         For relief, Plaintiff asks for a new ruling on the two motions and a change of venue. Id. at p. 7, ¶ 11. Specifically, Plaintiff seeks an:

order of judgment of restoration of the court records as provided in the Act[3] and the investigation and testing by a specialist of the recordings and if possible a change of place of trial.

Id. at p. 8. Plaintiff does not seek money damages.

         Plaintiff alleges in a separate document, which the Court construes as part of the Complaint, that his constitutional rights to a fair trial and equal protection of the law have been violated. See d/e 3. Therefore, the Court will construe Plaintiff's Complaint as being brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         The acts by Judge Graves about which Plaintiff complains are judicial acts. See, e.g., Hollins v. Vandersnick, No. 07-4037, 2007 WL 2937073 at *1 (C.D. Ill. Aug. 10, 2007) (noting that a judge's rulings during a hearing are acts performed in a judge's judicial capacity). A judge is entitled to absolute judicial immunity for her judicial acts unless she acted in the clear absence of jurisdiction, even if the action is erroneous, malicious, or in excess of her authority. Brokaw v. Mercer Cnty., 235 F.3d 1000, 1015 (7th Cir. 2000).

         Until 1996, this doctrine of judicial immunity shielded judicial officers only from money damages but not from prospective injunctive relief. See Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522 (1984). In 1996, Congress amended § 1983 to provide that “in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable.” Federal Courts Improvement Act of 1996, § 309(c), Pub. L. No. 104-317, 110 Stat. 3847, 3853 (1996) (amending 42 U.S.C. § 1983). The Third Circuit has described the added language as follows:

The ... amendatory language to § 1983 does not expressly authorize suits for declaratory relief against judges. Instead, it implicitly recognizes that declaratory relief is available in some circumstances, and then limits the availability of injunctive relief to circumstances in which declaratory relief is unavailable or inadequate.... A review of the legislative history confirms this reading of the amendment. The Senate Report accompanying the amendment suggests that the amendment's purpose was to overrule the Supreme Court's decision in Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522, 541-43, 104 S.Ct. 1970, 80 L.Ed.2d 565, 80 L.Ed.2d 565 (1984)(holding that judicial immunity was not a bar to awards of attorney's fees and costs or to demands for injunctive relief), not to alter the landscape of declaratory relief.

Brandon E. ex rel. Listenbee v. Reynolds, 201 F.3d 194, 197-98 (3d Cir. 2000); see also, e.g., Sargent v. Emons, 582 F.App'x 51, 53 (2d Cir. 2014) (unpublished) (“Claims for injunctive relief under section 1983 against judges acting in their official capacity are therefore barred by absolute judicial immunity as long as declaratory relief remains available, the judge did not exceed her jurisdiction, and the plaintiff does not allege that a declaratory judgment was violated.”)

         Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief against a judicial officer. Under § 1983, he is not entitled to that relief because he does not allege that a declaratory decree was violated, that declaratory relief is ...


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