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Randle v. First American Title Insurance Company

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

April 17, 2017

BILL RANDLE, Plaintiff,
v.
FIRST AMERICAN TITLE INSURANCE COMPANY, ELSA THEILE FUCHS, MARY BETH WHEELER, RONALD F. BARTKOWICZ, and BARBARA J. BEILFUSS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GARY FEINERMAN JUDGE.

         Bill Randle brought this pro se suit against First American Title Insurance Company (“FATIC”), Elsa Fuchs, Mary Beth Wheeler, Judge Ronald Bartkowicz, Barbara Beilfuss, and Cook County, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 and Illinois law. Doc. 1. The court dismissed the claims against Cook County, Doc. 5, and Beilfuss filed a motion to dismiss the claims against her, Doc. 17, which the court granted, Doc. 37. Randle filed an amended complaint, Doc. 56, which FATIC, Wheeler, Judge Bartkowicz, and Beilfuss have moved to dismiss, Docs. 59, 61, 66. (Fuchs was recently served, Doc. 86, and has not yet filed a responsive pleading, but her co-defendants' arguments apply with equal force to her.) The motions to dismiss are granted as to Randle's federal claims, and the court exercises its discretion under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3) to relinquish jurisdiction over his state law claims. That said, the court gives Randle one final opportunity to amend his claims.

         Background

         In resolving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court assumes the truth of the operative complaint's well-pleaded factual allegations, though not its legal conclusions. See Zahn v. N. Am. Power & Gas, LLC, 815 F.3d 1082, 1087 (7th Cir. 2016). The court must also consider “documents attached to the complaint, documents that are critical to the complaint and referred to in it, and information that is subject to proper judicial notice, ” along with additional facts set forth in Randle's brief opposing dismissal, so long as those additional facts “are consistent with the pleadings.” Phillips v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 714 F.3d 1017, 1020 (7th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). The facts are set forth as favorably to Randle as those materials allow. See Pierce v. Zoetis, 818 F.3d 274, 277 (7th Cir. 2016). In setting forth those facts, the court does not vouch for their accuracy. See Jay E. Hayden Found. v. First Neighbor Bank, N.A., 610 F.3d 382, 384 (7th Cir. 2010).

         Randle alleges that certain of the defendants filed claims in state court charging that he and others conspired to steal Beilfuss's property. Doc. 56 at ¶ 14. Randle further alleges that Wheeler (FATIC's attorney) made false statements in state court pleadings and testimony, and that Wheeler and Fuchs conspired to give misleading information to Judge Bartkowicz. Id. at ¶¶ 17, 25. Randle adds that Wheeler, Fuchs, Beilfuss, and Judge Bartkowicz conspired to deny him his civil rights throughout the state court proceedings. Id. at ¶ 33. They allegedly did so during at least one “private meeting, ” although Randle does not specify who was in the meeting or what was said. Id. at ¶ 38.

         The alleged conspiracy did not bear fruit; as Randle acknowledged at the hearing on this motion, he prevailed in state court. When asked how, given his victory, the conspiracy injured him, Randle answered: “Well, first of all, every time I went to court over many years, I suffered tremendously, had a heart attack. And I believe it was all generated by this phony action. So I suffered tremendously.”

         Counts I-II of the operative complaint allege that Judge Bartkowicz, FATIC, Fuchs, and Wheeler violated § 1983. Id. at ¶¶ 20-30. Counts III-VI allege that FATIC, Fuchs, Wheeler, Beilfuss, and Judge Bartkowicz conspired to deprive Randle of his civil rights in violation of §§ 1983 and 1985. Id. at ¶¶ 31-55. Counts VII-IX raise Illinois state law claims against the private defendants, i.e., all defendants other than Judge Bartkowicz. Id. at ¶¶ 56-76.

         Discussion

         I. Claims against Judge Bartkowicz

         Judge Bartkowicz contends that judicial immunity protects him from Randle's federal claims. Doc. 62 at 7. “Like other forms of official immunity, judicial immunity is an immunity from suit, not just from ultimate assessment of damages. Accordingly, judicial immunity is not overcome by allegations of bad faith or malice … .” Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991) (citation omitted). Judicial immunity does not apply where the alleged misconduct consists of actions that are “nonjudicial, … i.e., actions not taken in the judge's judicial capacity.” Ibid.; see also Johnson v. Hansher, 607 F. App'x 581, 583 (7th Cir. 2015). Nor is there judicial immunity “for actions, though judicial in nature, taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction.” Mireles, 502 U.S. at 12; see also Killinger v. Johnson, 389 F.3d 765, 770 (7th Cir. 2004).

         The claims against Bartkowicz complain of actions (discussing the state court case, admitting or excluding evidence, and ruling on motions) that are judicial in nature. Randle does not suggest that the judge lacked jurisdiction, and any such allegation would be frivolous. Judge Bartkowicz is thus protected from suit by judicial immunity, and the claims against him are dismissed.

         II. Non-Conspiracy Section 1983 Claims Against the Private Defendants

         In moving to dismiss the non-conspiracy § 1983 claims against them, FATIC and Wheeler-who died earlier this year, Doc. 77-argue that Randle fails to allege facts that, if true, would show them to be state actors or otherwise acting under the color of law. They are correct, and the same holds for Fuchs.

         “[A] claim under § 1983 is tenable only if the defendants acted under color of state law- in other words, if they are state actors.” Gayman v. Principal Financial Servs., Inc., 311 F.3d 851, 852 (7th Cir. 2002). FATIC (a private title insurance company), Wheeler (one of its attorneys), and Fuchs (senior claims counsel to FATIC) are not agents of the State. Randle alleges in a conclusory manner that those defendants acted “under color of state law, ” Doc. 56 at ¶ 23, but no facts alleged in the complaint or his brief support that conclusion. The only allegation connecting them to the State is the charge that they met with Judge Bartkowicz in an attempt to direct the state court suit in their favor. That does not make the private defendants state actors or indicate that they were acting “under color of law, ” a term defined as “exercis[ing] power possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law.” West v. Atkins, ...


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