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Lloyd v. Doherty

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio

May 23, 2018

Susan Lloyd, Plaintiff,
v.
Judge Becky Doherty, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND ORDER (RESOLVING DOCS. 2, 5, 11)

          JOHN R. ADAMS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Background

         Plaintiff Susan Lloyd has filed this pro se action against Portage County Court of Common Pleas Judge Becky Doherty, Magistrate Natasha Natale, and Court Reporter Kelley Hershberger. (Doc. No. 1.) Defendants filed a motion to dismiss all claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 11.) After consideration of the law and argument presented, the motion to dismiss is GRANTED. Further, Plaintiff filed a motion to proceed in forma pauperis but later paid the filing fee. (Doc. No. 2.) She then filed a motion to withdraw her request to proceed in forma pauperis. (Doc. No. 5.) Said motion to withdraw is hereby GRANTED.

         In her Complaint, the Plaintiff alleges conduct taken by the Defendants during the course of two civil actions she filed against her neighbor, Joshua Thornsbery, in the Portage County Court of Common Pleas. She filed a damages action for trespass and nuisance against Mr. Thornsbery in Case 2016 CV 00230, and she filed an action seeking a civil stalking order in Case 2017 CV 00390. The Plaintiff has filed appeals in both of those cases, which are pending in the state court of appeals.

         In the underlying Complaint, the Plaintiff alleges Judge Doherty and Magistrate Natale “made decisions in back rooms” and were biased and prejudiced against her in the Portage County cases. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 35.) Plaintiff alleges that Judge Doherty and Magistrate Natale required her to “redo” her complaint (after she initially filed a pleading that exceeded 200 pages), refused to allow Facebook posts to be used during trial, refused to rule on her motions or recuse themselves, scheduled hearings that were subsequently cancelled, ordered her to take down security cameras facing Mr. Thornsbery's yard, and refused to credit evidence allegedly favorable to her. Additionally, she complains Judge Doherty “verbally assaulted” her while she was in the courthouse waiting to pay for a transcript and wrongfully speculated that she may be mentally ill. She alleges that Defendant Hershberger altered a transcript to exclude a statement made by Judge Doherty, where she alleged that Plaintiff was abusing the court system. (Id. at ¶¶ 14, 15.)

         Plaintiff asserts four claims for relief: 1) the Defendants violated her constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments because Plaintiff posted comments on the court Facebook page alleging that state proceedings were being deleted and she was then blocked from the page; 2) the Defendants violated her rights under the Fifth, Eighth, and Ninth Amendments by their alleged unfair and biased treatment of her during the Portage County proceedings; 3) Judge Doherty and Magistrate Natale violated her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“Rehabilitation Act”) because they refused to allow her to bring a service dog into the courtroom; and 4) Judge Doherty committed fraud because the Judge “advertises in multiple places that she runs a ‘drug' court” but in Plaintiff's cases, Judge Doherty allegedly ignored “hard core evidence of illegal drug use” by Mr. Thornsbery. (Id. at ¶ 56, Claim 4). The Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, a declaration that the Defendants have violated federal law, an order that Defendants be recused from Case 2016 CV 00230 and that the case be transferred out of Portage County, and an order that her “freedom of speech to portage county courthouse Facebook page” be restored and that the Defendants be prevented from “further retaliation and defamation” against her. (Id., Prayer for Relief.)

         The Defendants filed a motion to dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 11.) The Plaintiff responded to the motion, and it has now been fully briefed. For the reasons stated below, the Defendants' motion is GRANTED, and this action is DISMISSED.

         Standard of Review

         A complaint is subject to dismissal under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To survive a dismissal under the Rule, a complaint “must present ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face'” when its factual allegations are presumed true and all reasonable inferences are drawn in the non-moving party's favor. Total Benefits Planning Agency, Inc. v. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, 552 F.3d 430, 434 (6th Cir. 2008), citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). Although pleadings and documents filed by pro se litigants are “liberally construed” and held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, pro se plaintiffs must still meet basic pleading requirements and courts are not required to conjure allegations on their behalf. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Erwin v. Edwards, 22 Fed.Appx. 579, 580 (6th Cir. 2001).

         Analysis

         Giving the all the pleadings appropriate deference, Plaintiff's Complaint must be dismissed in its entirety. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         First, Plaintiff's Claims 2 and 3 do state claims for which this Court may grant relief. To the extent that the Plaintiff alleges Defendants have violated her civil rights by their conduct or rulings made during the proceedings, the doctrine of abstention prohibits this Court from hearing her claims. Under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971) and Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 17 (1987), federal courts must abstain from hearing challenges to pending state proceedings where the state's interest is so important that exercising federal jurisdiction would disrupt the comity between federal and state courts. Abstention is warranted where there exists: (1) an ongoing state proceeding; (2) an important state interest; and (3) an adequate opportunity in the state judicial proceedings to raise constitutional challenges. Gorenc v. City of Westland, 72 Fed.Appx. 336, 338 (6th Cir. 2003).

         Abstention is warranted under these factors because Plaintiff's underlying state court case implicates important state interests, and there is no reasonable suggestion in her pleadings that she lacks an adequate opportunity to raise her constitutional concerns in the state courts through procedures available to her. This Court will not interfere with pending state civil matters.

         In addition, to the extent the Plaintiff is asking this Court to overturn or reverse any specific ruling or order entered by the Portage County Court of Common Pleas, including Claims 2 and 3, her claims are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which prohibits federal courts from sitting in direct review of state court judgments. See Carter v. Burns, 524 F.3d 796, 798 (6th Cir. 2008) (“The Rooker-Feldman doctrine denies federal jurisdiction to ‘cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced ...


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