United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division
EDWIN R JONAS III and BLACKTAIL MOUNTAIN RANCH CO., LLC, Plaintiffs,
LINDA B. JONAS, QUENTIN M. RHOADES, CRAIG MUNGAS, SULLIVAN, TABARACCI & RHOADES, P.C., JAMES DORMER, MONTANA LIVESTOCK AUCTION, INC., and GARDNER AUCTION CO., INC., Defendants.
DONALD W. MOLLOY, District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on Findings and Recommendations of United States Magistrate Judge Jeremiah C. Lynch. (Doc. 80.) The factual background of this case is well documented in Judge Lynch's Findings and Recommendations and will not be restated here. ( Id. at 2-8.) After considering several pending motions, Judge Lynch recommends that the case be dismissed in its entirety. ( Id. ) Plaintiff Edwin R. Jonas timely filed Objections to Judge Lynch's Findings and Recommendations. ( See Docs. 81, 82.) Plaintiff Blacktail Mountain Ranch Co., LLC also timely filed Objections. ( See Docs. 83, 84.) Defendants filed a Response to both. (Doc. 85.)
Following a party's objection, the Court reviews de novo the portions of a United States Magistrate Judge's findings and recommendations to which objection was lodged. 28 U.S.C. § 636. When no party objects, the Court reviews the findings and recommendations of a United States Magistrate Judge for clear error. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Commodore Bus. Mach., Inc., 656 F.2d 1309, 1313 (9th Cir. 1981). Clear error is present only if the Court is left with a "definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." United States v. Syrax, 235 F.3d 422, 427 (9th Cir. 2000). When a Court reviews a party's objection to a Magistrate Judge's ruling on a nondispositive pretrial matter, it must "modify or set aside any part of the order that is clearly erroneous or contrary to law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a).
Judge Lynch's Findings and Recommendations address the following motions and other filings: Defendants' Requests for Judicial Notice, (Docs. 16, 25, 47, 52); Plaintiff Edwin Jonas' Objection to Judicial Notice and Request for Hearing, (Doc. 53); Plaintiff Edwin Jonas' Motion to Disqualify Defense Counsel and Request for a Stay, (Docs. 35, 42); Defendant Linda Jonas' Motion to Set Aside Default, (Doc. 40); Defendants Craig Mungas, James Dormer, Montana Livestock Auction, Inc., and Gardner Auction Co., Inc.'s ("Receiver Defendants') Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Blacktail Mountain Co., LLC for failure to obtain counsel, (Doc. 30.); Receiver Defendants' Motion to Dismiss based on civil immunity, (Doc. 17); Defendants' Motions to Dismiss based on Rooker-Feldman, the domestic relations exception to federal jurisdiction, collateral estoppel, and res judicata, (Docs. 19, 21, 33, 73, 75); and Plaintiff Edwin Jonas' Motion for Sanctions, (Doc. 49). Each will be considered in turn. After thorough review of Judge Lynch's report, the parties' objections and response, and the record in this case, the Court finds the pending Findings and Recommendations well-reasoned and justified; they will therefore be adopted in-full.
I. Judicial Notice
The parties requested the Court take judicial notice of filings, judicial orders, and opinions connected to the divorce of Plaintiff Edwin Jonas and Defendant Linda Jonas. ( See Docs. 16, 25, 47, 52.) Judge Lynch granted these requests and took judicial notice of the associated court documents to assist in his resolution of the pending motions. ( See Doc. 80 at 2-4.) In doing so, Judge Lynch considered and denied Plaintiff Edwin Jonas' objection to judicial notice of some Montana court documents presented by the Defendants on the grounds that they contain mistakes of law or fact. ( Id. at 3-4.) Judge Lynch found the documents properly subject to judicial notice for the purpose of presenting the procedural history of this matter and for evaluating the documents' preclusive effect. ( Id. at 4.)
Plaintiffs bring objections to Judge Lynch's judicial notice of these documents pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a). (Docs. 82 at 17-18; 84 at 16-17.) Plaintiffs claim the Court erred by denying their request for a hearing on their objection to judicial notice, arguing a hearing must be granted as a matter of right. ( Id. ) They also claim that Judge Lynch ignored their requests for judicial notice of New Jersey court documents. ( Id. )
Despite Plaintiffs' claims to the contrary, Judge Lynch did not deny their request for judicial notice. ( See Doc. 80 at 3.) Judge Lynch notes in his Findings and Recommendations that Plaintiffs requested the Court take judicial notice of the New Jersey court documents. ( Id. ) Judge Lynch further notes "Defendants do not object to Jonas's request for judicial notice or dispute the authenticity of the documents he has submitted-all of which are properly subject to judicial notice." ( Id. ) The documents were considered in Judge Lynch's resolution of Defendants' Motions to Dismiss. ( Id. at 24.)
Plaintiffs' claim that Judge Lynch did not take judicial notice of the New Jersey court documents is a mischaracterization of the Findings and Recommendations; an attempt to argue the merits of the Motion to Dismiss through requests for judicial notice. This line of objection is a baseless attempt to shift judicial notice of adjudicative facts which form the basis of the case to legislative facts, related to legal reasoning and the formulation of legal principles. Judicial notice of this latter category of information and the accompanying argument is inappropriate. See Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, 592 F.3d 954, 560 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing Toth v. Grand Trunk R.R., 306 F.3d 335, 349 (6th Cir. 2002) ("[J]udicial notice is generally not the appropriate means to establish the legal principles governing the case.")) Pursuant to Plaintiffs' request, Judge Lynch took judicial notice of the New Jersey court documents. Plaintiffs' objection is without merit.
Judge Lynch did not err in substance or procedure in his decision to grant judicial notice of the Montana court documents over Plaintiffs' objection and request for hearing. Additionally, no federal court has held that Federal Rule of Evidence 201(e) requires a formal hearing in all circumstances. The Sixth and the Tenth Circuit, however, have held the opposite: "Federal Rule of Evidence 201(e) does not require under all circumstances, a formal hearing.'" Amadasu v. The Christ Hosp., 514 F.3d 504, 507-08 (6th Cir. 2008) (quoting Am. Stores Co. v. Commr. of Internal Revenue, 170 F.3d 1267, 1271 (10th Cir.1999)). In Amadasu, the Sixth Circuit held Rule 201(e) was satisfied because the plaintiff had an opportunity to be heard on the issue of judicial notice through the filing of his objections to the Magistrate Judge's report and the filing of his request for a hearing. Id. The circumstances here match those in Amadasu; Plaintiffs had an opportunity to be heard on the issue of judicial notice through the filing of objections to the Magistrate Judge's report and the filing of his request for a hearing.
Plaintiffs' objection to judicial notice of the Montana Supreme Court cases is not well-taken on its merits. Plaintiffs' sole objection to judicial notice of the Montana Supreme Court opinions is that the Montana Supreme Court decided his appeals wrongly. ( See Docs. 24, 53.) This is not the purpose for which judicial notice was taken and does not form the basis for a valid objection to judicial notice of court documents. Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 690 (9th Cir. 2001) ("On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, when a court takes judicial notice of another court's opinion, it may do so not for the truth of the facts recited therein, but for the existence of the opinion, which is not subject to dispute over its authenticity.") Judge Lynch's handling of the requests for judicial notice in this matter is well-considered and free of error. His refusal to grant Plaintiffs a formal hearing and his Order denying their objection to judicial notice are justified and will not be disturbed.
II. Motion to Disqualify Defense Counsel
Plaintiffs object to Judge Lynch's decision to deny their Motion to Disqualify Defense Counsel as clearly erroneous and contrary to law. (Docs. 82 at 8-17, 84 at 8-16.) Plaintiffs claim that Quentin Rhoades and Robert Erickson are precluded from acting as attorneys in this matter because their status as material witnesses in this case presents a conflict of interests. ( Id. ) Plaintiffs' contentions on this matter do not contradict Judge Lynch's finding that disqualification of counsel on the grounds of a conflict of interest is only appropriate if a client or former client moves for disqualification. ( See Doc. 80 at 11.) Plaintiffs are not a client or former client of Rhoades or Erickson. Plaintiffs' objection is ...