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Myers v. Thompson

United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division

December 13, 2018

ROBERT MYERS, Plaintiff,
v.
SHAUN R. THOMPSON in his personal capacity, JON G. MOOG in his personal capacity, MITCHELL D. HILL in his personal capacity, JEFFREY H. LANGTON, HEATHER L. McGUYER a/k/a/ Heather L. Portner and Heather Warila Pointer, AMY SCOTT SMITH, and DOES 1-10, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Dana L. Christensen, Chief Judge

         Before the Court are: Defendant Judge Jeffrey Langton's ("Judge Langton") Motion to Dismiss and Motion for Summary Judgment (Docs. 20; 23); the Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendants Shaun Thompson ("Thompson"), Jon Moog ("Moog"), Mitchell Hill ("Hill"), Heather McGuyer ("McGuyer"), and Amy Scott Smith ("Smith"), collectively "the ODC Defendants" (Doc. 25); Magistrate Judge Lynch's Findings and Recommendation (Doc. 43), recommending that Judge Langton's Motion to Dismiss be denied and that the Motions for Summary Judgment be granted; Plaintiff Robert Myers' ("Myers") Objections to Findings and Recommendations (Doc. 44) and Defendants' reply briefs. (Docs. 45; 46). For the following reasons, the Court adopts the Findings and Recommendation in full.

         Factual Background[1]

         In 2013, Myers represented Daniel Cox in a family law matter over which Judge Langton presided as a district judge. Based on Myers' conduct during the Cox proceedings, Judge Langton imposed sanctions on Myers, which the Montana Supreme Court affirmed on appeal. See In re Marriage of Cox, 353 P.3d 506 (table), 2015 WL 2447230 (Mont. 2015). Myers subsequently opposed Judge Langton in his 2016 reelection bid for district court judge in Ravalli County. Throughout his campaign, Myers launched a series of attacks on Judge Langton, including a radio advertisement in which Daniel Cox accused Judge Langton of fraud and corruption, as well as campaign mailers, statements to newspapers, and radio jingles accusing Judge Langton of engaging in illegal drug activities and sexual impropriety. In response, Judge Langton published a campaign advertisement refuting Myers' allegations. Judge Langton won reelection.

         Due to Myers' conduct in the Cox matter and 2016 judicial campaign, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel ("ODC") prosecuted three separate complaints against him before the Montana Commission on Practice ("Commission"). The first complaint stemmed from Myers' professional misconduct in the Cox matter. The Commission concluded his behavior was "outrageous, continuous, and display[ed] a disturbing lack of judgment and disrespect for the judiciary, opposing counsel, opposing parties, and the rule of law as a whole[, ]" (Doc. 22-7 at 6) and recommended that Myers be suspended from the practice of law. The second ODC complaint stemmed from Myers' campaign advertisements criticizing Judge Langton's judicial conduct in the Cox matter. The Commission concluded that Myers made statements "he knew to be false, or were made or caused to be made with reckless disregard for the truth, concerning the integrity of a judge[, ]" (Doc. 22-11 at 4) and recommended suspension once again. In its third and final complaint, the ODC alleged that Myers violated the Rules of Professional Conduct and Code of Judicial Conduct by running advertisements during the judicial campaign accusing Judge Langton of reprehensible acts such as buying methamphetamine from a 13-year-old child. (Doc. 22-20 at 1-4.) In relation to the final complaint, the Commission recommended that Myers be disbarred.

         On December 28, 2017, the Montana Supreme Court adopted the Commissions' findings of facts, conclusions of law, and recommendations in all three ODC matters. The Court imposed periods of suspension for the first two complaints, and for the third complaint, disbarred Myers from the practice of law. (Doc. 22-9 at 2 (Mont. Sup. Ct, PR 16-0245 (2017))); (Doc. 22-15 at 2 (Mont. Sup. Ct., PR 16-0411 (2017))); (Doc. 22-22 at 2 (Mont. Sup. Ct, PR 17-0026 (2017))).

         Procedural Background

         I. The Complaint

         Myers filed his First Amended Complaint (the "Complaint") (Doc. 5) in this matter on February 2, 2018, alleging six counts. Counts I and II allege that that the ODC Defendants[2] conspired to deliberately fabricate evidence to use during the ODC's prosecution of Myers. According to Myers, Defendants presented the fabricated evidence to the Commission to establish Myers violated provisions of the Montana Rules of Professional Conduct and the Code of Judicial Conduct, resulting in his suspension from the practice of law.

         Count III alleges that Thompson, Moog, Hill, McGuyer, and Judge Langton retaliated against Myers for exercising his free speech rights by publishing advertisements about Judge Langton, in violation of the First Amendment.

         Count IV, mislabeled "Count III," alleges Judge Langton is liable for defamation and defamation per se for publishing "false and unprivileged statements" about Myers in his own judicial campaign advertisements, damaging Myers' professional reputation.

         In Count V, mislabeled "Count IV," Myers alleges Judge Langton filed a criminal defamation complaint against Myers to prevent Myers from further investigating Judge Langton's misconduct. Myers alleges this conduct constitutes an abuse of process.

         Count VI, mislabeled "Count V," alleges Moog conspired with Judge Langton, McGuyer, and Smith to deceive the Montana Commission on Practice by presenting fabricated evidence or testimony during the ODC's prosecution of Myers.

         Myers requests relief in the form of compensatory and punitive damages. He also seeks treble damages for his claim of "attorney deceit" set forth in Count VI.

         II. Pending Motions

         Judge Langton filed a Motion to Dismiss on April 3, 2018 and a Motion for Summary Judgment and supporting brief (Docs. 20; 23) the following day. Defendants Hill, McGuyer, Moog, Smith, and Thompson, collectively "ODC Defendants," filed a Motion for Summary Judgement (Doc. 25) on April 5, 2018. The record reflects that Myers twice requested an extension to file his response to Defendants' pending motions. Judge Lynch granted both of Myers' requests, and both times, Myers failed to respond. Thereafter, on July 18, 2018, Judge Lynch entered his Findings and Recommendation (Doc. 43), recommending that Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment be granted. Judge Lynch also recommended that Judge Langton's Motion to Dismiss be denied. Myers filed his Objections to Findings and Recommendations (Doc. 44) on August 1, 2018. Judge Langton filed his reply (Doc. 45) on August 13, 2018, and ODC Defendants filed their reply (Doc. 46) the following day.[3]

         This Court must review de novo those findings and recommendations to which Myers has specifically objected. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). Absent objection, this Court reviews findings and recommendations for clear error. United States v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc); Thomas v. Am, 474 U.S. 140, 149 (1985). Clear error exists 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) (citations omitted).

         Discussion

         I. Judge Langton's Motion to Dismiss

         In his Motion to Dismiss, Judge Langton argued that this Court lacks jurisdiction over Counts I, II, III, and VI based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. That doctrine stands for the principle that federal district courts lack jurisdiction over de facto appeals from state court judgments. Carmona v. Carmona, 603 F.3d 1041, 1050 (9th Cir. 2010). A de facto appeal exists where a "federal plaintiff asserts as a legal wrong an allegedly erroneous decision by a state court, and seeks relief from a state court judgment based on that decision." Id. (internal quotations and citation omitted.) In other words, for Rooker-Feldman to apply, the harm alleged must result from the state court proceeding; it does not bar an action to redress harm caused by an adverse party. Id.

         Absent any response by Myers, Judge Lynch entered his Findings and Recommendations on July 18, 2018, concluding the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is inapplicable because Myers attributes his legal injuries to Judge Langton-not the Montana Supreme Court or its disciplinary decisions-and recommended that Judge Langton's Motion to Dismiss be denied.

         Myers did not object to Judge Lynch's Findings and Recommendation on Judge Langton's Motion to Dismiss. Therefore, the Court reviews those findings and recommendations for clear error. Finding none, the Court agrees with Judge Lynch that Judge Langton's Motion to Dismiss should be denied.

         II. Judge Langton's Motion for Summary Judgment

         Judge Langton moved for summary judgment on all six counts of the Complaint, arguing that Counts I and II (conspiracy to fabricate evidence), III (First Amendment retaliation), and VI (attorney deceit), are barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel. Judge Langton further asserted that he is entitled to summary judgment on Counts IV (defamation and defamation per se) and V (abuse of process) as a matter of law.

         Myers failed to file a response brief, and Judge Lynch entered his Findings and Recommendation, concluding that the doctrine of collateral estoppel bars Counts I, II, III, and VI. As to Counts IV and V, Judge Lynch determine that Myers failed to present any evidence raising a genuine dispute of material fact, entitling Judge Langton to summary judgment as a matter of ...


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