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Hartsoe v. Bullock

United States District Court, D. Montana

January 18, 2019

JOHN HARTSOE, Plaintiff,



         Before the Court are motions to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) filed by Defendants Steve Bullock, Fred Simpson, Dana L. Christensen, Jeremiah C. Lynch, Don Bell, Kimberly More, and J. Andrew Person. ECF Nos. 4, 8, 10, 13, 22, 36. For the reasons discussed, the Court grants the motions.

         Also before the Court are Hartsoe's: (1) motion to vacate a 2011 state court order; (2) motion to call a federal grand jury; (3) motion to declare defendants coconspirators; (4) request for a criminal complaint to be filed against the defendants; and (5) request for an evidentiary hearing related to his allegations of violations of his rights during his 2008 criminal and civil cases. ECF Nos. 24, 33, 35. For the reasons discussed below, these motions and requests are denied.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff John Hartsoe, appearing pro se, commenced this action against private individuals, state and local governmental employees, and judicial officers for alleged violations of his rights which purportedly occurred during the course of criminal proceedings instituted against him in state court in 2008. He also alleges Defendants are liable for violations of his rights in relation to civil litigation stemming from marital dissolution proceedings between he and Donna Heisel.

         The majority of Hartsoe's claims appear to allege specific Defendants, while acting under color of state law, violated his rights protected under the United States Constitution. Thus, Hartsoe purports to advance federal claims which, if viable, would invoke the Court's federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. To the extent any of Hartsoe's claims are asserted under the laws of the State of Montana, the Court possesses supplemental jurisdiction over those claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a).

         This civil action constitutes yet another installment in a successive series of lawsuits Hartsoe has filed against many others in state and federal courts for conduct related to the same 2008 civil and criminal proceedings against Hartsoe.

         Defendants Dana L. Christensen and Jeremiah C. Lynch move for dismissal on the grounds of judicial immunity. Defendants Fred Simpson, Kimberly More, and J. Andrew Person move for dismissal on the grounds of lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Defendants Fred Simpson, Don Bell, Kimberly More, Steve Bullock, Dana L. Christensen and Jeremiah C. Lynch move for dismissal on the grounds of failure to state a claim.

         II. Applicable Law

         A. Judicial Immunity

         Judges are "absolutely immune for judicial acts." Simmons v. Sacramento County Superior Court, 318 F.3d 1156, 1161 (9th Cir. 2003). See also Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11-12 (1991). The doctrine of judicial immunity provides an immunity from suit, not just from an assessment of damages. Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11.

         Judges are entitled to immunity "for their judicial acts, even when such acts are in excess of their jurisdiction, and are alleged to have been done maliciously or corruptly." Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356 (1978) (quoting Bradley v. Fisher, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 335, 351 (1871)). The necessary inquiry is whether the judge had jurisdiction over the subject matter of the action pending before the judge. Sparkman, 435 U.S. at 356. Judicial immunity is broadly construed, and a "judge will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his authority; rather, he will be subject to liability only when he has acted in the 'clear absence of all jurisdiction.'" Sparkman, 435 U.S. at 356-57 (quoting Bradley, 80 U.S. at 351). Even "grave procedural errors" do not deprive a judge of immunity. Ashelman v. Page, 793 F.2d 1072, 1077 (9th Cir. 1986) (citing Sparkman, 435 U.S. at 359)).

         Consequently, exceptions to judicial immunity are recognized only in two limited situations: (1) where the judge's actions were not taken in the judge's judicial capacity (Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11 ("nonjudicial actions")), and (2) where the judge has acted "in the 'clear absence of all jurisdiction[.]'" Sadoski v. Mosley, 435 F.3d 1076, 1079 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Sparkman, 435 U.S. at 356-57 and Bradley, 80 U.S. at 351). "A clear absence of all jurisdiction means a clear lack of all subject matter jurisdiction[, ]" as distinguished from acts committed merely in excess of jurisdiction. Miller v. Davis, 521 F.3d 1142, 1147 (9th Cir. 2008) (citations omitted). Where "jurisdiction over the subject-matter is invested by law in the judge, or in the court which he holds, the manner and extent in which the jurisdiction shall be exercised are generally as much questions for his determination as any other questions involved in the case[.]" Sparkman, 435 U.S. at 356 n.6 (quoting Bradley, 80 U.S. at 351-52).

         B. Jurisdiction - Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1)

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), is the procedural rule for challenging the existence of a court's jurisdiction. A defendant may pursue a Rule 12(b)(1) motion either as a facial challenge to the jurisdictional allegations of a pleading, or as a substantive challenge to the facts underlying those allegations. Savage v. Glendale Union High School, Dist. No. 205, Maricopa County, 343 F.3d 1036, 1039 n.2 (9th Cir. 2003). A facial challenge is one which contends the allegations "are insufficient on their face to invoke federal jurisdiction." Safe Air for Everyone v. Meyer, 373 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2004).

         The success of a facial challenge to jurisdiction depends on the allegations in the complaint, and does not involve the resolution of a factual dispute. Wolfe v. Strankman, 392 F.3d 358, 362 (9th Cir. 2004). Therefore, in addressing a facial challenge the court must assume the allegations in the complaint are true, and it "must draw all reasonable inferences in [plaintiffs] favor." Id. See also Whisnant v. United States, 400 F.3d 1177, 1179 (9th Cir. 2005).

         The plaintiff bears the burden of proving the existence of jurisdiction in response to a challenge under Rule 12(b)(1). Kingman Reef Atoll Investments, L.L.C. v. United States, 541 F.3d 1189, 1197 (9th Cir. 2008).

         C. Failure to State a Claim - ...

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