United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
V. EAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court are plaintiff's motion to remand (Dkt. #
6) and defendant's motion to dismiss (Dkt. # 5).
Plaintiff asks the Court to remand this case to the District
Court of Tulsa County, State of Oklahoma, arguing that this
Court does not have jurisdiction. Dkt. # 6, at 3-4. Defendant
argues that the Court has jurisdiction over this suit under
federal question jurisdiction. Dkt. # 8, at 3. Moreover,
defendant asks the Court to dismiss plaintiff's claims
because she is entitled to absolute judicial immunity. Dkt. #
5, at 2. Plaintiff responds, arguing that defendant is not
entitled to immunity. Dkt. # 7, at 2.
April 2016, plaintiff was arrested and charged with two
misdemeanors under state law. Dkt. # 2-2, at 2. He was
scheduled to appear on May 20, 2016 before defendant, who is
a judge in the District Court of Tulsa County. Id.
On May 16, 2016, plaintiff filed a motion stating that he
intended to plea not guilty and proceed pro se.
Id. Plaintiff alleges that, at his appearance,
defendant ordered him to appear on June 17, 2016 with an
attorney. Id. Plaintiff filed a second motion on May
25, 2016, again stating that he intended to plea not guilty
and represent himself. Id. Plaintiff asserts that,
at his second appearance, defendant told him, “THIS IS
YOUR LAST CHANCE - YOU BE HERE WITH AN ATTORNEY ON JULY 1STOR
ELSE!” Id. On June 20, 2016, plaintiff filed a
third motion stating that he wished to represent himself and
plea not guilty. Id.
alleges that he had no choice but to retain a lawyer and that
he, therefore, met with an attorney and paid him $800.
Id. This attorney represented him at his third
appearance, and plaintiff entered a plea of not guilty.
Id. Plaintiff asserts that his attorney then told
him a trial would cost another $5, 000. Id. Because
plaintiff could not afford his attorney's trial fee, he
asserts that he was “forced into the court systems
[sic] plea bargain system and felt compelled to accept a
guilty plea.” Id.
March 21, 2017, plaintiff filed this case in the District
Court of Tulsa County, alleging that defendant violated his
right to represent himself under the Sixth Amendment and his
right to due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth
Amendments. Id. at 3. On March 29, 2017, defendant
removed the suit to this Court. Dkt. # 2. Plaintiff now moves
to remand, and defendant moves to dismiss. Dkt. ## 5, 6.
courts have subject matter jurisdiction to hear “all
civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws or
treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
When deciding whether a case arises under federal law, the
court must follow the well-pleaded complaint rule,
“under which a suit arises under federal law
‘only when the plaintiff's statement of his own
cause of action shows that it is based' on federal
law.” Schmeling v. NORDAM, 97 F.3d 1336, 1339
(10th Cir. 1996) (quoting Louisville & Nashville R.R.
v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149, 152 (1908)). Federal courts do
not have subject matter jurisdiction when a federal law issue
arises only as a defense to plaintiff's claims.
Franchise Tax Bd. of State of Cal. v. Constr. Laborers
Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 10-11 (1983).
The well-pleaded complaint rule “makes the plaintiff
the master of the claim; he or she may avoid federal
jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law.”
Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392
(1987). Removal statutes are construed narrowly and defendant
bears the burden to prove the existence of federal subject
matter jurisdiction. Pritchett v. Office Depot,
Inc., 420 F.3d 1090, 1094-95 (10th Cir. 2005);
Martin v. Franklin Capital Corp., 251 F.3d 1284,
1289-90 (10th Cir. 2001). “[G]iven the limited scope of
federal jurisdiction, there is a presumption against removal,
and courts must deny such jurisdiction if not affirmatively
apparent on the record.” Okla. Farm Bureau Mut.
Ins. Co. v. JSSJ Corp., 149 F. App'x 775, 778 (10th
Court has federal question jurisdiction over this case.
Plaintiff's petition asserts that defendant violated his
rights under the United States Constitution. As defendant is
a judge in an Oklahoma state court, the best interpretation
of plaintiff's claim is a suit pursuant 42 U.S.C. §
1983 for the alleged violation of plaintiff's rights
under the United States Constitution. The rights that were
allegedly violated, as well as the statute providing
plaintiff the right to bring this suit, derive from federal
law. Thus, this Court has federal question jurisdiction under
28 U.S.C. § 1331, and plaintiff's motion to remand
will be denied.
considering a motion to dismiss, a court must accept all the
well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true, even if
doubtful in fact, and must construe the allegations in the
light most favorable to a claimant. Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); Alvarado v.
KOB-TV, L.L.C., 493 F.3d 1210, 1215 (10th Cir. 2007);
Moffett v. Halliburton Energy Servs., Inc., 291 F.3d
1227, 1231 (10th Cir. 2002). Thus, in considering
defendant's motion to dismiss, the Court accepts the
allegations in plaintiff's complaint as true.
are absolutely immune from civil liability for judicial acts,
unless committed in the clear absence of all
jurisdiction.” Whitesel v. Sengenberger, 222
F.3d 861, 867 (10th Cir. 2000) (quoting Henriksen v.
Bentley, 644 F.2d 852, 855 (10th Cir. 1981)). “[A]
judge does not act in the clear absence of all jurisdiction
even if the action [she] took was in error, was done
maliciously, or was in excess of [her] authority.”
Moss v. Kopp, 559 F.3d 1155, 1163 (10th Cir. 2009)
(quoting Whitesel, 222 F.3d at 867). Absolute
immunity protects a judge from liability even if her
“exercise of authority is flawed by the commission of
grave procedural errors.” Id. (quoting
Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 357 (1978))
(internal quotation marks omitted).
alleges that defendant violated his Fifth, Sixth, and
Fourteenth Amendment rights by not allowing him to represent
himself in his criminal misdemeanor suit. Plaintiff
essentially alleges that defendant refused to accept his plea
or proceed with his case until plaintiff retained a lawyer.
Plaintiff's allegations all describe actions that
defendant took as she was acting pursuant to her authority as
a judge for the District Court of Tulsa County. Defendant is
a judge of a court of general jurisdiction who had authority
to preside over plaintiff's criminal case. Therefore,
even if her actions constitute a “grave procedural
error, ” she is immune from civil liability. Any
violation of plaintiff's constitutional rights committed
by defendant in her judicial capacity could have been
addressed on appeal in defendant's criminal case.
Accepting plaintiff's allegations as true, defendant was
not acting “in the clear absence of all
jurisdiction.” Thus, defendant is entitled to absolute
judicial immunity, and defendant's motion to dismiss will
THEREFORE ORDERED that plaintiff's motion to remand (Dkt.
# 6) is denied, and defendant's motion to dismiss (Dkt. #
5) is ...