United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
HEATON, CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
case arises out of a long-running child custody dispute.
After extensive proceedings in other courts, plaintiff filed
suit in this court in 2016 asserting various claims against
the same defendants as are named in this case. See
Vanderbol v. Tuller, CIV-16-1422-HE. Jurisdiction in
that case was premised on diversity. The court concluded
diversity jurisdiction was lacking and dismissed the case.
case is substantially a refiling of the previous case.
Plaintiff alleges a wide-ranging conspiracy among the
defendants to violate his constitutional and other rights.
All but one of the defendants have filed motions to dismiss
pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Plaintiff has responded to
the motions. For the reasons stated below, the court
concludes the motions to dismiss should be granted and this
for motion to dismiss
considering whether claims should be dismissed under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the court accepts all well-pleaded
factual allegations of the complaint as true and views them
in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the nonmoving
party. S.E.C. v. Shields, 744 F.3d 633, 640 (10th
Cir. 2014). To survive the motion, the complaint must allege
“enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face” and “raise a right to
relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007). In
other words, the facts alleged in the complaint must allow
the court to infer the defendant's liability.
Shields, 744 F.3d at 640 (citing Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). The
Twombly/Iqbal pleading standard “is a
middle ground between heightened fact pleading, which is
expressly rejected, and allowing complaints that are no more
than labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action, which the Court stated will
not do.” Id. at 640-41 (quoting Khalik v.
United Air Lines, 671 F.3d 1188, 1191 (10th Cir. 2012)).
Because plaintiff is proceeding pro se, his
complaint is liberally construed.
pro se complaint alleges an extensive conspiracy
involving his ex-wife (Tuller), her lawyers (Schumacher and
Christensen), the court-appointed guardian ad litem for the
minor child of Tuller and plaintiff (Holden), the two judges
presiding over the cases in Oklahoma state court (Hammond and
Ogden), and a more recent ex-wife
(Schwartz-Vanderbol). Most of the allegations of the complaint
are couched in such conclusory and bombastic language that it
is difficult to identify many of the underlying facts.
However, the extensive exhibits attached to the complaint
supply considerable background detail, and the
court's references to “the complaint”
necessarily include those exhibits. One such exhibit, a 2015
decision of the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals, details the
Oklahoma state court proceedings that led to this suit.
complaint indicates that plaintiff and defendant Tuller were
divorced in Missouri in 2006. The parties were awarded joint
custody of their minor child and plaintiff was ordered to pay
child support. In April 2011, Tuller sought to domesticate
the decree in the State of Oklahoma. She also sought a
contempt citation for failure to pay child support and sought
modification of both the custody and support provisions of
the decree. Plaintiff objected to jurisdiction in the
Oklahoma state court and failed to appear at the January 2012
trial, resulting in that court entering default judgment
against him for back child support and finding him in
indirect contempt of court due to the failure to pay. The
default judgment also awarded sole custody of the minor child
to defendant Tuller and modified the visitation arrangements.
In later proceedings, at which plaintiff also failed to
appear, the court awarded fees and costs to Tuller.
Plaintiff's non-payment of those amounts resulted in
further contempt proceedings in 2013.
point, plaintiff filed a motion to vacate the Oklahoma
judgment on the basis of a lack of subject matter
jurisdiction. That motion and related proceedings eventually
led to the 2015 decision of the Court of Civil Appeals, which
reversed in part and affirmed in part. The court
affirmed the trial court order insofar as it related to the
back child support, but reversed as to the portion of the
order modifying custody and all other orders stemming from
that portion. It concluded “the trial court did not
have subject matter jurisdiction to modify Missouri's
custody determination at the time of the Default Order of
Modification.” [Doc. #1-12] at 8. It based that
conclusion on the fact that, as of the time of the default
judgment, there was no showing that the Missouri court had
determined that it no longer had exclusive, continuing
jurisdiction or that an Oklahoma court would be a more
convenient forum, within the meaning of the relevant
provision of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and
Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”), 43 Okla. Stat. §
551-203. But in July of 2012, several months after entry of
the Oklahoma judgment modifying custody, the Missouri court
determined that it no longer had jurisdiction over the child
or the parties. The complaint indicates that, after the 2015
appellate decision, further proceedings to modify custody
were pursued in the Oklahoma state court. More recently,
custody and related proceedings have occurred in Texas, where
plaintiff now lives. The complaint also alleges that, between
March 2013 and August 2015, plaintiff was “subjected to
abuse, unlawful detention, coercion, extortion, and great
stress by the repeated unlawful, merciless, illegal, abusive
and meritless actions of the defendants” through the
proceedings in Oklahoma state court. [Doc. #1] at 6.
Plaintiff alleges that by reason of the various proceedings
and the releases of his financial information through them,
he suffered over $250 million dollars in
damages-approximately $50 million in salary or compensation
losses, $200 million in investment losses, and another
million in attorney's fees, fines and the like. The
complaint further alleges that, as a result of these same
acts, plaintiff suffered a debilitating stroke resulting in
the “removal of 40% of plaintiff's lower
complaint contains other arguments and facts that are
unnecessary to detail here. The complaint's overarching
theme is that defendants, principally through their
involvement in the Oklahoma state court proceedings, all
engaged in a broad conspiracy to violate plaintiff's
civil rights. He alleges that the conspiracy has
“inhibited the judicial machinery in the states of
Oklahoma and Texas” to the point where “such
machinery is likely irreparably damaged.” Id.
court first disposes of the claims against the two judges,
Hammond and Ogden. Those defendants have moved to dismiss on
the basis of judicial immunity, which plainly applies here.
As a general matter, judges are not subject to liability 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, 355-56 (1978).
exception to the doctrine of judicial immunity applies in
limited circumstances. To take advantage of those exceptions
and defeat judicial immunity, a plaintiff must show that the
judge's actions were either non-judicial acts or were in
“clear absence of all jurisdiction.” Id.
at 356-57. The scope of a judge's jurisdiction is to be
construed broadly, and acting in excess of jurisdiction is
not the same as acting in the “clear absence of all
jurisdiction.” Id. at 357. Plaintiff attempts
to invoke the exception here, based on the Court of Civil
Appeals' determination that the state district court
lacked subject matter jurisdiction. But the argument
misconstrues the nature of that Court's determination and
of the exception. The Court's conclusion of a lack of
subject matter jurisdiction was directed to the question of
whether, under the UCCJEA, jurisdiction over the child
custody relationship had shifted from the Missouri court to
the Oklahoma court. That is the “subject matter”
the Court addressed. And the Court concluded, based on the
finding referenced above, that jurisdiction over the custody
relationship had not, as of the time of the default judgment,
been acquired by the Oklahoma courts. That is quite different
from being a basis for concluding that the judges acted in
the complete absence of all jurisdiction. See
generally, Bradley v. Fisher, 80 U.S. 335
(1871). It is clear that the district courts of Oklahoma
have, in general, jurisdiction over child custody and other
family relations matters. It is similarly undisputed that
Hammond and Ogden were, at the times of the acts challenged
by plaintiff, judges assigned to such cases. It is clear the
actions they took- entering the various orders and the
like-were actions taken in their judicial
erroneous determination of whether Oklahoma had acquired
jurisdiction over the custodial relationship does not
translate into a conclusion that Judge Hammond acted in the
absence of all jurisdiction, nor does it undercut the
application of the immunity doctrine to later actions taken
by the two judges. Plaintiff's effort to hold the ...