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Mathis v. Martin

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

October 11, 2013

JERRY J. MATHIS, Plaintiff,
v.
LARNZELL MARTIN, JR. et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ALEXANDER WILLIAMS, Jr., District Judge.

Pending before the Court are pro se Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration and Defendants' Consent Motion for Extension of Time. The Court has reviewed the record and deems a hearing unnecessary. For the following reasons, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration and GRANTS Defendants' Consent Motion for Extension of Time.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Jerry J. Mathis brings this § 1983 action individually and as a representative of the organization Citizens for Change. Mathis is proceeding pro se. Mathis filed a Complaint against various Maryland public officials (Defendants) from each branch of government. The thrust of the Complaint is that Defendants violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights by interfering with his efforts to distribute a sample ballot in connection with the 2010 Maryland Democratic primary.

On September 7, 2010, Defendant John P. McDonough, Maryland Secretary of State, brought an action against Citizens for Change in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County (the Circuit Court). McDonough contemporaneously filed an Emergency Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and Injunctive Relief (Motion for TRO). McDonough alleged in the Motion for TRO that Maryland citizens had complained that an entity was disseminating a fraudulent sample ballot in Prince George's County in connection with the September 14, 2010 Democratic primary election. McDonough further alleged that the ballot falsely indicated that Defendant C. Anthony Muse, a Maryland State Senator, and other officials endorsed candidates for office whom they did not actually endorse. See Doc. No. 1-3 ¶¶ 1-4. McDonough argued that the sample ballot violated section 13-602 of the Election Law Article of the Maryland Code. In pertinent part, section 13-602 provides that "[a] person may not publish or distribute, or cause to be published or distributed, campaign material that violates § 13-401 of this title." Md. Code Ann., Elec. Law § 13-602(a)(9). In turn, section 13-401 generally requires certain campaign material to contain an authority line that is set off from any other message and that states the name and address of the person or entity responsible for distributing the material. See Md. Code Ann., Elec. Law § 13-401(a)(1). A hearing was held on the same day and Defendant Larnzell Martin, Jr., Associate Judge for the Circuit Court, granted the Motion. See Doc. No. 1-2.[1] On September 8, 2010, Judge Martin's Order dated September 7, 2010 was entered. Although public records indicate that the case is still active, the docket does not reflect that any meaningful activity has taken place since the Order was entered.

In November 2010, Defendant Douglas F. Gansler, Maryland Attorney General, filed an Information charging Plaintiff with election law violations in connection with his distribution of the sample ballot. See Doc. No. 1-7. In April 2011, Plaintiff was convicted of violating certain provisions of section 13-401(a)(1) of the Election Law Article. Plaintiff appealed and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed. Plaintiff filed a cert petition with the Maryland Court of Appeals, which was denied.

Plaintiff filed his Complaint on September 6, 2013. Doc. No. 1. On September 11, 2013, the Court issued an Order stating that Plaintiff bore the responsibility of effectuating service of process as he paid the filing fee when lodging his Complaint. Doc. No. 2. In said Order, the Court sua sponte dismissed Judge Martin from the suit. The Court observed that Plaintiff had sued Judge Martin in his capacity as a state court judge and ruled that he was entitled to judicial immunity. See Doc. No. 2 at 1 n.1 (citing Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-57 (1978)).

On September 20, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Reconsideration. Plaintiff argues that the Court erred in relying on Stump because that case address only damages actions against judges. Plaintiff maintains that this action, by contrast, is for declaratory relief.

Plaintiff has filed returns of service for all Defendants other than Judge Martin indicating that their answers are due on October 9, 2013 or October 22, 2013. Doc. No. 5. On October 8, 2013, Defendants filed a Consent Motion for Extension of Time asking the Court to extend the deadline for all Defendants to answer or otherwise respond to November 15, 2013. Doc. No. 6.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In pertinent part, Rule 54(b) provides that Courts may revise interlocutory orders "at any time before the entry of a judgment." Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b); see also Moses H. Cone Mem. Hosp. v. Mercury Const. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 12 (1983) (stating that "every order short of a final decree is subject to reopening at the discretion of the district judge"). Because of such discretion, "[m]otions for reconsideration of interlocutory orders are not subject to the strict standards applicable to motions for reconsideration of a final judgment." Am. Canoe Ass'n v. Murphy Farms, Inc., 326 F.3d 505, 514-15 (4th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). Nevertheless, "doctrines such as law of the case... have evolved as a means of guiding" a district court's discretion to revise or reconsider interlocutory orders. Id. at 515 (citing Sejman v. Warner-Lambert Co., Inc., 845 F.2d 66, 69 (4th Cir. 1988)). The law of the case doctrine dictates that courts must follow the law that a prior decision establishes unless "(1) a subsequent trial produces substantially different evidence, (2) controlling authority has since made a contrary decision of law applicable to the issue, or (3) the prior decision was clearly erroneous and would work manifest injustice.'" See Sejman v. Warner-Lambert Co., Inc., 845 F.2d 66, 69 (4th Cir. 1988) (quoting EEOC v. Int'l Longshoremen's Assoc., 623 F.2d 1054 (5th Cir. 1980)). Albeit ubiquitous, the law of the case cannot categorically bar a district court from reconsidering an interlocutory order in light of federal courts' "ultimate responsibility... to reach the correct judgment under law." Murphy Farms, 326 F.3d at 515. Nonetheless, "concerns of finality and judicial economy" may temper this concern. Id. Therefore, relief is rarely ever appropriate "[w]hen the motion raises no new arguments, but merely requests the district court to reconsider a legal issue or to change its mind." Pritchard v. Wal Mart Stores, Inc., 3 F.Appx. 52, 53 (4th Cir. 2001) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

The issue in this case is whether the Court erred in sua sponte dismissing Judge Martin. For the following reasons, the Court concludes that (1) it had the authority to dismiss Judge Martin sua sponte and (2) Plaintiff's declaratory judgment claim against Judge Martin is frivolous.

Federal courts have inherent power to dismiss, sua sponte, frivolous or malicious actions. See Ross v. Baron, 493 F.Appx. 405, 406 (4th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (citations omitted); cf. Mallard v. U.S. Dist. Ct. for S. Dist. of Iowa, 490 U.S. 296, 308 (1989). Likewise, federal courts have inherent power to strike frivolous motions. See id.; cf. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f) ("The court may strike from a pleading any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter. The court may act: (1) on its own...."). Accordingly, subject to a showing of ...


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