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J.B. v. The County of Howard

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 21, 2015

J.B., Jr. a minor child LAURA BOUMA on behalf of son J.B., Jr. Plaintiffs,
v.
THE COUNTY OF HOWARD IN MARYLAND, JUDGE TIMOTHY McCRONE, JUDGE LENORE GELFMAN, JUDGE LOUIS BECKER, JUDGE WILLIAM TUCKER, ALISA CUMMINS, ESQ., And CHRISTOPHER RAND, ESQ. Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

ELLEN LIPTON HOLLANDER, District Judge.

This Memorandum addresses the "Motion To Reconsider And Amend Complaint Motion To Vacate Order of December 8, 2014 Motion For Recusal" (ECF 7, the "Motion" or "Motion to Reconsider"), filed on December 15, 2014, by the self-represented plaintiffs, Laura Bouma and Laura Bouma on behalf of her minor son, J.B. Jr. At the time suit was filed, lB., Jr. was eleven years of age. ECF 1, ¶ 17.

This federal action is rooted in hotly contested divorce and child custody proceedings litigated in the Circuit Court for Howard County, Maryland. Plaintiffs filed suit in this Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against four state judges and two lawyers involved in her domestic case. See ECF 1. For reasons set forth in my Memorandum and Order of December 8, 2014 (ECF 4, 5), I dismissed the federal case, sua sponte. Bouma now asks this Court to reconsider the dismissal of her suit. She also complains that this Court improperly provided a named defendant with a copy of the Complaint after the Court dismissed the case and sealed the pleadings. In addition, plaintiff seeks to amend her Complaint, inter alia, to exclude the full name of her minor son. Finally, plaintiff seeks my recusal. For the reasons that follow, the Motion shall be denied.

I. Factual Background

On December 1, 2014, plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of various constitutional rights in connection with divorce and child custody proceedings litigated in the Circuit Court for Howard County, Maryland. In particular, plaintiffs alleged violations of the First, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, allegedly committed by four Maryland State judges and two Maryland attorneys who have been involved in the domestic litigation. The Maryland judges named as defendants are Timothy McCrone; Lenore Gelfman; Louis Becker, III; and William Tucker. The attorneys named as defendants are Alisa Cummins[1] and Christopher Rand. Curmnins was the child's "Best Inferest Attorney" ("BIA")[2] and Rand represented Mr. Bouma, the husband/father. See ECF 1, ¶¶ 14, 21. In addition, plaintiffs sued "the County of Howard, in Maryland." Plaintiffs attached sixteen exhibits to the Complaint, all of which were filed on the public docket. Many contained personal identifying information pertaining to the minor child, J.B., Jr., as well as medical/psychological information about the child.

At the time suit was filed, Ms. Bouma submitted a handwritten request asking the Court to "review [the matter] as soon as possible because the numerous civil violations had caused this child to be at extreme risk for imminent harm." ECF 3. As a result of that request, I immediately prioritized my review of the lawsuit. In doing so, it became patently clear that the federal suit is predicated on plaintiffs' profound dissatisfaction with rulings made in the Circuit Court for Howard County in regard to the divorce and custody proceedings.

The following paragraphs from plaintiffs' federal suit (ECF 1) are illustrative, among others:

22. Under Maryland state law a petitioner for divorce must be separated for 12 months before a divorce petition can legally be filed. No exceptions apply. Normally, the divorce proceedings would have been field in the County where the marital residence is located, Queen Ann [sic] County (Exhibit 3).
23. Father [name omitted] filed for divorce as a matter of record only eight months after the point of separation based on his sworn testimony. The circumvention of the 12 month rule was dismissed in Howard County. It is also a matter of record that the Petitioner's Father, Defendant Christopher Rand's client, left the marital residence located in Queen Ann [sic] County to live with his parents where he was "connected "in Howard County. [sic as to quotation marks.] Father grew up in Howard County where generations of his relatives have lived (14th Amendment - failure to provide equal protection under the law).
* * *
26. Consistently, Plaintiffs['] legitimate attempts to present evidence and introduce witnesses were unscrupulously denied or suppressed. The Howard County Circuit Court, beginning with the Defendant, Judge Timothy McCrone, and followed by Judge Louis a [sic] Becker, Judge Lenora [sic] Gelfman and concluding with the Judge William Tucker, conducted themselves in a manner more akin to a syndicate then [sic] a tribunal in the quest of truth and justice.
27. In the initial hearing Judge Timothy McCrone elected to shape rather than hear the evidence. He refused to allow the presentation of evidence and witness testimony to enter the record. Treatment of the herein Plaintiffs over the months and years that followed have been more akin to the southern lawlessness that inspired the civil rights act of 1871.
28. After the Hon. Timothy McCrone, for reasons that are still unclear issued his, by all measure extreme and excessive order of April 12, 2012. All further litigation presided over by members of the Howard County Circuit Court Bench was delivered in a manner that precluded Plaintiffs' right to due process. So as not to expose the faults in Judge McCrone's decision the Howard County Bench "circled the wagons" to protect one of their own, and subsequently placed a child at risk. All opportunities to expose the faults in Judge Timothy McCrone's initial order and subsequent impact on Plaintiff Child were deliberately suppressed or sealed by the Court and interlopers, Defendants Christopher Rand and Alisia Cummins.
* * *
31. On February 4, 2014, Circuit Court Judge Gelfman, "superseded" (Exhibit 4 supersede Order) the TPO of February 3, 2014 properly issued by a District Judge only a day earlier. In an extraordinary demonstration of cronyism and gamesmanship, the Defendant Judge Gelfman made no effort to review the evidence presented by the Plaintiff's Motion just one day earlier but allowed Father and his counsel to manipulate the system. Father and his Counsel, Defendant Rand, misused the filing of a temporary protective order as a vehicle to engage in exparte' [sic] communications so as to color the perception of the Court...

In addition, plaintiffs alleged that Judge McCrone engaged in "extreme and severe treatment" of Ms. Bouma, ECF 1, ¶ 10; Mr. Rand "orchestrated and manipulated" the court through "frivolous filings, ex parte communications... and false statements to the court that unnecessarily caused the plaintiffs excruciating pain and anguish, " id. ¶ 13; Ms. Cummins "stepped well outside the bounds of her area of authority and protections afforded as an arm of the court, " id. ¶ 14; Judge Becker "ordered a continuance which resulted in further postponing of the presentation of evidence associated with a Temporary Restraining Order, " id. ¶ 15; Judge Gelfman improperly "supersede[d]" a "Temporary Protective Order" issued by another judge one day earlier, id. ¶ 11; and Judge Tucker violated plaintiffs' rights to due process by failing "to review evidence substantiating abuse at the TPO hearing on February 11, 2014" and later on July 25, 2014. Id. ¶ 16.

Based on these and other allegations, this Court, sua sponte, issued a Memorandum (ECF 4) and Order (ECF 5) on December 8, 2014, dismissing the case, based on a lack of subject matter jurisdiction and/or on grounds of abstention. At the time, the defendants had not yet been served. Nevertheless, the Court directed the Clerk to send a copy of its Order to all of the named parties. See ECF 5.

Moreover, because the suit involved a minor child, the Court, in the interest of protecting the privacy of the child, placed its Memorandum and Opinion under seal. See ECF 4 at 1 n.1; Fed.R.Civ.P. 5.2(a). Indeed, the entire matter was docketed with restricted access.

As a result of receipt of the Order (ECF 5), Ms. Cummins, one of the named defendants, apparently tried to gain access to the suit in which she was named, by way of this Court's electronic filing system. But, she could not do so because of the restricted access to the public. As a result, Ms. Cummins contacted my Chambers on December 9, 2014, to request a copy of the lawsuit in which she was named as a defendant.[3] In response, I issued an Order on the same date, to permit the Clerk to mail a copy of the lawsuit to Ms. Cummins. See ECF 6.[4]

II. Discussion

A. Disclosure of the Complaint

As indicated, Ms. Bouma filed a suit that publicly disclosed personal and confidential information about her minor son. This included the child's full name, date of birth, and medical information. Out of concern for the privacy rights of the child, and pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 5.2(a), I sealed the case, sua sponte. Ms. Bouma now attempts to utilize the Court's decision to protect her child as grounds to complain that information she never sought to protect has been disclosed to a person she sued in this case.

Because the Complaint was sealed and the case was dismissed before service of process was achieved, Ms. Bouma maintains that the Court had no right to allow disclosure of the Complaint to Ms. Cummins, one of the defendants named in the suit. She contends that the Court improperly "granted access selectively to a third-party" and, in doing so, denied plaintiffs equal protection under the law. ECF 7 at 5. This contention lacks merit.

As recounted, sealing was appropriate for the reasons stated. But, in releasing a copy of the suit to Ms. Cummins, the Court was mindful of her right to know that she had been sued. Analogy to the public's common law right to inspect and copy judicial records and documents provides some ...


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