United States District Court, D. Maryland
L. Hollander United States District Judge
Cates, who is self represented, filed a civil rights action
on May 14, 2018, against the Baltimore City Circuit Court;
Judge Jeannie Hong; the Baltimore City State's Attorney;
Lisa Phelps (State's Attorney[)]”; and Governor
Larry Hogan. ECF 1. The complaint seeks monetary damages
against the defendants due to their alleged failure to
provide him with drug, alcohol, and mental health treatment
and to order a competency hearing based on Cates's
disability, as well as the alleged imposition of a sentence
based on Cates's race. Id. at 7-13.
to plaintiff, as a result of the defendants' deliberate
indifference, his “mental illnesses worsened
substantially, making plaintiff's sentence, cruel and
unusual punishment, ” in violation of the Eighth and
Fourteenth Amendments. Id. at 7.
reasons stated below, the complaint must be dismissed.
42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff may file suit against any
person who, acting under color of state law, “subjects,
or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States
or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the
deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured
by the Constitution and laws” of the United States.
However, § 1983 “is not itself a source of
substantive rights, but merely provides ‘a method for
vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.'”
Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994)
(quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3
(1979)); see Wahi v. Charleston Area Med. Ctr., 562
F.3d 599, 615 (4th Cir. 2009).
“Baltimore City Circuit Court” is not a
“person” amenable to suit under 42 U.S.C. §
1983. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Monell v.
Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 & n.55
(1978) (noting that for purposes of § 1983 a
“person” includes individuals and “bodies
politic and corporate”); see generally 5
Charles Alan Wright, et al., Fed. Prac. & Proc.
§ 1230 (2002). Therefore, the suit shall be dismissed as
to the Baltimore City Circuit Court. The suit shall also be
dismissed as to the remaining defendants.
Hong is a Maryland State judge who Cates has sued for
decisions made in her capacity as a judge. This cause of
action cannot be maintained because it is prohibited by the
doctrine of judicial immunity. See Forrester v.
White, 484 U.S. 219, 226-27 (1988) (“If judges
were personally liable for erroneous decisions, the resulting
avalanche of suits, most of them frivolous but vexatious,
would provide powerful incentives for judges to avoid
rendering decisions likely to provoke such suits.”).
doctrine of judicial immunity shields judges from monetary
claims against them in both their official and individual
capacities. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 9-10 (1991)
(per curiam). Judicial immunity is an absolute immunity; it
does not merely protect a defendant from assessment of
damages, but also protects a judge from damages suits
entirely. Id. at 11. An act is still judicial, and
immunity applies, even if the judge commits
“‘grave procedural errors.'”
Id. (quoting Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S.
349, 359 (1978)). Moreover, “judges of courts of
superior or general jurisdiction are not liable to civil
actions 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, 435
U.S. at 355-56; see Dean v. Shirer, 547 F.2d 227,
231 (4th Cir. 1976) (stating that a judge may not be attacked
for exercising judicial authority even if done improperly);
Green v. North Carolina, No. 4:08-CV-135-H, 2010 WL
3743767, at *3 (E.D. N.C. Sept. 21, 2010).
Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547 (1967), the United
States Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether a
judge was liable for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for
an unconstitutional conviction. The Court explained the
rationale for judicial immunity, id. at 553-54:
Few doctrines were more solidly established at common law
than the immunity of judges from liability for damages for
acts committed within their judicial jurisdiction ... This
immunity applies even when the judge is accused of acting
maliciously and corruptly, and it “is not for the
protection or benefit of a malicious or corrupt judge, but
for the benefit of the public, whose interest it is that
the judges should be at liberty to exercise their functions
with independence and without fear of
consequences”... It is a judge's duty to decide
all cases within his jurisdiction that are brought before
him, including controversial cases that arouse the most
intense feelings in the litigants. His errors may be
corrected on appeal, but he should not have to fear that
unsatisfied litigants may hound him with litigation
charging malice or corruption. Imposing such a burden on
judges would contribute not to principled and fearless
decision-making but to intimidation.
of Cates's conclusory claims of constitutional violation,
he provides no grounds to defeat the judicial immunity that
applies to Judge Hong's determinations in his criminal
Baltimore City State's Attorney (Marilyn Mosby) and Lisa
Phelps, presumably an Assistant State's Attorney for
Baltimore City, were sued for their role in Cates's
underlying criminal case, for which he was convicted and is
now incarcerated. Maryland's States Attorneys are
quasi-judicial officers who enjoy absolute immunity when
performing prosecutorial functions, as opposed to
investigative or administrative ones. See Imbler v.
Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 422-23 (1976); see also
Kalina v. Fletcher, 522 U.S. 118, 127 (1997);
Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 273 (1993);
Nero v. Mosby, F.3d, 2018 WL 2090902, at *4-5 (4th
Cir. May 7, 2018); Springmen v. Williams, 122 F.3d
211 (4th Cir. 1997).
immunity is designed to protect judicial process. Thus, the
inquiry is whether a prosecutor's actions are closely
associated with judicial process. See Burns v. Reed,
500 U.S. 478, 479 (1991) (citing Imbler, 424 U.S. at
422-23). The Court must use a “functional
approach” to “determine whether a particular act
is ‘intimately associated with the judicial
phase.'” Nero, 2018 WL 2090902, at *5
(quoting Imbler, 424 U.S. at 430). The Fourth
Circuit recently stated in Nero, 2018 WL 2090902, at
*5: “A prosecutor acts as an advocate when she
professionally evaluates evidence assembled by the police,
Buckley, 509 U.S. at 273, decides to seek an arrest