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McNeil v. Bristol County Probate and Family Court Division

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

October 3, 2016



          F. Dennis Saylor United States District Judge

         For the reasons stated below, plaintiff will be ordered to show cause why this action should not be dismissed within 21 days of the entry of this Memorandum and Order.

         I. Background

         Pro se plaintiff Michelle Lynn McNeil has filed a thirty-page, six-count complaint purportedly on behalf of herself, other heirs, and her father's estate.[1] The complaint arises out of her unsuccessful attempt to become appointed the personal representative of her father's estate in an ongoing probate matter before the Bristol County Probate Court. Rather than appeal the orders of the Probate Court, plaintiff instead brought an action in this Court seeking monetary damages and declaratory and injunctive relief. Along with her complaint, plaintiff filed a motion to proceed in forma pauperis.

         II. Discussion

         A. Plaintiff's Complaint Is Subject to Screening

         Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis will be allowed. As a pro se plaintiff, however, summonses will not issue unless the Court determines that the complaint states a claim upon which relief can be granted. See 28 U.S.C. §1915(e). Furthermore, the Court is obligated to inquire sua sponte into its own subject-matter jurisdiction. See McCulloch v. Velez, 364 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2004). “If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). In conducting this review, the Court must liberally construe the complaint because plaintiff is proceeding pro se. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972).

         B. The Complaint Fails to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can Be Granted

         1. Bristol County Probate Court Is Immune from Suit

         The Bristol County Probate Court, as an arm of the state, is immune from suit in federal court under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. Dicenzo v. Prob., No. 15-CV-30171-MAP, 2015 WL 9690895, at *3 (D. Mass. Nov. 19, 2015) (dismissing claim against Massachusetts Probate Court under Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity), report and recommendation adopted sub nom. Dicenzo v. Massachusetts Prob. & Family Court, No. 15-CV-30171-MAP, 2016 WL 128127 (D. Mass. Jan. 12, 2016). Accordingly, plaintiff's claims against Bristol County Probate Court are subject to dismissal on the ground of sovereign immunity.

         2. Judge Field Is Absolutely Judicially Immune from Suit

         Plaintiff's claims against Judge Katherine A. Field are barred by the doctrine of absolute judicial immunity. Becks v. Plymouth County Superior Court, 511 F.Supp.2d 203, 206 (D. Mass. 2007) (“Absolute immunity from civil liability applies to any judicial officer for any normal and routine judicial act.”). “Absolute immunity applies to ‘judges performing judicial acts within their jurisdiction, ' and the protection it affords applies even if the official ‘acted maliciously and corruptly in exercising his judicial . . . functions' or ‘in the presence of grave procedural errors.'” Ives v. Agastoni, No. CV 15-30153-MAP, 2015 WL 9647559, at *3 (D. Mass. Dec. 14, 2015) (quoting Goldstein v. Galvin, 719 F.3d 16, 24 (1st Cir. 2013)), report and recommendation adopted, No. 15-CV-30153-MAP, 2016 WL 79881 (D. Mass. Jan. 5, 2016). All of the allegations concerning Judge Field relate to judicial actions in the ongoing probate proceedings. Accordingly, the claims against defendant Judge Katherine Field are subject to dismissal on the ground of absolute judicial immunity.

         3. Bristol Register of Probate and Probate Court Employees Are Entitled to Quasi-Judicial Immunity

         The “doctrine of quasi-absolute judicial immunity extends to employees of a court when they perform tasks that are an integral part of the judicial process.” Andre v. Moriarty, No. CV-11-40009-FDS, 2011 WL 1456773, at *7 (D. Mass. Apr. 4, 2011); see Bowen v. Worcester Family & Prob. Court, No. CV-14-40113-TSH, 2014 WL 5106419, at *1 (D. Mass. Oct. 9, 2014) (dismissing action sua sponte, holding that quasi-judicial immunity attached to probate and family court register and other court personnel acting in furtherance of their judicial duties). Here, plaintiff claims that the register of probate and various other staff have failed to undertake their official duties of probating the plaintiff's father's estate properly. As pleaded, the complaint is insufficient to overcome a defense of quasi-judicial ...

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