United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division
ORDER GRANTING MOTIONS TO DISMISS OF DEFENDANTS
CHARLES TRAUGHBER, JAMES BEARD, AND JEFF BARNETT
THOMAS ANDERSON CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Terry Lee Clifton has filed a complaint for damages pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that his due process rights
were violated during his 2011 parole revocation proceedings.
He has filed suit against now retired Tennessee Board of
Parole (“TBOP”) Chairman Charles Traughber, TBOP
District Director Jeff Barnett, TBOP Deputy District Director
James Beard, and TBOP Officers Bettye Patrick and Charlotte
Richey. Plaintiff has also sued John Does 1- 10,
employees of TBOP or the Tennessee Department of Correction.
All defendants are sued in their individual capacities.
(Compl. p. 1, ECF No. 1.)
Traughber has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint against
(ECF No. 27.) Plaintiff has filed a response to the motion.
(ECF No. 33.) Defendants Beard and Barnett have also filed a
motion to dismiss (ECF No. 29), and Plaintiff has filed a
response to that motion. (ECF No. 34.) Defendants have filed
a joint reply to Plaintiff's responses. (ECF No. 39.) For
the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motions are
motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint.
RMI Titanium Co. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 78
F.3d 1125, 1134 (6th Cir. 1996). A complaint need not contain
“detailed factual allegations, ” but it must
contain more than “labels and conclusions” or
“a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action....” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A complaint does not “suffice
if it tenders ‘naked assertions' devoid of
‘further factual enhancement.'” Ashcroft
v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). “To survive a
motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.'”
Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
“A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff
pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The plausibility standard
“does not impose a probability requirement at the
pleading stage; it simply calls for enough facts to raise a
reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of
illegal [conduct].” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.
complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Beard, acting
upon a complaint made against Plaintiff by an assistant
public defender and at the request of Defendant Parole
Officers Richey and Patrick, authorized a parole violation
warrant which resulted in his defective parole revocation
hearing. Plaintiff also alleges that, at the direction of the
parole hearing officer who presided over his revocation
proceedings, Plaintiff sent written discovery and witness
subpoena requests to Defendants Traughber and Barnett in
their roles with the TBOP. Plaintiff further alleges that
Defendants failed to respond to his requests. Upon conclusion
of the hearing, the Board of Parole revoked Plaintiff's
parole on April 8, 2011. The Board denied Plaintiff's
administrative appeal on July 6, 2011.
Traughber and Barnett contend that they are entitled to
absolute quasi-judicial immunity from suit because, in
denying Plaintiff's requests, they acted in the role of a
judicial officer engaged in a judicial function. Defendant
Beard contends that authorizing an arrest warrant was also a
judicial function. Plaintiff has responded that Defendants
were performing an administrative or investigative functions
and, therefore, are not immune from suit.
judicial immunity protects judges from claims based on
“judicial act[s] taken within [the] court's
jurisdiction.” Cleavinger v. Saxner, 474 U.S.
193, 199 (1985). Absolute immunity also extends “to
certain others who perform functions closely associated with
the judicial process, ” which is generally referred to
as quasi-judicial immunity. Id. at 200.
Quasi-judicial “immunity extends to state parole
officers performing functions that are judicial in
nature.” Jenkins v. Michigan Department of
Corrections, 2015 WL 5244420 at *3 (E.D. Mich., Sept. 8,
2015). “[A] parole board is entitled to absolute
immunity for activities related to ‘the execution of
parole revocation procedures.'” Wright v.
McClain, 626 F.Supp. 1073, 1073 (W.D. Tenn. 1986)
determine whether quasi-judicial immunity applies, the Court
does not focus on the individual's “rank or title
or ‘location within the Government.'”
Cleavinger, 474 U.S. At 199. (quoting Butz v.
Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 511 (1978)). Instead, the Court
considers whether factors “characteristic of the
judicial process” are present, including:
(a) the need to assure that the individual can perform his
functions without harassment or intimidation; (b) the
presence of safeguards that reduce the need for private
damages actions as a means of controlling unconstitutional
conduct; (c) insulation from political influence; (d) the
importance of precedent; (e) the adversary nature of the
process; and (f) the correctability of error on appeal.
Id. at 202 (citing Butz, 438 U.S. at 512).
“The Court's case law ‘suggest[s] an
intelligible distinction between judicial acts and the
administrative, legislative, or executive functions that
judges may on occasion be assigned by law to
perform.'” Flying Dog Brewry, LLLP v. Michigan
Liquor Control Com'n, 597 F. App'x 342, 347 (6th
Cir. March 5, 2015) (quoting Forrester v. White, 484
U.S. 219, 227 (1988)). Accordingly, the issue before the
Court is whether Defendants' acts in question can be
considered judicial in nature such that Defendants are
entitled to absolute immunity.
as in Cleavinger, harassment and retaliation for
wrongful decisions are “more than a theoretical
possibility, ” the prospect of damages suits might
dissuade officials from serving on a parole board, the parole
revocation process is adversarial in nature, and errors may
be corrected on appeal. 474 U.S. at 197, 203. In
Cleavinger, the Court declined to extend absolute
immunity to the disciplinary committee members of a prison
because of the lack of independence of the committee. The
members of the committee were passing judgment on their
fellow co-workers, which was subject to review by their
superior, the warden. Thus, there existed an “obvious
pressure” to favor the prison and their coworkers
instead of the inmate. Id. at 204. The TBOP is
insulated from such “obvious pressure.”
the factor of “importance of precedent” weighs
heavily in Defendants' favor. Despite Plaintiff's
argument that Defendants' failure to act on his discovery
and subpoena requests was administrative in nature, as noted
in Berry v. Seeley, 2010 WL 5184883 at *4 (E.D.
Tenn. Dec. 15, 2010), “discovery issues . . . [are] at
the core of a judge's judicial functions.”
Additionally, the Butz Court described one of the
powers of a trial judge as issuing subpoenas. 438 U.S. at
513. See also Fed. R. Civ. P. 45 (outlining the
federal courts' subpoena power); Quatkemeyer v.
Kentucky Bd. of Med. Licensure, 506 F. App'x 342,
346 (6th Cir. 2012) (explaining that the “members of
the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure exercise the
requisite adjudicatory functioning for quasi-judicial
immunity, ” in part, because they have “authority
to issue subpoenas”). Plaintiff has cited no authority
for his argument that Defendants' failure to respond to
written discovery requests and issue witness subpoenas was
administrative or investigative in nature. Defendants'
actions involved “basic and integral parts of the
judicial function, ” Bush v. Rauch, 38 F.3d
842, 847 (6th Cir. 1994); therefore, Defendants Traughber and
Barnett are entitled to absolute quasi-judicial immunity.
issuing an arrest warrant is also a judicial function,
Defendant Beard has absolute quasi-judicial immunity from
suit. See Foster v. Walsh, 864 F.2d 416, 417 (6th
Cir. 1988) (finding that the issuance of an arrest warrant is
a “truly judicial act”); Wilson v.
Blankenship, 2016 WL 4290766 at *4 (E.D. Tenn. Aug. 15,
2016) (stating that the issuance of an arrest warrant is
“a judicial function that is integral to and
intertwined with the judicial process”). C.f.
Scotto v. Almenas, 143 F.3d 105 (2d Cir. 1998) (holding
that the parole division supervisor who signed an arrest
warrant based on the parole officer's recommendation was
protected by absolute prosecutorial immunity); Walrath v.
United States, 35 F.3d 277 (7th ...