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Lee v. Weill

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

January 15, 2015

HERBERT LEE, JR., Plaintiff,
JEFF WEILL, SR., ET AL., Defendants.


DANIEL P. JORDAN, III, District Judge.

This civil-rights dispute is before the Court for consideration of dismissal and sanctions. Attorney Herbert Lee sues his former clients Gloria Thompson and Deborah Dixon while also bringing official-capacity claims against the following Mississippi judges: William L. Waller, Jr., Ann H. Lamar, Randy G. Pierce, Jess H. Dickinson, David A. Chandler, and Jeff Weill, Sr. All Defendants seek dismissal under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Thompson and Dixon also seek Rule 11 sanctions. Because the Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies to all claims, all motions are GRANTED.

I. Background

The facts of this dispute are somewhat lengthy yet largely irrelevant. In general terms, Lee is an African-American attorney who represented Thompson and Dixon in diet-drug litigation against American Home Products ("AHP"). Compl. [1] ¶ 8. Although many diet-drug cases were sent to multi-district litigation ("MDL"), Lee's cases were never removed or consolidated. Id. ¶ 12. Despite that, the current dispute arises from certain orders entered by the MDL court.

In particular, the MDL court established a Common Benefit Fund ("CBF") to reimburse attorneys who developed discovery that was shared with other participating attorneys. Id. ¶ 17. The CBF was funded by withholding some settlement proceeds in diet-drug cases-even in unconsolidated state-court cases-so long as the state-court attorney used the shared discovery. Id. ¶¶ 20, 22. Lee signed an agreement to participate in this program, id. ¶ 19, and when Thompson and Dixon settled their disputes with AHP, AHP deposited funds into the CBF, id. ¶ 33.

Eventually, the MDL court ordered a partial refund from the CBF, and Lee distributed the funds to Thompson, Dixon, and other clients. Id. ¶¶ 47-50. But Thompson, Dixon, and Lee disputed the way the funds were distributed. According to Thompson and Dixon, Lee was required to disburse the funds in the manner dictated by the MDL court's orders. Id. ¶ 59. Lee disagreed and distributed the funds under a different method that reduced the amount Thompson and Dixon received. Id. ¶ 60.

Feeling aggrieved, Thompson and Dixon sued Lee in the Circuit Court of Holmes County, Mississippi. Id. ¶ 54. The case was then transferred to the Circuit Court of Hinds County, Mississippi, where the trial court found that Lee was required to comply with the MDL court's orders. Id. ¶¶ 56, 64. The Mississippi Supreme Court unanimously affirmed that decision, and on remand, a new trial judge calculated the damages. Id. ¶¶ 72, 73, 82. Lee again appealed and lost on an unanimous vote by the Mississippi Supreme Court. Pl.'s Mem. [17] at 14.

Lee now contends that the Mississippi Supreme Court's decisions applying the MDL court's orders were arbitrary and capricious and that the court treated Lee less favorably than a white attorney who also disputed CBF disbursement. Lee therefore brought this case against the five Mississippi Supreme Court justices who participated in the two appeals and the trial judge, Jeff Weill, who calculated the damages on remand ("Judicial Defendants"). Compl. [1] ¶¶ 4-5. Lee also sued Thompson and Dixon for allegedly conspiring with the Judicial Defendants. Id. ¶ 110; see Pl.'s Mem. [19] at 18.

In his Complaint, Lee asserts four causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violation of the following rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution: (1) procedural due process; (2) substantive due process; (3) equal protection-class of one; and (4) equal protection-race discrimination. Compl. [1] ¶¶ 110-13. As his remedies, Lee seeks (1) a declaratory judgment that applying the MDL court's orders to the underlying case violates his constitutional rights, and (2) an injunction preventing Defendants "from seeking and collecting the retained assessment refunds from Lee and from enforcing the orders and judgments of the Hinds County Court and the Supreme Court." Id. ¶¶ 106, 107.

The matter is now before the Court on two Motions to Dismiss [8, 13] and a separate Motion for Sanctions [14]. The Judicial Defendants seek dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and alternatively Rule 12(b)(6) based on (1) the Rooker-Feldman doctrine; (2) Eleventh Amendment immunity; and (3) judicial immunity. Thompson and Dixon join in these theories while also invoking Rule 11.

As discussed below, the Court finds that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies. And because it does, the Court will not explore the somewhat murky issues associated with Defendants' other theories when applied to claims for declaratory and injunctive relief. See Riley v. La. State Bar Ass'n, 214 F.App'x 456, 458 (5th Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (declining to reach Eleventh Amendment issues in case barred by Rooker-Feldman ).

II. Standard

"A Rule 12(b)(1) motion should be granted only if it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove a plausible set of facts that establish subject-matter jurisdiction." Davis v. United States, 597 F.3d 646, 649 (5th Cir. 2009) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks omitted). In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, "the court may consider any one of the following: (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint plus undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint, undisputed facts, and the court's resolution of disputed facts." Id. at 649-50 (citing Lane v. ...

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