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Keenan v. Bowie

May 14, 2007

JAMES W. KEENAN AND JUDY M. KEENAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PETER W. BOWIE, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS ALLEGED OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS JUDGE OF THE UNITED STATES BANKRUPTCY COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jeffrey T. Miller United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS WITH PREJUDICE

Defendant Judge Peter W. Bowie ("Judge Bowie") moves to dismiss the complaint on the ground of judicial immunity. Plaintiffs James and Judy Keenan oppose the motion. Pursuant to Local Rule 7.1(d)(1), this matter is appropriate for decision without oral argument. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss is granted with prejudice and without leave to amend.

BACKGROUND

On September 25, 2006 Plaintiffs, proceeding in propria persona, filed a complaint against Judge Bowie for declaratory relief, injunctive relief, violation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. §1983, and violation of Rico. All of Plaintiffs' claims arise from the January 1996 filing of their petition for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. Plaintiffs' bankruptcy case was presided over by Judge Bowie. (Compl. ¶7). Plaintiff alleges that Judge Bowie appointed trustee Ross M. Pyle ("Trustee"), as the Chapter 11 Trustee. (Compl. ¶8).

Plaintiffs' bankruptcy estate included significant interests in real estate, estimated at about $100 million. (Compl. ¶12). The Trustee proposed a liquidating plan, instead of a reorganization plan, and Judge Bowie approved the liquidating plan. (Compl. ¶10). Plaintiffs generally allege Judge Bowie "issued certain [] orders which were unconstitutional and without subject matter jurisdiction, but not limited to, an order purporting to limit and neutralize Plaintiffs' constitutional right to petition for redress of grievances." (Compl. 13). Judge Bowie also allegedly violated Plaintiffs' constitutional rights when he "refused to order the return of the estate because of statements by JAMES KEENAN to the effect that Pyle breached his fiduciary obligations and that appropriate remedies would be sought," by setting an "arbitrary statute of limitations contrary to federal statutes," and by assuming jurisdiction over future proceedings "regardless of whether such proceedings are properly within the jurisdiction of other courts." (Compl. ¶13).

Plaintiff alleges that Trustee sold assets totaling $26,972,500 to pay total creditor claims of about $3,000,000. Total fees paid to the Trustee, Trustee's attorneys, and other court appointed professionals exceed $18,000,000. (Compl. ¶10).

Based upon the above generally described conduct, Plaintiffs allege four claims for declaratory relief, injunctive relief, violation of 42 U.S.C. §1983, and RICO. The declaratory relief claim seeks a declaration from this court that all acts taken by Judge Bowie in the underlying bankruptcy proceedings are void because they are extra-judicial acts. Plaintiffs alleges that Judge Bowie and Trustee "are associated with one another both professionally and socially." (Compl. ¶15). Plaintiffs allege that Judge Bowie approved a plan which "purports to exculpate and indemnify Pyle (and others) for their professional negligence, authorized the Trustee to take control of certain assets, failed to discharge the Satten judgment for fraud, issued orders not directed to parties in this action, and prevented Plaintiffs from fully litigating their claims against Trustee. (Compl. ¶¶18-24).

Judge Bowie moves to dismiss the complaint on the ground of judicial immunity. In their opposition, Plaintiffs do not address the issue of qualified immunity but request leave to amend without specifying the nature of any amendment.

DISCUSSION

Legal Standards

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) dismissal is proper only in "extraordinary" cases. United States v. Redwood City, 640 F.2d 963, 966 (9th Cir. 1981). Courts should grant 12(b)(6) relief only where a plaintiff's complaint lacks a "cognizable legal theory" or sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal theory. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dept., 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). Courts should not dismiss a complaint "unless it appears beyond doubt that plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle [the party] to relief." Moore v. City of Costa Mesa, 886 F.2d 260, 262 (9th Cir. 1989) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)), cert. denied, 496 U.S. 906 (1990). The defect must appear on the face of the complaint itself. Thus, courts may not consider extraneous material in testing its legal adequacy. See Levine v. Diamanthuset, Inc., 950 F.2d 1478, 1482 (9th Cir. 1991). The courts may, however, consider material properly submitted as part of the complaint. See Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner and Co., 896 F.2d 1542, 1555 n.19 (9th Cir. 1989).

Finally, courts must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Concha v. London, 62 F.3d 1493, 1500 (9th Cir. 1995), cert. dismissed, 116 S.Ct. 1710 (1996). Accordingly, courts must accept as true all material allegations in the complaint, as well as reasonable inferences to be drawn from them. See Holden v. Hagopian, 978 F.2d 1115, 1118 (9th Cir. 1992). However, conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences are insufficient to defeat a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. See In Re Syntex Corp. Sec. Litig., 95 F.3d 922, 926 (9th Cir. 1996).

Qualified Immunity

It is well established that judges are generally immune from suit for equitable and legal relief. See Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 9-10 (1991); Mullis v. U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Nevada, 828 F.2d 1385, 1394 (9th Cir. 1987). Absolute judicial immunity extends to all judicial acts taken within the subject matter jurisdiction of the court. Moore v. Brewster, 96 F.3d 1240, 1244 (9th Cir. 1996). Whether the complained of conduct was a "judicial act" turns on "the nature of the act itself, i.e., whether it is a function normally performed by a judge, and . . . the expectations of the parties, i.e., whether they dealt with the judge in his judicial ...


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