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Phillips v. New Hampshire Circuit Court

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

February 5, 2014

Matthew Phillips
v.
New Hampshire Circuit Court, 8th Circuit, District Division-Keene; Court Clerk Larry S. Kane; and Judge Edward Burke

ORDER

JOSEPH N. LAPLANTE, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Matthew Phillips, has filed a complaint in forma pauperis, alleging that defendants violated his rights under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and the Rehabilitation Act, by allegedly denying Phillips a reasonable accommodation for his mental illness, and by ordering him not to take prescribed antipsychotic medication, in the course of state court proceedings in which Phillips was a defendant charged with a violation-level offense. The complaint is before this court for preliminary review, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1915(e)(2).

Background

Phillips has a severe mental illness and alleges that without taking the prescribed dose of a strong anti-psychotic medication, he cannot properly understand legal proceedings. Phillips was a defendant in a non-criminal proceeding in the New Hampshire Circuit Court, 8th Circuit - District Division, in Keene, New Hampshire. Four hearings were held in that court, and at each hearing, Phillips requested an unspecified accommodation of his mental health condition. The state court denied each request. The state court further ordered Phillips not to take his prescribed medication, which Phillips asserts hindered his ability to understand the proceedings, affected his emotional state, and prevented him from defending himself properly. Phillips claims that the state court, the state court clerk, and the presiding state court judge all violated the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the ADA, by ordering him not to take his medication, and by failing to provide him with a reasonable accommodation for his mental illness, during the relevant state court proceedings. Phillips seeks both injunctive relief and damages on his claims.

Discussion

I. Standard for Preliminary Review

In determining whether a pro se complaint states a claim, the court construes the complaint liberally. See Erickson v. Pardus , 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Disregarding any legal conclusions, the court considers whether the factual content in the complaint and inferences reasonably drawn therefrom, taken as true, state a facially plausible claim to relief. Hernandez-Cuevas v. Taylor , 723 F.3d 91, 102-03 (1st Cir. 2013) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).

II. Claims for Damages

A. Judicial Immunity

Judges are generally immune from suit for money damages with respect to acts performed within the scope of their jurisdiction, even if they err, or act with bad faith or malice. See Cok v. Cosentino , 876 F.2d 1, 2 (1st Cir. 1989). In this case, the state court judge was acting in a judicial capacity, and within his jurisdiction, when he issued rulings relating to Phillips' requests for accommodations and medication. See Duvall v. Cnty. of Kitsap , 260 F.3d 1124, 1133 (9th Cir. 2001) (judge's determination regarding court's ability to provide accommodation to party who raised by motion his need for accommodation was judicial act); see also In re O'Neil , 159 N.H. 615, 622, 992 A.2d 672, 678 (2010) ("The power of the judiciary to control its own proceedings, the conduct of participants, the actions of officers of the court and the environment of the court is a power absolutely necessary for a court to function effectively and do its job of administering justice.'" (citation omitted)). Accordingly, Judge Burke is immune from Phillips' claims for damages.

B. Individual Capacity Claims

Title II of the ADA does not authorize claims for damages asserted against state officials in their individual capacities. See Wiesman v. Hill , 629 F.Supp.2d 106, 112 (D. Mass. 2009). Similarly, the Rehabilitation Act does not authorize claims for damages against defendants sued in their individual capacities. See Stewart v. Cal. Dep't of Educ., 493 F.Appx. 889, 891 (9th Cir. 2012). Therefore, neither the ADA nor the Rehabilitation Act claims asserted by Phillips can proceed as individual capacity claims in this case.[1]

III. Injunctive Relief

Phillips seeks an order requiring the Keene court to accommodate people with several mental illness, and to engage a qualified mental health examiner to help defendants with mental illness. Injunctive relief is not available in this case, however, because the pleadings indicate that the state court proceedings involving Phillips are over. Phillips is not representing a class of litigants; nor could he, as he has appeared pro se. Phillips has failed to show that any violation of his rights is likely to recur, and he has not alleged that he is likely to appear in any other proceeding in the state court in Keene. See Rafford v. Snohomish Cnty., C07-0947-RSL, 2008 WL 346386, at *2 (W.D. Wash. Feb. 6, 2008) (dismissing claims for injunctive relief where plaintiff did not show any likelihood of returning to courthouse), aff'd on other grounds, 349 F.Appx. 245 (9th Cir. 2009); see also Bacchus v. Denver Dist. Court, No. ...


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