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Morrill v. Skolfield

United States District Court, D. Maine

August 2, 2018

DANIEL MORRILL Plaintiff
v.
HEATHER SKOLFIELD, et al. Defendants

          ORDER AFFIRMING RECOMMENDED DECISION

          JOHN A. WOODCOCK, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The Court affirms the recommended decision of the Magistrate Judge because the Plaintiff's claims against state officials are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, his § 1983 claims against an individual and her attorneys fail because they are not state actors, and his state tort claim against the individual who is a resident of the same state does not provide a basis for federal jurisdiction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Daniel Morrill's Complaint

         On April 26, 2018, Daniel Morrill filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 with this Court. Compl. (ECF No. 1). The Complaint attacked the legal basis for protection from abuse orders, which the state of Maine district court issued against him, imposing firearms and other restrictions. Id. Mr. Morrill named as Defendants Heather Skolfield, the person who obtained the orders, Janet Mills, the Attorney General for the state of Maine, John Morris, the Commissioner for the Department of Public Safety for the state of Maine, and Pine Tree Legal Assistance, Inc., which represented Ms. Skolfield during part of the proceedings leading to the issuance of the protection from abuse orders. Id. In his Complaint, Mr. Morrill alleges (1) that the “credible threat” language in 19-A M.R.S. § 4007(1), which authorizes a court to issue a protective order, is unconstitutional, (2) that 19-A M.R.S. § 4007(1)(A-1), the provision of § 4007 that allows a court to prohibit a defendant from possessing a firearm, is also unconstitutional, (3) that 19-A M.R.S. § 4007(1)(D), the provision of § 4007 that allows a court to order a person not to have contact, either direct or indirect, with another person, is unconstitutional, (4) that 19-A M.R.S. § 4007(1)(M), the provision of § 4007 that empowers a court to issue “any other orders determined necessary or appropriate in the discretion of the court, ” is unconstitutional, (5) that Attorney General Mills and Commissioner Morris should be enjoined from enforcing these unconstitutional statutes, (6) that Pine Tree Legal Assistance should also be enjoined from acting on behalf of individuals to enforce these unconstitutional statutes, and (7) that Heather Skolfield be enjoined from proceeding against Mr. Morrill under these unconstitutional statutes and be required to pay Mr. Morrill certain damages.[1] Id. at 16-40.

         B. The Magistrate Judge's Recommended Decision

         On May 31, 2018, the Magistrate Judge issued a recommended decision in which he recommended that the Court dismiss the Complaint and the ancillary motions. Recommended Decision After Screening Compls. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) at 13 (ECF No. 8) (Recommended Decision). The Magistrate Judge's recommendation arose from the Court's obligation to screen proceedings in which the plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis to determine whether the action is “frivolous or malicious” or “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Here, Mr. Morrill is proceeding in forma pauperis and the screening provisions of § 1915(e)(2)(B) apply. Mot. for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (ECF No. 4); Order Granting Mot. for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (ECF No. 7).

         After setting forth the legal standards for the review under § 1915(e)(2)(B), the Magistrate Judge noted that Mr. Morrill is not permitted under the immunity provisions of the Eleventh Amendment to proceed in federal court against the state of Maine. Recommended Decision at 6 (citing Poirier v. Mass. Dep't of Corr., 558 F.3d 92, 97 n.6 (1st Cir. 2009)). Regarding Mr. Morrill's official capacity claims against Attorney General Mills and Commissioner Morris, the Magistrate Judge commented that these claims are not barred by the Eleventh Amendment, but he concluded that they are barred for other reasons. Id. at 6-11. The Court concluded that Mr. Morrill's challenge to the state court's prohibition against the filing of litigation is barred by the so-called Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which limits a federal trial court's authority to review final orders issued by state courts. Id. at 8-9. As regards Mr. Morrill's Second Amendment claim, the Magistrate Judge was concerned about whether his claim was justiciable, but if justiciable, the Magistrate Judge concluded that it suffered from the same Rooker-Feldman defect present in his claim about the filing restrictions. Id. at 10-11.

         The Magistrate Judge turned to whether Mr. Morrill could maintain an action against Ms. Skolfield and Pine Tree Legal Assistance. Id. at 12-13. The Magistrate Judge concluded that the § 1983 part of the Complaint must be dismissed because neither Ms. Skolfield nor Pine Tree is a state actor. Id. at 12. As for the tort claim, because Mr. Morrill and Ms. Skolfield are residents of the same state, there is no diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 and no basis for pendent jurisdiction. Id. at 12-13.

         C. Daniel Morrill's Objections

         In his objection, Mr. Morrill dismissed the state of Maine as a Defendant. Permission to File as Attached: Dismissal of Challenges and Counts; and Objections to the Magistrate's May 31st 2018 Decision at 1 (ECF No. 9) (Pl.'s Obj.). He also agreed with the Magistrate Judge that the state of Maine “can make a prohibition for possession of firearms in a protective from abuse order, regardless of the domestic status of the parties.” Id. at 1. Mr. Morrill therefore asked the Court to dismiss without prejudice “Constitutional Challenges I, II and III; with Counts I & II as it pertains to the Maine Attorney General and Maine Commissioner of Public Safety, Counts IV and V as it pertains to Pine Tree Legal Assistance, and Counts VII and VIII as it pertains to Heather Skolfield.” Id. Mr. Morrill limits his objections to the Magistrate Judge's conclusions on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and to his conclusion that neither Ms. Skolfield nor Pine Tree Assistance is a state actor. Id. at 2-8.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. What Remains

         Although not listed in counts, Mr. Morrill's Complaint contains the following constitutional challenges to various Maine statutes:

(1) A constitutional challenge to 19-A M.R.S. § 4007(1), which authorizes a state court to issue an order prohibiting the possession of a firearm for a person who represents a credible threat to the plaintiff;
(2) A constitutional challenge to 19-A M.R.S. § 4007(A-1), which authorizes a state court to issue an order prohibiting a defendant from possessing a firearm for the duration of the order;
(3) A second constitutional challenge to 19-A M.R.S. § 4007(1)(1-A);
(4) A constitutional challenge to 19-A M.R.S. § 4007(1)(D), which authorizes a state court to direct a defendant not to have any direct or indirect contact with the plaintiff; and (5) A constitutional challenge to 19-A M.R.S. § 4007(1)(M), which allows a state court to enter any other orders determined necessary or appropriate in the discretion of the court.

         Mr. Morrill's Complaint contains the following counts:

(1) Count I, Defendants state of Maine, Janet Mills, and John Morris: a Second Amendment challenge to 19-A M.R.S. § 4007(1), (1)(A-1), (1-A) as “unconstitutional outside the classifications of intimate partner” and “family or household members;”
(2) Count II, Defendants state of Maine, Janet Mills and John Morris: a First and Fourteenth Amendment challenge to 19-A M.R.S. § 4007(1) as unconstitutional in its use of the phrase “credible threat;”
(3) Count III, Defendants state of Maine, Janet Mills and John Morris: a First and Fourteenth Amendment challenge to 19-A M.R.S. § 4007(1)(D), the no-contact provision, (M), the other order provision, as unconstitutional in that they violate the First Amendment right to petition and seek grievance from a court;
(4) Count IV, Defendant Pine Tree Legal Assistance, Inc., a Second Amendment challenge to Pine Tree's role in obtaining an order prohibiting Mr. Morrill from possessing a firearm, based on allegedly unconstitutional statutes, 19-A M.R.S. § 4007(1), 4007(1)(A-1), and 4007(1-A);
(5) Count V, Defendant Pine Tree Legal Assistance, Inc., a First and Fourteenth Amendment challenge to Pine Tree's role in obtaining an order prohibiting Mr. Morrill from possessing a firearm, based on allegedly unconstitutional statutes, 19-A M.R.S. § 4007(1), 4007(1)(A-1), and 4007(1-A);
(6) Count VI, Defendant Pine Tree Legal Assistance, Inc., a First and Fourteenth Amendment challenge to Pine Tree's role in obtaining an order prohibiting Mr. Morrill from filing suit in state court without prior approval, based on allegedly unconstitutional statutes, 19-A M.R.S. § 4007(1)(D), (1)(M);
(7) Count VII, Defendant Helen Skolfield, a Second Amendment challenge to Ms. Skolfield's role in obtaining an order prohibiting Mr. Morrill from possessing a firearm, based on allegedly unconstitutional statutes, 19-A M.R.S. § 4007(1), (1)(A-1), and (1-A);
(8) Count VIII, Defendant Helen Skolfield, a First and Fourteen Amendment challenge to Ms. Skolfield's role in obtaining a protection from abuse order, based on allegedly unconstitutional ...

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