474 U.S. 968 (1985)

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U.S. Supreme Court

HAGERTY v. KELLER , 474 U.S. 968 (1985)

474 U.S. 968

John M. HAGERTY v. Thomas C. KELLER, Executor of the Succession of Laura McCloskey Clement.
No. 85-84 Supreme Court of the United States November 4, 1985

On petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The petition for writ of certiorari is denied.

Chief Justice BURGER.

I agree that we should deny the petition for certiorari, but I would award respondents costs and fees under Rule 49.2. The time has come- indeed it is long past-when the Court should enforce Rule 49.2 or strike it. This petition, like much which preceded it, is utterly frivolous. On this record I can only conclude that petitioner and his counsel have filed actions designed to delay the orderly settlement of the estate of respondent Keller's decedent. This misuse of judicial processes should subject the attorney who filed the petition here to the sanction of Rule 49.2.1

On July 14, 1978, petitioner brought suit in Louisiana state court to contest the probate of the will of his aunt, Laura Clement. Petitioner requested and received no fewer than three continuances. The trial was finally set for May 12, 1980. Three days before trial, petitioner requested and was denied a fourth continuance.

On the day of trial, petitioner appeared before Judge Melvin Duran, objected to the proceedings, offered no evidence, and stood mute. Judge Duran accordingly dismissed the suit with prejudice. The intermediate state appellate court unanimously affirmed. Succession of Clement, 402 So. 2d 702 (La.App.1981). That court noted that petitioner had "succeeded in delaying implementation of Mrs. Clement's bequests for three years, possibly longer if this matter goes to a higher court." Id., at 703. The court concluded that Judge Duran had not abused his discretion, after granting three continuances, in refusing to grant a fourth.

Page 474 U.S. 968 , 969

The Louisiana Supreme Court unanimously declined to review the case. 407 So.2d 733 (1981).

Petitioner then brought a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Petitioner contended that the state trial court, by refusing his request for a fourth continuance, had deprived him of due process of law. He named as defendants the Clerk of the Orleans Parish Civil District Court, Dan Foley ; the Succession of Laura Clement; the executor of the will, Thomas Keller; and Judge Duran. The defendants, respondents in this Court, moved for dismissal of the action. The District Court correctly granted the motion, concluding that the complaint should be dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. Petitioner then took an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

That court unanimously affirmed, holding that the District Court had properly dismissed the action on jurisdictional grounds. 749 F.2d 217 ( 1984). Petitioner's suit was brought in the face of the "well-settled rule" that a plaintiff may not seek reversal of a state-court judgment simply by casting his complaint in the form of a civil rights action; Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit precedent "clearly prohibit[ed]" the effort made by petitioner. The Court of Appeals also held that the District Court had properly dismissed petitioner's suit for failure to state a claim. The court explained that ordinarily it would not be inclined to give this issue any attention since the District Court's judgment in its entirety could be affirmed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. However, "to further demonstrate the frivolousness of the appeal," the court addressed this point as well, concluding that the trial court had properly dismissed the claims against all defendants on this basis. [Footnote 2] [474 U.S. 968 , 970]

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