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Unhappy plaintiff’s conspiracy claim vs. judge dismissed

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//August 25, 2022

Unhappy plaintiff’s conspiracy claim vs. judge dismissed

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//August 25, 2022

Where another federal district judge ruled against this plaintiff in a prior suit, and his decision was affirmed by the Fourth Circuit, the plaintiff’s claim that the judge was part of a conspiracy to violate her civil rights and deny her relief in the previous civil action was dismissed. There was no reason to allow a Bivens action against the judge, and absolute judicial immunity barred the claim in any event.


Traci M. Guynup previously instituted an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against deputy Travis Sumption with the Clarke County Sheriff’s Department, arising out a dispute between Guynup and Carla Giacomangeli. The Honorable Thomas T. Cullen entered a 19-page memorandum opinion granting Sumpton’s motion for summary judgment on multiple claims. The Fourth Circuit affirmed.

In this suit, Guynup renews her § 1983 action against Sumption and asserts new claims against Judge Cullen and Giacomangeli. Notably, she alleges the three defendants engaged in a conspiracy to violate her civil rights and deny her relief in the previous civil action.

Because Guynup has applied to proceed without prepayment of fees and costs, the complaint is subject to pre-service screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. The court is required to dismiss the complaint if “the action … is frivolous or malicious; fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.”


Guynup challenges judge Cullen’s recitation of the facts and determination of the reliability of the evidence within the memorandum opinion. She asserts that in denying her relief against Sumption, the defendants conspired to fabricate evidence to deprive her of rights secured under the Constitution.

Guynup has not pled facts giving rise to a plausible claim. Foremost, she omits allegations in service of a class-based, invidiously discriminatory animus. Her allegations are conclusory, and she presents no evidence to support their plausibility. The court thus concludes Guynup has not stated a claim upon which relief can be granted.


Guynup asserts substantially similar claims against Sumption as in the previous suit adjudicated on the merits. Res judicata, or claim preclusion, applies when there is “‘(1) a final judgment on the merits in a prior suit; (2) an identity of the cause of action in both the earlier and the later suit; and (3) an identity of parties or their privies in the two suits.’” Res judicata unquestionably bars the claims against Sumption. The court thus concludes Guynup has failed to state a non-barred, plausible claim against Sumption.


Any claim against Cullen requires allegations giving rise to suit under Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Under the most liberal construction, a Bivens’ implied cause of action is only permissible in very limited circumstances. “[I]f there is an alternative remedial structure present in a certain case, that alone … may ‘amoun[t] to a convincing reason for the Judicial Branch to refrain from providing a new and freestanding remedy in damages.’”

Here, the “alternative remedial structure” is appellate review of the subject memorandum opinion. The Fourth Circuit had access to the entire record of the case, including the memorandum opinion and all evidence presented to support or refute the claims. There was no reversal. Given Guynup availed herself of the process due, there is no reason to allow a Bivens action against Cullen. And, assuming the scenario here could give rise to a Bivens claim, absolute judicial immunity blocks the way.


Guynup’s claims against Giacomangeli include conspiracy, illegal eviction/lease termination, false reporting, larceny, wage theft, fraud and perjury in other courts. The court discussed the fallibility of the conspiracy claim earlier. The remaining claims arise out of Virginia law and are asserted against a private citizen.

The Court may “decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a claim … if … the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction.” Here, the claims against Sumption and Cullen cannot survive the court’s screening of the complaint. Having considered the applicable factors, the court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the claims against Giacomangeli.

Plaintiff’s application to proceed without prepayment of fees and costs denied. Plaintiff’s second motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis denied. Plaintiff’s complaint dismissed.

Guynup v. Cullen, Case No. 5:21-cv-00079, Aug. 15, 2022. WDVA at Harrisonburg (Volk). VLW 022-3-355. 10 pp.

VLW 022-3-355

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