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Waldner v. James

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Southern Division

February 21, 2014

ROGER D. WALDNER, Plaintiff,


KAREN E. SCHREIER, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Roger D. Waldner, is an inmate at the Federal Prison Camp in Yankton, South Dakota. Docket 38. Waldner filed a pro se lawsuit against defendants, Timothy L. James, James Law, P.C., and James & Associates, P.C., alleging three counts of mail fraud and one count each of wire fraud, racketeering, legal malpractice, and breach of fiduciary duty. Id. Defendants move for partial judgment on the pleadings, asserting that Waldner failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted with regard to his claims of wire fraud, mail fraud, and racketeering. Docket 24. Defendants also move for partial summary judgment with regard to Waldner's legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty claims. Docket 26. Waldner opposes both motions. Dockets 33, 34. For the reasons set forth herein, the court grants defendants' motion for partial judgment on the pleadings (Docket 24) and denies defendants' motion for partial summary judgment (Docket 26).


In the light most favorable to Waldner, the facts are as follows:

In 2006, Waldner retained the legal services of Timothy L. James for the purpose of bringing an action for legal malpractice against A. Thomas Pokela, an attorney who allegedly mishandled the defense of multiple lawsuits against Waldner. Docket 1 at ¶¶ 16-17. James filed the action on May 1, 2009, and on August 17, 2009, after Pokela failed to answer the complaint, the Minnehaha County Circuit Court entered a judgment of default against Pokela. Id. at ¶¶ 21, 23-24. A prove-up hearing was held on April 14, 2011, at which time the state court considered James's affidavit in support of damages. Id. at ¶¶ 25-26. Thereafter, the state court entered a judgment against Pokela in the amount of $1, 652, 783.30 and awarded $814, 618.51 in pre-judgment interest.[1] Id. at ¶ 28.

According to Waldner, the original complaint in the malpractice action against Pokela listed judgments from seven cases wherein Pokela represented Waldner, in which the actual damages and post-judgment interest totaled $2, 604, 358.19. Docket 1 at ¶ 31. When James prepared his affidavit for the prove-up hearing, however, he represented the total amount to be $2, 467, 401.97-a difference of $136, 956.22. Id. at ¶¶ 32-33. Nonetheless, Waldner now alleges that the total amount of damages and post-judgment interest stemming from the seven cases wherein Pokela committed legal malpractice should have been $3, 525, 747.53. Id. at ¶ 34. Consequently, as a result of James's alleged legal malpractice, Waldner claims he has been deprived of $2, 976, 118.61 in damages, plus post-judgment interest. Id. at ¶¶ 35-36. Waldner now alleges that James conspired with Pokela to help Pokela avoid liability, thus committing mail fraud, wire fraud, racketeering, legal malpractice, and a breach of his fiduciary duty. Docket 1.


I. Judgment on the Pleadings

"The applicable standard of review on a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) is the same as that on a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)." Cain v. Ark. Dep't of Corr., No. 5:05CV00053HLJ, 2006 WL 2547401, at *1 (E.D. Ark. Sept. 1, 2006) (citations omitted); see also Westcott v. City of Omaha, 901 F.2d 1486, 1488 (8th Cir. 1990) (noting that courts review a 12(c) motion under the same standard that governs a 12(b)(6) motion (citations omitted)). "Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate when there are no material facts to resolve and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Mills v. City of Grand Forks, 614 F.3d 495, 497-98 (8th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). "The facts pleaded by the non-moving party must be accepted as true and all reasonable inferences from the pleadings should be taken in favor of the non-moving party." Id. (citation omitted). "The court may consider the pleadings themselves, materials embraced by the pleadings, exhibits attached to the pleadings, and matters of public record." Id. (citation omitted); see also Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1371, at 276 (2004) ("Conversion... will not occur with regard to all matters subject to judicial notice and things that are central or integral to the nonmoving party's pleading.").

Pro se complaints, "however inartfully pleaded, ' [are] held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976) (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)). Nonetheless, a pro se complaint must comply with the minimal requirements set forth in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which specifically require pleadings to contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although a pro se complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must contain "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A pro se complaint must "allege facts sufficient to support the claims advanced." Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914 (8th Cir. 2004). The court is not required to "supply additional facts, nor will [it] construct a legal theory that assumes facts that have not been pleaded." Id. (citing Dunn v. White, 880 F.2d 1188, 1197 (10th Cir. 1989)). If the complaint does not contain these bare essentials, dismissal is appropriate. Beavers v. Lockhart, 755 F.2d 657, 663 (8th Cir. 1985).

II. Summary Judgment

"Summary judgment is appropriate when the evidence, [2] viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Clark v. Kellogg Co., 205 F.3d 1079, 1082 (8th Cir. 2000); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "Once the motion for summary judgment is made and supported, it places an affirmative burden on the non-moving party to go beyond the pleadings and by affidavit or otherwise designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Commercial Union Ins. v. Schmidt, 967 F.2d 270, 271 (8th Cir. 1992) (internal quotations and citations omitted). "Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Although "the court is required to... give [the nonmoving] party the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts, " Vette Co. v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 612 F.2d 1076, 1077 (8th Cir. 1980), the nonmoving party may not "rest upon mere denials or allegations." Forrest v. Kraft Foods, Inc., 285 F.3d 688, 691 (8th Cir. 2002). Instead, the nonmoving party must "set forth specific facts sufficient to raise a genuine issue for trial." Id.

As previously indicated, prisoners who proceed pro se are entitled to the benefit of liberal construction at the pleading stage. Quam v. Minnehaha Cnty. Jail, 821 F.2d 522, 522 (8th Cir. 1987). Nonetheless, the summary judgment standard set forth in Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure remains applicable to prisoners proceeding pro se. Id. The district court is not required to "plumb the record in order to find a genuine issue of material fact." Barge v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., 87 F.3d 256, 260 (8th Cir. 1996). Moreover, the court is not "required to speculate on which portion of the record the nonmoving party relies, nor is it obligated to wade through and search the entire record for some specific facts that might support the nonmoving party's claim." Id. Courts must remain sensitive, however, "to the special problems faced by prisoners attempting to proceed pro ...

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