A federal judge in Connecticut has dismissed a lawsuit by a Stratford woman who claimed a court clerk denied her equal access to the court and almost caused her to lose her home.
U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill wrote that Margarette Charles’ April suit was too vague and that Norwalk Deputy Chief Housing Clerk Edmond O’Garro was protected by judicial immunity because of his position. Underhill did say Charles could file an amended complaint within 30 days, something her representative told the Connecticut Law Tribune Tuesday would occur.
Underhill ruled that “O’Garro is protected by judicial immunity from claims for damages or injunctive relief.” The judge also wrote that Charles’ complaint “is too sparsely pleaded to state a plausible claim of entitlement for relief.”
Charles, a pro se litigant, claimed in her lawsuit that O’Garro’s refusal to allow relatives to file court papers on her behalf when she was ill helped U.S. Bank N.A. win a default judgment against her. The bank had put Charles, who lives with four relatives on Graham Street in Stratford, on notice that it was going to repossess the house.
“We wanted him [O'Garro] sanctioned or fired for this,” Charles’ friend Heather Lindsay said Tuesday. “He should not be immune from judicial immunity.”
Lindsay is married to Charles’ ex-husband, Lexene, and, at Charles’ request, had sought to file the papers with O’Garro on her behalf. She also answered press inquiries on the plaintiff’s behalf because Charles is an immigrant from Haiti and speaks little English.
“[O'Garro] should be sanctioned for not accepting the paperwork that we brought in,” Lindsay said. “He refused to make it official and, based on that, the bank said we did not file an appearance [in Housing Court] and, therefore, she was told to get out of the house within five days. She was deprived due access to the court and he single-handedly denied her that equal access.”
Lindsay disagreed with Underhill’s ruling on judicial immunity, saying, “O’Garro is not immune. You are immune when you are following the rules, and he was not following the rules. His only job was to put her on the docket, which he did not do.”
Neither O’Garro nor his counsel, Assistant Attorney General Maura Murphy Osborne, responded to requests for comment Tuesday. The defense said in court filings that O’Garro could not be sued because of judicial immunity in his role as clerk.
Lindsay said Charles missed two payments on her mortgage and was ill, so she asked her relatives to go to the clerk’s office on her behalf to get the case on Norwalk’s housing docket. Even though Charles lives in Stratford, a court clerk redirected the filers to the Norwalk Housing Court.
Lindsay said O’Garro gave no reasons for not filing the paperwork. The lawsuit said Lindsay and her husband were Charles’ proxies and had every right to act on her behalf to arrange a hearing with the housing court. The lawsuit states that weeks after O’Garro denied them the ability to get on the housing docket, the couple made another attempt to file a notice of appearance and a writ of audita querela, seeking relief from a potential negative judgment. A clerk’s office employee accepted the filing and stamped it this time, but the lawsuit claims the notice of appearance never made it to the court docket.
On April 26, the Norwalk Housing Court granted the bank’s motion for default judgment. It allowed the lender to take possession of the property because it appeared Charles had ignored the bank’s lawsuit against her by filing no response. Four days later, Charles filed the suit.
Now, the issue of whether Charles could keep her home remains in flux, Lindsay said.
On May 29, Bridgeport Superior Court Judge Alfred Jennings sided with the bank and denied Charles’ motion to vacate the foreclosure judgment. The matter will next be heard by Bridgeport Housing Court Judge Eddie Rodriguez. No date has been set for a hearing in front of Rodriguez.