Neal v. Superior Court, No. 1:2010cv00999 - Document 10 (E.D. Cal. 2010)

Court Description: FINDINGS and RECOMMENDATIONS signed by Magistrate Judge Gary S. Austin on 11/1/2010, recommending that this action be dismissed without leave to amend. 1 Prisoner Civil Rights Complaint filed by Keith A. Neal. Matter referred to Judge Wanger; Objections to F&R due by 12/6/2010(Kusamura, W)
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Neal v. Superior Court Doc. 10 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 KEITH NEAL, 11 12 13 14 15 16 ) ) ) Plaintiff, ) ) v. ) ) SUPERIOR COURT, ) ) ) Defendant. ) ) _____________________________________ ) 1:10-cv-00999 OWW GSA FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS REGARDING PLAINTIFF’S COMPLAINT (Document 1) 17 18 19 Plaintiff Keith Neal (“Plaintiff”), appearing pro se and proceeding in forma pauperis, 20 filed the instant complaint alleging damages for personal injuries against the “Superior Court” in 21 Fresno County for its failure to respond to his complaint against the Honorable Don Penner in 22 Department 11. He seeks damages of $7,000,000. (Doc. 1.) 23 DISCUSSION 24 A. 25 Pursuant to Title 28 of the United States Code section 1915(e)(2), the Court must conduct 26 Screening Standard an initial review of the complaint for sufficiency to state a claim. The Court must dismiss a 27 28 1 Dockets.Justia.com 1 complaint or portion thereof if the Court determines that the action is legally “frivolous or 2 malicious,” fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from 3 a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). If the Court determines 4 that the complaint fails to state a claim, leave to amend may be granted to the extent that the 5 deficiencies of the complaint can be cured by amendment. 6 A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the 7 pleader is entitled to relief . . ..” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Detailed factual allegations are not 8 required, but “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere 9 conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing 10 Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007)). Plaintiff 11 must set forth “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim that is plausible on its 12 face.’” Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). While legal conclusions 13 can provide a framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. Iqbal, 14 129 S.Ct. at 1950. While factual allegations are accepted as true, legal conclusion are not. Iqbal 15 at 1949. 16 In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the Court must accept as true the allegations 17 of the complaint in question, Hospital Bldg. Co. V. Trustees of Rex Hospital, 425 U.S. 738, 740 18 (1976), construe the pro se pleadings liberally in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, Resnick 19 v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 447 (9th Cir. 2000), and resolve all doubts in the Plaintiff’s favor, 20 Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969). 21 A pleading may not simply allege a wrong has been committed and demand relief. The 22 underlying requirement is that a pleading give “fair notice” of the claim being asserted and the 23 “grounds upon which it rests.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47-48 (1957); Yamaguchi v. 24 United States Department of Air Force, 109 F.3d 1475, 1481 (9th Cir. 1997). 25 26 27 28 2 1 B. 2 The Civil Rights Act under which this action was filed provides as follows: 3 5 Every person who, under color of [state law] . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution . . . shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress. 6 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Thus, to state a claim under Title 42 of the United States Code section 1983,1 7 a plaintiff must allege that (1) the defendant acted under color of state law, and (2) the defendant 8 deprived him of rights secured by the Constitution or federal law. Long v. County of Los 9 Angeles, 442 F.3d 1178, 1185 (9th Cir. 2006). 4 10 1983 Actions Moreover, section 1983 requires that there be an actual connection or link between the 11 actions of defendant and the deprivation allegedly suffered. See Monell v. Department of Social 12 Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976). The Ninth Circuit Court of 13 Appeals has held that “a person ‘subjects’ another to deprivation of constitutional right, within 14 the meaning of section 1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another’s affirmative 15 acts or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of 16 which complaint is made.” Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978). 17 C. 18 Plaintiff contends his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment has Plaintiff’s Allegations 19 been violated because he wrote to the “Superior Courthouse” about Judge Penner and has not 20 received a response. More particularly, he complains that on April 5, 2010, Judge Penner 21 apparently continued a scheduled preliminary hearing in the absence of Plaintiff’s waiver of time. 22 As a result, Plaintiff claims he should have been free from custody and able to sign a contract 23 with Kirk Franklin, a gospel music producer. Rather, he remains incarcerated and unable to sign 24 the contract, and thus, Plaintiff seeks $7,000,000 in damages. (Doc. 1 at 3.) 25 26 1 27 All further statutory references are to Title 42 of the United States Code unless otherwise indicated. 28 3 1 2 3 4 1. Abstention As a preliminary matter, the Court finds that abstention is appropriate and therefore will recommend against exercising jurisdiction over Plaintiff's action. “Younger abstention is a common law equitable doctrine holding that a federal court 5 generally should refrain from interfering with a pending state court proceeding.” Poulos v. 6 Caesars World, Inc., 379 F.3d 654, 669 (9th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). Younger abstention 7 is required if (1) state proceedings are ongoing; (2) the proceedings implicate important state 8 interests; and (3) the state proceedings provide an adequate opportunity to raise federal questions. 9 Wiener v. County of San Diego, 23 F.3d 263, 266 (9th Cir. 1994). 10 In his complaint, Plaintiff infers he remains in custody at the Fresno County Jail pending 11 the outcome of state court proceedings. (Doc. 1 at 3 [“keep me in jail after April 5, 2010 . . . did 12 not waive time . . . going to court week after week”].) Here then, Plaintiff’s state court 13 proceedings are ongoing, those proceedings implicate important state interests, and also provide 14 an adequate opportunity for Plaintiff to raise federal questions. 15 16 17 18 Even if the Court did not abstain under Younger, Plaintiff's complaint would fail for the reasons set forth below 2. Superior Court as Defendant Plaintiff has named the “Superior Court” or “Superior Courthouse” in Fresno County as a 19 Defendant, however, the superior court is not a proper party for it is not a “person” for purposes 20 of section 1983. 21 Additionally, Plaintiff is advised that state court judges and prosecutors are immune from 22 liability under section 1983. See Olsen v. Idaho State Bd. of Medicine, 363 F.3d 916, 922 (9th 23 Cir. 2004) (“Absolute immunity is generally accorded to judges and prosecutors functioning in 24 their official capacities”); Ashelman v. Pope, 793 F.2d 1072, 1075 (9th Cir. 1986) (holding that 25 judges and prosecutors are immune from liability for damages under section 1983). Thus, to the 26 27 28 4 1 degree Plaintiff’s complaint can also be interpreted to name Judge Penner as a defendant in this 2 action, the judge is entitled to immunity. 3 3. Rooker-Feldman Doctrine 4 To the extent that Plaintiff’s complaint can be interpreted as a request that the Court 5 review the state court proceeding, this Court lacks jurisdiction to do so. Federal courts lack 6 jurisdiction to review or modify state court judgments under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. See 7 Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Company, 263 U.S. 413, 44 S.Ct. 149 (1923); District of Columbia 8 Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482, 103 S.Ct. 1303 (1983). The Rooker-Feldman 9 doctrine is based on Title 28 of the United States Code section 1257 which grants the United 10 States Supreme Court jurisdiction to review decisions of the highest state courts for compliance 11 with the federal Constitution. See Rooker, 263 U.S. 413, 44 S.Ct. 149; Feldman, 460 U.S. at 12 482, 103 S.Ct. 1303. The doctrine provides that “lower federal courts do not have jurisdiction to 13 review a case litigated and decided in state court; only the United States Supreme Court has 14 jurisdiction to correct state court judgments.” Gottfried v. Medical Planning Services, 142 F.3d 15 326, 330 (6th Cir. 1998). “This is equally true in constitutional cases brought under [42 U.S.C.] 16 § 1983, since federal courts must give ‘full faith and credit’ to the judicial proceedings of state 17 courts.’” Gottfried, 142 F.3d at 330 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1738). 18 “Federal district courts lack subject matter jurisdiction to review such final adjudications 19 or to exclude constitutional claims that are ‘inextricably intertwined with the state court’s 20 [decision] in a judicial proceeding.’” Valenti v. Mitchell, 962 F.2d 288, 296 (3rd Cir. 1992) 21 (quoting Feldman, 460 U.S. at 483, n. 16). This rule applies to “inextricably intertwined” with 22 final state court decisions, even if such “inextricably intertwined” claims were not raised in state 23 court. See District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. at 483-487 and n. 16; 24 Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413; Olson Farms, Inc. v. Barbosa, 134 F.3d 933, 937 25 (9th Cir. 1998) (holding the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is jurisdictional). Thus, “a losing party in 26 state court is barred from seeking what in substance would be appellate review of the state 27 28 5 1 judgment in a United States District Court, based on the losing party’s claim that the state 2 judgment itself violates the loser’s federal rights.” Johnson v. DeGrandy, 512 U.S. 997, 3 1005-1006 (1994). 4 5 6 7 In sum, this Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction to review state court judgments. 4. Eleventh Amendment Additionally, the Eleventh Amendment prohibits federal courts from hearing suits 8 brought against an unconsenting state. Brooks v. Sulphur Springs Valley Elec. Co., 951 F.2d 9 1050, 1053 (9th Cir. 1991) (citation omitted); see also Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 116 10 S.Ct. 1114, 1122 (1996); Puerto Rico Aqueduct Sewer Auth. v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U.S. 11 139, 144 (1993); Austin v. State Indus. Ins. Sys., 939 F.2d 676, 677 (9th Cir. 1991). The 12 Eleventh Amendment bars suits against state agencies as well as those where the state itself is 13 named as a defendant. See Natural Resources Defense Council v. California Dep't of Tranp., 96 14 F.3d 420, 421 (9th Cir. 1996); Brooks, 951 F.2d at 1053; Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th 15 Cir. 1989); Mitchell v. Los Angeles Community College Dist., 861 F.2d 198, 201 (9th Cir. 1989). 16 "The Eleventh Amendment's jurisdictional bar covers suits naming state agencies and 17 departments as defendants, and applies whether the relief is legal or equitable in nature." Brooks, 18 951 F.2d at 1053. 19 The Eleventh Amendment’s bar to actions against states and their entities in federal 20 courts provides further grounds to recommend dismissal of the complaint. Because the Fresno 21 County Superior Court is a state agency, Defendant “Superior Court” and/or “Superior 22 Courthouse” are immune from this suit. Even assuming Plaintiff could state a cognizable claim, 23 “[t]he Eleventh Amendment bars suits for money damages in federal court against a state, its 24 agencies, and state officials in their official capacities.” Aholelei v. Dept. of Public Safety, 488 25 F.3d 1144, 1147 (9th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted). Thus, Plaintiff’s claim for money damages 26 from the state superior court fails as a matter of law. 27 28 6 1 5. Habeas Corpus is Proper Remedy 2 Because Plaintiff’s complaint can be interpreted to challenge the legality or duration of 3 his custody, or attempts to raise a constitutional challenge which could entitle him to an earlier 4 release, Plaintiff is advised that his sole federal remedy is a writ of habeas corpus. Wilkinson v. 5 Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 125 S.Ct. 1242, 1245-48 (2005); Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475 6 (1973); Young v. Kenny, 907 F.2d 874 (9th Cir. 1990), cert. denied 11 S.Ct. 1090 (1991). 7 Moreover, when seeking relief for an allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, “a § 8 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, 9 expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such 10 determination, or called into question by a federal court’s issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, 28 11 U.S.C. § 2254.” Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 487-88 (1994). “A claim . . . bearing that 12 relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 13 1983.” Id. at 488. 14 Plaintiff complains that he has been held in the absence of a proper time waiver in 15 pending state court proceedings. As a result, his sole federal remedy for any challenges 16 concerning the legality or duration of his custody is to file a writ of habeas corpus rather than a 17 section 1983 complaint. This Court notes however that it appears Plaintiff may have already 18 filed a writ based upon the same factual circumstances that Plaintiff references in the instant 19 complaint. The petition was ultimately dismissed on June 18, 2010, by Magistrate Judge Sandra 20 M. Snyder. See Keith A. Neal v. Judge Penner, et al., Case No. 1:10-CV-00798 SMS HC 21 (petition dismissed without prejudice, decline to issue a certificate of appealability). 22 D. 23 Plaintiff’s complaint is subject to abstention as state court proceedings appear pending. 24 Moreover, Plaintiff’s complaint fails to state a cause of action upon which relief can be granted 25 and amendment would be futile. Summary 26 27 28 7 1 FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 2 For the foregoing reasons, the Court HEREBY RECOMMENDS that this action be 3 DISMISSED WITHOUT LEAVE TO AMEND. 4 These findings and recommendations will be submitted to the Honorable Oliver W. 5 Wanger pursuant to the provisions of section 636(b)(l). Within thirty (30) days after being 6 served with these findings and recommendations, the parties may file written objections with the 7 Court. The document should be captioned "Objections to Magistrate Judge's Findings and 8 Recommendations." The parties are advised that failure to file objections within the specified 9 time may waive the right to appeal the District Court's order. Martinez v. Ylst, 951 F.2d 1153 10 (9th Cir. 1991). 11 12 13 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: 6i0kij November 1, 2010 /s/ Gary S. Austin UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 8