Engelbrecht v. Ripa, No. 1:2017cv01339 - Document 8 (E.D. Cal. 2018)

Court Description: FINDINGS and RECOMMENDATIONS recommending that Plaintiff be allowed to proceed only on her claim for breach of contract against Defendant and that all other claims be dismissed with prejudice. The Court does not recommend granting further leave to a mend because Plaintiff filed her First Amended Complaint after receiving ample legal guidance from the Court, and it appears that the deficiencies of the First Amended Complaint cannot be cured by further leave to amend. These findings and recommenda tions are submitted to the district judge assigned to the case, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Within twenty-one (21) days after being served with these findings and recommendations, Plaintiff may file written objections with the Court. Such a document should be captioned "Objections to Magistrate Judge's Findings and Recommendations." Order signed by Magistrate Judge Erica P. Grosjean on 7/16/208. (Rooney, M)
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Engelbrecht v. Ripa Doc. 8 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 8 EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 9 10 TONYA D. ENGELBRECHT, Plaintiff, FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS THAT THIS ACTION PROCEED ONLY ON PLAINTIFF’S CLAIM FOR BREACH OF CONTRACT AND THAT ALL OTHER CLAIMS BE DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE Defendants. 11 (ECF No. 7) v. 12 13 Case No. 1:17-cv-01339-LJO-EPG KELLY RIPA, 14 OBJECTIONS, IF ANY, DUE WITHIN TWENTY-ONE (21) DAYS 15 16 Tonya D. Engelbrecht (“Plaintiff”) is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this 17 18 action. On October 5, 2017, Plaintiff commenced this action by filing a Complaint alleging claims 19 of torture, defamation, breach of contract, and violations of the California Welfare and Institution 20 Code against Kelly Ripa (“Defendant”), owner of Milojo Productions. (ECF No. 1). On January 30, 2018, the Court found that the Complaint failed to state any cognizable 21 22 claims, and granted Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint. (ECF No. 6). On February 28, 2018, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint (“FAC”), which is now 23 24 before the Court for screening. (ECF No. 7). For the reasons described below, the Court 25 recommends allowing Plaintiff to proceed only on her claim for breach of contract against 26 Defendant, and finds that Plaintiff has failed to state any other claims. 27 \\\ 28 \\\ 1 Dockets.Justia.com 1 I. 2 SCREENING REQUIREMENT Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court must conduct a review of an in forma pauperis 3 complaint to determine whether it “state[s] a claim on which relief may be granted,” is “frivolous 4 or malicious,” or “seek[s] monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” If 5 the Court determines that the complaint fails to state a claim, it must be dismissed. Id. An action 6 is frivolous if it is “of little weight or importance: having no basis in law or fact” and malicious if 7 it was filed with the “intention or desire to harm another.” Andrews v. King, 398 F.3d 1113, 1121 8 (9th Cir. 2005). Leave to amend may be granted to the extent that the deficiencies of the 9 complaint can be cured by amendment. Cato v. United States, 70 F.3d 1103, 1106 (9th Cir. 1995). 10 A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the 11 pleader is entitled to relief . . . .” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Detailed factual allegations are not 12 required, but “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere 13 conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell 14 Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Plaintiff must set forth “sufficient factual 15 matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 16 at 663 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). While factual allegations are accepted as true, legal 17 conclusions are not. Id. at 678. 18 In determining whether a complaint states an actionable claim, the Court must accept the 19 allegations in the complaint as true, Hosp. Bldg. Co. v. Trs. of Rex Hospital, 425 U.S. 738, 740 20 (1976), construe pro se pleadings liberally in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, Resnick v. 21 Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 447 (9th Cir. 2000), and resolve all doubts in the Plaintiff’s favor. Jenkins 22 v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969). Pleadings of pro se plaintiffs “must be held to less 23 stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 24 (9th Cir. 2010) (holding that pro se complaints should continue to be liberally construed after 25 Iqbal). 26 \\\ 27 \\\ 28 \\\ 2 1 II. SUMMARY OF PLAINTIFF’S FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT 2 Plaintiff’s allegations appear to be derived from occurrences during Plaintiff’s time spent 3 filming an episode of “Homemade Millionaire,” a reality show produced by Defendant. Plaintiff 4 alleges the following, (ECF No. 7): 5 Plaintiff was tortured by Defendant while filming “Homemade Millionaire,” Plaintiff 6 experienced “traumatic, indelible injuries, inflicted upon [Plaintiff’s] person, identity and 7 character, at the ‘orders’ of [Defendant] Kelly Ripa” by way of “repeated, calculated, malicious 8 actions of torment . . . specifically intended to induce psychological duress.” Defendant had 9 producers of the show “continually wake [Plaintiff] up throughout the night, intentionally 10 depriving [her] of sleep, night after night.” Defendant would then “viciously bully and publicly 11 humiliate [Plaintiff] fifteen hours a day on set.” Plaintiff’s public abuse was so severe that 12 strangers approached her offering condolences. 13 Plaintiff has been defamed by Defendant. Plaintiff has repeatedly requested that 14 Defendant cease airing the episode on “Homemade Millionaire,” but Defendant refuses to do so. 15 As a result of airing the episode, Plaintiff has been unable to find employment. Additionally, the 16 episode presents Plaintiff in a “completely false and negative manner.” 17 Plaintiff had a contract with Defendant that Plaintiff would be paid “$40 per diem.” 18 However, Defendant would only pay Plaintiff and the other reality show participants $10 per day. 19 Defendant therefore breached her contract with Plaintiff. 20 Plaintiff was “emotionally unstable and severely unwell” while filming “Homemade 21 Millionaire.” Plaintiff also suffers from bipolar disorder. These conditions “seemed to fuel Kelly 22 Ripa’s abuse and degr[a]dation,” in violation of the Welfare and Institution Code. 23 III. DISCUSSION1 24 A. 25 Plaintiff alleges a claim of torture pursuant to a criminal statute, California Penal Code 26 27 28 Torture § 206, which provides: 1 While it appears that the relevant event(s) took place in New York, Plaintiff specifically cites to California laws in her FAC. The Court will therefore analyze Plaintiff’s FAC under the cited California law. However, even if New York law were to be applied, the Court’s analysis would be the same. 3 1 2 Every person who, with the intent to cause cruel or extreme pain and suffering for the purpose of revenge, extortion, persuasion, or for any sadistic purpose, inflicts great bodily injury as defined in Section 12022.7 upon the person of another, is guilty of torture. 3 4 The crime of torture does not require any proof that the victim suffered pain. 5 In turn, Section 12022.7 defines “great bodily injury” as a significant or substantial physical 6 injury. Cal. Penal Code Ann. § 12022.7(f). The crime of torture is punishable by imprisonment in 7 the state prison for a term of life. Cal. Penal Code Ann. § 206.1. 8 9 Plaintiff fails to set forth sufficient factual allegations that Defendant inflicted any bodily injury upon her person. Instead, Plaintiff alleges that she “experienced ‘traumatic, indelible 10 injuries, inflicted upon [her] person, identity and character’” by means of “‘repeated, calculated, 11 malicious actions of torment . . . specifically intended to induce psychological duress.’” Plaintiff 12 further alleges that the “‘repeated, calculated, malicious actions of torment’” involved “having 13 producers ‘continually wake [her] up throughout the night, intentionally depriving [her] of 14 sleep.’” These allegations of psychological duress from sleep deprivation fail to state a claim of 15 torture under California Penal Code § 206. 16 In any event, Plaintiff’s claim of torture—a criminal cause of action—is not a cognizable 17 claim in this civil action. A plaintiff may bring a civil action against a defendant based on an 18 alleged violation of criminal statute in the following three circumstances: 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 First, and perhaps most commonly, violation of a criminal statute can be used to establish a breach of the standard of care or other element of an ordinary tort cause of action. Second . . . a criminal statute can expressly or impliedly give rise to a private right of action for its violation. Third, under some circumstances, a governmental or quasi-governmental agency can sue to enjoin further breaches of the statute on a public nuisance or related theory. Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Mendes, 72 Cal. Rptr. 3d 553, 555-56 (Ct. App. 2008) (citations omitted). Whether a plaintiff can bring a private action against a defendant for an alleged violation of criminal law is ultimately an issue of legislative intent; “[i]f the Legislature intended there be no private right of action, that usually ends the inquiry.” Id. at 556. Further, if it is determined that “the Legislature expressed no intent on the matter either way, directly or 28 4 1 impliedly, there is no private right of action, with the possible exception that compelling reasons 2 of public policy might require judicial recognition of such a right.” Id. (citing Moradi-Shalal v. 3 Fireman’s Fund Ins.Cos., 758 P.2d 58, 69 (Cal. 1988), Katzenberg v. Regents of Univ.of Cal., 58 4 P.3d 339, 349-50 (Cal. 2002)). 5 Plaintiff’s claim of torture does not fall within any of the three categories. Plaintiff does 6 not allege a tort claim for which a criminal statute can be used to establish a breach of a standard 7 of care. Plaintiff is not a governmental or quasi-governmental agency, and is not suing to enjoin 8 further breaches of the torture criminal statute on a public nuisance theory. And, most 9 importantly, it is evident from the face of the criminal statute that the state legislature expressed 10 no intent to provide for a private right of action for its violation. The language of the criminal 11 statute does not— either expressly nor impliedly—contemplate a private right of action; in fact, it 12 expressly anticipates punishment for its violation only by means of imprisonment. See Cal. Penal 13 Code Ann. § 206.1. Furthermore, the Court finds no compelling reasons of public policy to 14 recognize a private right of action for torture in this action because, as aforementioned, Plaintiff’s 15 allegations of psychological duress from sleep deprivation fail to state a claim of torture pursuant 16 to the criminal statute. 17 To the extent Plaintiff is attempting to initiate criminal proceedings against Defendant, 18 Plaintiff does not have a constitutional right to prosecute another person or to petition a federal 19 court to compel criminal prosecution of another person. Linda R.S. v. Richard D., 410 U.S. 614, 20 619 (1973) (“[I]n American jurisprudence… a private citizen lacks a judicially cognizable interest 21 in the prosecution or nonprosecution of another.”); Diamond v. Charles, 476 U.S. 54, 64-65 22 (1986); see also Maine v. Taylor, 477 U.S. 131, 137 (1986) (citations omitted) (“private parties… 23 have no legally cognizable interest in the prosecutorial decisions of the Federal Government”); 24 Leeke v. Timmerman, 454 U.S. 83, 86-87 (1981) (“the decision to prosecute is solely within the 25 discretion of the prosecutor”). 26 Accordingly, Plaintiff fails to state a claim for torture. 27 \\\ 28 \\\ 5 Defamation2 1 B. 2 Under California Civil Code § 44, defamation is defined as either libel or slander. Section 3 45, in turn, defines libel as: 4 [A] false and unprivileged publication by writing, printing, picture, effigy, or other fixed representation to the eye, which exposes any person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or which causes him to be shunned or avoided, or which has a tendency to injure him in his occupation. 5 6 7 Cal. Civ. Code § 45. Additionally, § 46 defines slander, in relevant part, as: 8 [A] false and unprivileged publication, orally uttered, and also communications by radio or any mechanical or other means which… [t]ends directly to injure [a person] in respect to his office, profession, trade or business, either by imputing to him general disqualification in those respects which the office or other occupation peculiarly requires, or by imputing something with reference to his office, profession, trade, or business that has a natural tendency to lessen its profits . . . . 9 10 11 12 Id. at § 46. Finally, § 47 defines privileged publication as one made: 13 (a) In the proper discharge of an official duty. 14 (b) In any (1) legislative proceeding, (2) judicial proceeding, (3) in any other official proceeding authorized by law, or (4) in the initiation or course of any other proceeding authorized by law and reviewable pursuant to Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 1084 of Title 1 of Part 3 of the Code of Civil Procedure . . . 15 16 17 (c) In a communication, without malice, to a person interested therein, (1) by one who is also interested, or (2) by one who stands in such a relation to the person interested as to afford a reasonable ground for supposing the motive for the communication to be innocent, or (3) who is requested by the person interested to give the information. This subdivision applies to and includes a communication concerning the job performance or qualifications of an applicant for employment . . . 18 19 20 21 22 (d) (1) By a fair and true report in, or a communication to, a public journal, of (A) a judicial, (B) legislative, or (C) other public official proceeding, or (D) of anything said in the course thereof, or (E) of a verified charge or complaint made by any person to a public official, upon which complaint a warrant has been issued . . . 23 24 25 (e) By a fair and true report of (1) the proceedings of a public meeting, if the meeting was lawfully convened for a lawful purpose and open to the public, or (2) the publication of the matter complained of was for the public benefit. 26 27 2 28 Plaintiff alleges a claim of defamation by citing 28 U.S.C. § 4101; however, that code section pertains to foreign judgments and is therefore not relevant to this matter. 6 1 2 Id. at § 47. To state a cause of action for defamation, Plaintiff must allege that Defendant 3 intentionally (1) published a statement of fact (2) which is false, (3) unprivileged, and (4) has a 4 natural tendency to injure or which causes special damage. Price v. Stossel, 620 F.3d 992, 998 5 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Gilbert v. Sykes, 53 Cal.Rptr.3d 752, 764 (Ct. App. 2007)). A private 6 figure plaintiff must also allege that a defendant failed to use reasonable care to determine the 7 truth or falsity of the allegedly defamatory statements. Brown v. Kelly Broad. Co., 48 Cal. 3d 711, 8 749 (1989). 9 Plaintiff alleges that Defendant continues to air an episode of Homemade Millionaire that 10 presents Plaintiff in a false and negative manner, and the airing of the episode has prevented her 11 from gaining employment. These allegations fail to state a cognizable claim for defamation. 12 Plaintiff fails to allege that Defendant made any false statement and published any such statement 13 by means of the television episode. Plaintiff merely states that the television episode in which she 14 appeared presents her in a “completely false and negative manner.” Accordingly, Plaintiff has 15 failed to state a claim of defamation. 16 C. 17 Under California law, the elements of a breach of contract claim are: 1) existence of a 18 valid contract; 2) performance by the plaintiff or excuse for nonperformance; 3) breach by the 19 defendant; and 4) damages. First Commercial Mortgage Co. v. Reece, 89 Cal. App. 4th 731, 745 20 (2001). To state a cause of action for breach of contract, the plaintiff must plead the terms of the 21 contract either verbatim or according to its legal effect. Langan v. United Servs. Auto. Ass’n, 69 22 F.Supp.3d 965, 979 (N.D. Cal. 2014) (quoting Twaite v. Allstate Ins. Co., 216 Cal.App.3d 239, 23 252 (1989)). 24 Breach of Contract Accepting Plaintiff’s allegations as true and construing them in the light most favorable to 25 her, Plaintiff has stated a viable breach of contract cause of action. Although Plaintiff does not 26 plead the terms of the contract verbatim, she alleges that she and Defendant had a contract 27 whereby Defendant would pay Plaintiff $40 per day as compensation for Plaintiff’s participation 28 in the episode of “Homemade Millionaire.” Plaintiff further alleges that she filmed the episode of 7 1 Homemade Millionaire, and Defendant breached the contract by only paying Plaintiff $10 per day 2 instead of $40 per day. Plaintiff also appears to allege that she has suffered damages in the form 3 of receiving less money than she is owed. Accordingly, Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to 4 state a cognizable breach of contract claim. 5 D. 6 Plaintiff alleges that Defendant violated the Welfare and Institution Code because Welfare and Institution Code Violation 7 Defendant’s “abuse and degr[a]dation” were “fueled” by Plaintiff being “emotionally unstable 8 and severely unwell”. Plaintiff, however, does not cite to a specific section of the Welfare and 9 Institutions Code. Upon examination of the California Welfare and Institutions Code, the Court 10 cannot locate any provision granting a private right of action against a private citizen for abusing 11 and degrading an individual suffering a mental impairment. Accordingly, Plaintiff has failed to 12 adequately plead a cause of action under the California Welfare and Institution Code. 13 IV. 14 15 CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS The Court recommends that Plaintiff be allowed to proceed only on her claim for breach of contract against Defendant and that all other claims be dismissed with prejudice. 16 The Court does not recommend granting further leave to amend because Plaintiff filed her 17 First Amended Complaint after receiving ample legal guidance from the Court, and it appears that 18 the deficiencies of the First Amended Complaint cannot be cured by further leave to amend. 19 These findings and recommendations are submitted to the district judge assigned to the 20 case, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Within twenty-one (21) days after being served with 21 these findings and recommendations, Plaintiff may file written objections with the court. Such a 22 document should be captioned “Objections to Magistrate Judge’s Findings and 23 Recommendations.” 24 \\\ 25 \\\ 26 \\\ 27 \\\ 28 \\\ 8 1 Plaintiff is advised that failure to file objections within the specified time may result in the 2 waiver of rights on appeal. Wilkerson v. Wheeler, 772 F.3d 834, 839 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting 3 Baxter v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 1391, 1394 (9th Cir. 1991)). 4 5 6 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: July 16, 2018 /s/ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 9