Woodson v. Kern County Child Support Services, No. 1:2018cv00726 - Document 3 (E.D. Cal. 2018)

Court Description: ORDER GRANTING 2 Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis; ORDER DISMISSING PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, signed by Magistrate Judge Jennifer L. Thurston on 6/12/2018. Amended Complaint due within 30 days. (Hall, S)
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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 JASON WOODSON, 12 Plaintiff, 13 14 v. KERN COUNTY CHILD SUPPORT SERVICES, 15 Defendant. 16 17 ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) Case No.: 1:18-cv-0726- LJO- JLT ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS (Doc. 2) SCREENING ORDER DISMISSING PLAINTIFF’S COMPLAINT WITH LEAVE TO AMEND Jason Woodson seeks to proceed pro se and in forma pauperis with an action against Kern 18 County Child Support Services. (Docs. 1, 2) For the following reasons, Plaintiff’s motion to proceed 19 in forma pauperis is granted. However, as explained below, Plaintiff fails state facts sufficient to 20 support a claim arising under federal law, upon which relief can be granted. Therefore, the complaint 21 is dismissed with leave to amend. 22 I. 23 Proceeding in forma pauperis The Court may authorize the commencement of an action without prepayment of fees “by a 24 person who submits an affidavit that includes a statement of all assets such person . . . possesses [and] 25 that the person is unable to pay such fees or give security therefor.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). The Court 26 reviewed the financial status affidavit filed by Plaintiff (Doc. 2), and finds he satisfies the 27 requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Therefore, Plaintiff’s request to proceed in forma pauperis is 28 GRANTED. 1 1 II. 2 Screening Requirement When an individual seeks to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court is required to review the 3 complaint and shall dismiss a complaint, or portion of the complaint, if it is “frivolous, malicious or 4 fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or . . . seeks monetary relief from a defendant 5 who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). A plaintiff’s claim 6 is frivolous “when the facts alleged rise to the level of the irrational or the wholly incredible, whether or 7 not there are judicially noticeable facts available to contradict them.” Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 8 25, 32-33 (1992). 9 III. Pleading Standards 10 General rules for pleading complaints are governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A 11 pleading must include a statement affirming the court’s jurisdiction, “a short and plain statement of the 12 claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief; and . . . a demand for the relief sought, which may 13 include relief in the alternative or different types of relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). 14 A complaint must give fair notice and state the elements of the plaintiff’s claim in a plain and 15 succinct manner. Jones v. Cmty. Redevelopment Agency, 733 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1984). The 16 purpose of the complaint is to inform the defendant of the grounds upon which the complaint stands. 17 Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002). The Supreme Court noted, 20 Rule 8 does not require detailed factual allegations, but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation. A pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement. 21 Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Vague 22 and conclusory allegations do not support a cause of action. Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 23 268 (9th Cir. 1982). The Court clarified further, 18 19 24 25 26 27 [A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” [Citation]. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. [Citation]. The plausibility standard is not akin to a “probability requirement,” but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. [Citation]. Where a complaint pleads facts that are “merely consistent with” a defendant’s liability, it “stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of ‘entitlement to relief.’ 28 2 1 Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citations omitted). When factual allegations are well-pled, a court should 2 assume their truth and determine whether the facts would make the plaintiff entitled to relief; legal 3 conclusions are not entitled to the same assumption of truth. Id. The Court may grant leave to amend a 4 complaint to the extent deficiencies of the complaint can be cured by an amendment. Lopez v. Smith, 5 203 F.3d 1122, 1127-28 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). 6 IV. Allegations Plaintiff contends Kern County Child Support Services failed to recognize that he “had 7 8 physical[] and legal custody” of his children H.W. and S.W. “from the time they were born, until now,” 9 which totals eighteen years. (Doc. 1 at 1, 3) He alleges that Child Support Services (“C.S.S.”) charged 10 him “with abandoning [his] children,” which Plaintiff as unaware of “for almost ten years, until 2015” 11 when a C.S.S. representative made this statement in court. (Id. at 13) 12 Plaintiff alleges that he “was being charged money [while] the children were living with [him].” 13 (Doc. 1 at 8) According to Plaintiff, he first received a bill in 2005, at which time he “went to the child 14 support office to straighten out the obvious mistake.” (Id. at 9) Plaintiff asserts a C.S.S. representative 15 informed him that he needed to “fill out [a] modification packet,” and they would “straighten 16 everything out.” (Id.) He asserts that eight weeks later he was informed the packet was “incomplete,” 17 after which he submitted a second packet. (Id.) Plaintiff was then informed the “second packet was 18 filled out ‘improperly,” eight weeks after its submission. (Id.) He contends that C.S.S. wrongfully 19 “took … 40% [of his money] for more than fourteen years. (Id. at 6) Further, Plaintiff asserts that 20 “every month [he] did not have any money they suspended [his] license.” (Id. at 1) 21 Based upon these facts, Plaintiff contends C.S.S. is liable for violations of the Fourth, Fifth, 22 Seventh, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. (Doc. 1 at 2) In addition, 23 Plaintiff contends the entity is liable for negligence, corruption, extortion, child endangerment, 24 defamation, and “misrepresentation of documentation.” (Id. at 1-2) 25 V. Discussion and Analysis 26 A. 27 Plaintiff asserts his claims arise under “Title 42,” without identifying the specific section of law. 28 Claims arising under Section 1983 (See Doc. 1 at 1) However, Plaintiff may bring his claims for violations of the amendments to the 3 1 United States Constitution under Title 42 of the United States Code, Section 1983 (“Section 1983”) 2 which is “is a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.” Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 3 266, 271 (1994). In relevant part, Section 1983 provides: 6 Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress... 7 42 U.S.C. § 1983. To plead a Section 1983 violation, a plaintiff must allege facts from which it may 8 be inferred that (1) a constitutional right was deprived, and (2) a person who committed the alleged 9 violation acted under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Williams v. Gorton, 4 5 10 529 F.2d 668, 670 (9th Cir. 1976). 11 A plaintiff must allege a specific injury was suffered, and show causal relationship between the 12 defendant’s conduct and the injury suffered. See Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 371-72 (1976). Thus, 13 Section 1983 “requires that there be an actual connection or link between the actions of the defendants 14 and the deprivation alleged to have been suffered by the plaintiff.” Chavira v. Ruth, 2012 WL 15 1328636, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 17, 2012). An individual deprives another of a federal right “if he does 16 an affirmative act, participates in another’s affirmative acts, or omits to perform an act which he is 17 legally required to do so that it causes the deprivation of which complaint is made.” Johnson v. Duffy, 18 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978). In other words, “[s]ome culpable action or in action must be 19 attributable to defendants.” See Puckett v. Corcoran Prison - CDCR, 2012 WL 1292573, at *2 (E.D. 20 Cal. Apr. 13, 2012). 21 1. Liability of the Kern County Child Support Services 22 As an initial matter, the department of Child Support Services for Kern County is not a proper 23 defendant to Plaintiff’s claims for a violation of Section 1983. Although municipalities, such as cities 24 and counties, are amenable to suit, departments or bureaus of municipalities—like Child Support 25 Services—are “not generally considered ‘persons’ within the meaning of Section 1983.” United States 26 v. Kama, 394 F.3d 1236, 1240 (9th Cir. 2005); Hervey v. Estes, 65 F.3d 784, 791 (9th Cir. 1995) 27 (“Although municipalities, such as cities and counties, are amenable to suit … sub-departments or 28 bureaus of municipalities, such as the police departments, are not generally considered ‘persons’ within 4 1 the meaning of § 1983”); Lawrie v. Garcia, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12399 at *6-7 (S.D. Cal. Feb. 2, 2 2012) (holding the Department of Child Support Services for the County of San Diego was “not a 3 proper defendant under § 1983” and “the County itself is the proper defendant”). Thus, Child Support 4 Services is not the proper defendant in this action. 5 2. Liability of the County 6 Local governments, such as the county, are “persons” subject to suit for “constitutional tort[s]” 7 under Section 1983. Haugen v. Brosseau, 339 F.3d 857, 874 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing Monell v. Dep't of 8 Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 n.55 (1978)). To state a civil rights claim against a local government 9 under Monell, a plaintiff must set forth facts alleging the following: (1) the local government 10 official(s) must have intentionally violated the plaintiff’s constitutional rights, (2) the violation must 11 be a part of policy or custom and may not be an isolated incident, and (3) there must be a link between 12 the specific policy or custom to the plaintiff’s injury. See Monell, 436 U.S. at 690-92. 13 A plaintiff may show a municipal policy or custom in three ways: 14 (1) A longstanding practice or custom which constitutes the standard operating procedure of the local governmental entity; 15 16 17 18 (2) The decision-making official was, as a matter of state law, a final policymaking authority whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy in the area of the decision; or (3) An official with final policymaking authority either delegated that authority to, or ratified the decision of, a subordinate. 19 Menotti v. City of Seattle, 409 F.3d 1113, 1147 (9th Cir. 2005). In addition, a municipal policy may be 20 inferred from widespread practices or evidence of repeated constitutional violations for which the 21 errant municipal officers were not discharged or reprimanded. Id. 22 Proof of random acts or isolated events is insufficient to establish a custom or practice. 23 Thompson v. City of L.A., 885 F.2d 1439, 1444 (9th Cir. 1989). Rather, a plaintiff must allege facts 24 supporting a conclusion that the entity has engaged in widespread, systematic constitutional violations 25 which have become the force of law. Board of Cty. Comm’rs of Bryan Cty. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 26 404 (1997). 27 28 The facts alleged by Plaintiff do not support the conclusion that the County has a policy, custom, or practice that lead to violations of his constitutional rights under the Fourth, Seventh, or 5 1 Fourteenth Amendments.1 Seemingly, Plaintiff is asserting that the entity is liable because it 2 employed the C.S.S. representatives who he believes acted unlawfully. This is insufficient. Taylor v. 3 List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir.1989) (no respondeat superior liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983); 4 Monell, 436 U.S. at 691 (no municipal liability for a constitutional violation merely because of an 5 employment relationship). Accordingly, the facts alleged are insufficient to support his claims under 6 Section 1983 against the County.2 7 B. 8 Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a party may not seek appellate review in federal court of a 9 10 11 12 13 The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine decision made by a state court. See Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923); D.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983). The Ninth Circuit explained, Typically, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars federal courts from exercising subjectmatter jurisdiction over a proceeding in which a party losing in state court seeks what in substance would be appellate review of the state judgment in a United States district court, based on the losing party’s claim that the state judgment itself violates the losers’ federal rights. 14 Doe v. Mann, 415 F.3d 1038, 1041-42 (9th Cir. 2005); see also Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic 15 Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005) (the Rooker-Feldman doctrine precludes a district court from 16 appellate review of “cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court 17 judgments rendered before the district court proceeding commenced . . .”). Accordingly, the district 18 court lacks jurisdiction over “claims . . . ‘inextricably intertwined’ with the state court’s decision such 19 that the adjudication of the federal claims would undercut the state ruling.” Bianchi v. Rylaarsdam, 334 20 F.3d 895, 898 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing Feldman, 460 U.S. at 483, 485)). 21 Significantly, it appears that Plaintiff seeks to have the Court vacate the family court 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 1 Plaintiff also alleges a violation of his civil rights under the Fifth Amendment. However, the Fifth Amendment applies only to actions by the federal government. Rank v. Nimmo, 677 F.2d 692, 701 (9th Cir. 1982). There must be a “significantly close nexus” between the federal government and the actor for the Fifth Amendment to apply to nonfederal entities or individuals. Id. Here, Plaintiff has not made any factual allegations regarding a connection C.S.S. representatives may have to the federal government. Thus, Plaintiff fails to state a claim for a Fifth Amendment violation. 2 The remaining claims in Plaintiffs complaint arise under state law. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3), a district court may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims if “the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction.” Importantly, the Ninth Circuit determined that “[w]hen federal claims are dismissed before trial . . . pendant state claims also should be dismissed.” Religious Tech. Ctr. v. Wollersheim, 971 F.2d 364, 367-68 (9th Cir. 1992) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Brown v. Lucky Stores, Inc., 246 F.3d 1182, 1189 (9th Cir. 2001) (recognizing the propriety of dismissing supplemental state law claims without prejudice when the district court has dismissed the federal claims over which it had original jurisdiction). At this juncture—because Plaintiff failed to state a cognizable claim under federal law—the Court declines to analyze the merits of his state law claims. 6 1 determination that child support was owed, which resulted in the suspension of his driver’s license and 2 lost wages. However, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars federal review of state court decisions 3 regarding proceedings in family court. See, e.g., Moore v. County of Butte, 547 Fed. Appx. 826, 829 4 (9th Cir. 2013) (finding a plaintiff’s claims challenging the outcome of custody proceedings were 5 properly dismissed); Rucker v. County of Santa Clara, State of California, 2003 WL 21440151, at *2 6 (N.D. Cal. June 17, 2003) (finding the plaintiff’s claims were “inextricably intertwined” with the state 7 court's rulings where the plaintiff “challenge[d] his original child support order on jurisdictional 8 grounds, dispute[d] his total child support arrearages, and allege[d] that Santa Clara County's 9 garnishment order against his disability benefits payments is invalid”); see also Ignacio v. Judges of 10 U.S. Court of Appeals, 453 F.3d 1160, 1165-66 (9th Cir. 2006) (affirming the district court's dismissal 11 of the case “because the complaint is nothing more than another attack on the California superior 12 court's determination in [the plaintiff’s] domestic case”). Accordingly, it appears the Court is unable to 13 grant Plaintiff the relief requested according to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. 14 VI. 15 Conclusion and Order For the reasons set forth above, the Court is unable to find Plaintiff states a cognizable claim 16 under federal law. However, the factual deficiencies may be cured by amendment, if Plaintiff is able 17 to identify an unconstitutional policy or custom. See Noll v. Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 1448-49 (9th 18 Cir. 1987); see also Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1128 (dismissal of a pro se complaint without leave to amend 19 for failure to state a claim is proper only where it is obvious that an opportunity to amend would be 20 futile). Therefore, Plaintiff will be given one opportunity to amend his pleading and set forth facts 21 sufficient to support a claim arising under federal law, which is not barred by the Rooker-Feldman 22 doctrine. 23 Plaintiff is advised that an amended complaint supersedes the original complaint. Forsyth v. 24 Humana, Inc., 114 F.3d 1467, 1474 (9th Cir. 1997); King v. Atiyeh, 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1987). 25 In addition, the amended complaint must be “complete in itself without reference to the prior or 26 superseded pleading.” Local Rule 220. Once Plaintiff files an amended complaint, the original 27 pleading no longer serves any function in the case. The amended complaint must bear the docket 28 number assigned this case and must be labeled “First Amended Complaint.” Finally, Plaintiff is 7 1 warned that “[a]ll causes of action alleged in an original complaint which are not alleged in an 2 amended complaint are waived.” King v. Atiyeh, 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1986) (citing London v. 3 Coopers & Lybrand, 644 F.2d 811, 814 (9th Cir. 1981). 4 Based upon the foregoing, the Court ORDERS: 5 1. Plaintiff’s motion to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. 2) is GRANTED; 6 2. Plaintiff’s Complaint is DISMISSED with leave to amend; and 7 3. Within thirty days from the date of service of this order, Plaintiff SHALL file a First 8 9 10 Amended Complaint. If Plaintiff fails to comply with this order to file an amended complaint, the action may be dismissed for failure to prosecute and failure to obey the Court’s order. 11 12 13 14 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: June 12, 2018 /s/ Jennifer L. Thurston UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 8