Fox v. Goddard et al

Filing 29

ORDER granting 14 Defendant Michael Edwards Motion to Dismiss; granting 15 Defendant Todd Lawson's Motion to Dismiss; granting 16 Defendant Donald Conrad's Motion to Dismiss. Signed by Judge Neil V Wake on 7/7/11.(TLJ)

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1 WO 2 3 4 5 6 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 7 FOR THE DISTRICT OF ARIZONA 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 ) ) ) Plaintiff, ) ) vs. ) ) Samuel P. Goddard, III, in his personal) capacity; Donald Conrad, in his personal) capacity; Todd Lawson, in his personal) capacity; Michael Edwards, in his personal) ) capacity, ) ) Defendants. ) ) Joel Fox, No. CV-11-00595-PHX-NVW ORDER 17 18 19 Before the Court is the Motion of Defendant Michael Edwards to Dismiss the 20 Complaint (Doc. 14), Defendant Todd Lawson’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 15), and 21 Defendant Donald Conrad’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 16). 22 I. Background 23 This case arises from the allegedly unlawful search and seizure of Plaintiff Joel Fox’s 24 home and email accounts. In 2009, Plaintiff was under investigation by the Arizona Attorney 25 General’s Office related to his attempted $105,00 donation to the Arizona Republican Party. 26 Plaintiff was suspected of allegedly making a prohibited political contribution in violation 27 of A.R.S. § 16-907(A), committing a fraudulent scheme in violation of A.R.S. § 13-2311(A), 28 and/or money laundering in violation of A.R.S. § 16-2317. In connection with the 1 investigation, Plaintiff was subject to two search warrants: one for his home, and one for 2 emails and account information associated with the Cox Communications account 3 “” Defendant Edwards conducted a search of Plaintiff’s emails provided by 4 Cox Communications. Defendant Edwards also conducted the search of Plaintiff’s home and 5 seized various papers, CDs, DVDs, computers, flash drives, floppy disks, external hard 6 drives, and cell phones pursuant to the home warrant on March 31, 2009. 7 Plaintiff asserts that the warrants issued without probable cause and are accordingly 8 invalid. Further, he argues that the warrants are overbroad, and that the scope of the email 9 search warrant was exceeded by the search of email addresses not included in the email 10 warrant and emails that fell outside the prescribed date range of the email warrant. Plaintiff 11 also claims that some of the property seized has been unlawfully retained, and that other 12 property was returned damaged. Finally, Plaintiff claims that Defendants conspired against 13 him by allegedly seeking to obtain search warrants, unsupported by probable cause, from a 14 biased judge. Plaintiff’s complaint alleges three counts: (1) Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; 15 (2) Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985 - Conspiracy; and (3) Violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2701 et seq. 16 – Stored Communications Act. 17 II. Legal Standard 18 To survive a Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must “state a 19 claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) 20 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible if it 21 contains sufficient factual matter to permit a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable 22 for the conduct alleged. Id. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability 23 requirement,’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted 24 unlawfully.” Id. All allegations of material fact are assumed to be true and construed in the 25 light most favorable to the non-moving party. Cousins v. Lockyer, 568 F.3d 1063, 1067 (9th 26 Cir. 2009). However, the principle that a court accepts as true all of the allegations in a 27 complaint does not apply to legal conclusions or conclusory factual allegations. Iqbal, 129 28 S. Ct. at 1951. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere -2- 1 conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) can therefore be 2 based on “the lack of a cognizable legal theory” or “the absence of sufficient facts alleged 3 under a cognizable legal theory.” Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep’t, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th 4 Cir. 1990). 5 III. Analysis 6 Defendants Edwards, Lawson, and Conrad have moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s 7 complaint on the basis that (1) Plaintiff has failed to state any claim for relief; (2) Counts One 8 and Two are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine; (3) Counts One and Two are barred by 9 res judicata and collateral estoppel; (4) Count Three is barred by Plaintiff’s failure to comply 10 with A.R.S. § 12-821.01(A); and (5) 18 U.S.C. § 2707(e) provides a complete defense to 11 Count Three. 12 13 A. Count One: Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 1. Rooker-Feldman doctrine 14 Defendants argue that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine deprives this Court of jurisdiction 15 and requires dismissal of this action because the issue of whether probable cause existed to 16 support the search warrants was already decided in the state court decision denying 17 Plaintiff’s Motion to Controvert Search Warrant and Request Franks Hearing (Doc. 14–6). 18 The Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibits a federal district court from hearing a direct appeal 19 from the final judgment of a state court. See Noel v. Hall, 341 F.3d 1148, 1154 (9th Cir. 20 2003). However, the Supreme Court has repeatedly “emphasize[d] the narrowness of the 21 Rooker-Feldman rule.” Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 462 (2006); see also Skinner v. 22 Switzer, --- U.S. ---, 131 S.Ct. 1289, 1291 (2011). In Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic 23 Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280 (2005), the Supreme Court clarified that the Rooker-Feldman 24 doctrine served as a jurisdictional bar only where a party seeks to directly “overturn an 25 injurious state-court judgment.” Id. at 292. 26 In this case, Plaintiff does not ask the Court to overturn any final state court order or 27 judgment. At most, Plaintiff is seeking to relitigate the same underlying question that was 28 raised with Plaintiff’s motion to controvert. While this implicates issues of res judicata and -3- 1 collateral estoppel, without a direct challenge to an earlier state court judgment, the Rooker- 2 Feldman doctrine is inapplicable and does not deprive the Court of subject matter jurisdiction 3 over this action. See id. at 293 (noting “a federal court may be bound to recognize the claim- 4 and issue-preclusive effects of a state-court judgment, but federal jurisdiction over an action 5 does not terminate automatically on the entry of judgment [in parallel litigation] in the state 6 court”). 7 2. Res Judicata and Collateral Estoppel 8 Although the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not warrant dismissal of Plaintiff’s 9 complaint, the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel apply to bar Plaintiff’s claims 10 in Count One. Res judicata bars claims that were or could have been raised in a prior action 11 from being raised in a later action where there is “(1) an identity of claims; (2) a final 12 judgment on the merits; and (3) identity or privity between parties.” Stewart v. U.S. 13 Bancorp, 297 F.3d 953, 956 (9th Cir. 2002). Here, the issues regarding whether there was 14 probable cause to support the search warrants and whether the warrants were overbroad were 15 identical to those decided in the Pinal County Superior Court decision on Plaintiff’s motion 16 to controvert the search warrant (Doc. 14-6), which operated as a final judgment on the 17 merits. See In re Search Warrant No. 08 SW 1417, 224 Ariz. 505, 506, 233 P.3d 618, 619 18 (Ariz. App. Div. 2010) (noting an order on “a motion to controvert . . . is a final judgment”). 19 Further, to the extent Plaintiff has attempted to raise any additional claims related to the 20 scope or lawfulness of the search warrants in this action, those claims could have been raised 21 in the earlier state court action. 22 While the named parties in the state court matter were not identical to the officers 23 named in this action, there is privity between the parties. Privity is determined by the 24 “relationship of the parties to the action and the commonality of their interests.” Hall v. 25 Lalli, 194 Ariz. 54, 57, 977 P.2d 776, 779 (1999) (emphasis omitted). “Finding privity 26 between a party and a non-party requires both a substantial identity of interests and a 27 working or functional relationship . . . in which the interests of the non-party are presented 28 and protected by the party in the litigation.” Id. (internal quotations omitted). Here, Plaintiff -4- 1 was the plaintiff in both actions, defendants in this action are employees of the Arizona 2 Attorney General’s Office, and the State of Arizona was the responding party “defendant” 3 in the motion to controvert state court proceeding. The State and employees of the state 4 Attorney General’s Office sufficiently share an identity of interests and working relationship 5 to establish privity between the parties. Because there is an identity of claims, a final 6 judgment on the merits, and privity between parties in this action and the Pinal County 7 Superior Court action on Plaintiff’s motion to controvert, Count One will be dismissed as 8 barred by res judicata. 9 10 11 12 Similarly, the doctrine of collateral estoppel also bars Plaintiff’s claims underlying Count One. Collateral estoppel bars a claim from being relitigated where the issue or fact to be litigated was actually litigated in a previous suit, a final judgment was entered, and the party against whom the doctrine is to be invoked had a full opportunity to litigate the matter and actually did litigate it, provided such issue or fact was essential to the prior judgment. 13 Chaney Bldg. Co. V. City of Tucson, 148 Ariz. 571, 573, 716 P.2d 28, 30 (1986). Here, the 14 validity of the search warrants and whether they were overbroad was actually litigated in 15 Pinal County Superior Court, the decision on Plaintiff’s motion to controvert was a final 16 judgment, and Plaintiff had the full opportunity to litigate and did actually litigate the validity 17 of the search warrants and their scope, which were the essential issues in the state court’s 18 decision. For these reasons, Count One will be dismissed. 19 3. Failure to State a Claim for Relief 20 Alternatively, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to state a plausible claim for 21 relief in Count One. The basic allegation underlying Plaintiff’s 42 U.S.C. §1983 claim is that 22 no probable cause existed to support the issuance of the search warrants. The Court finds no 23 support for Plaintiff’s claim that the search warrants were not supported by probable cause. 24 Having reviewed the warrants and their underlying affidavits, the Court is satisfied that the 25 affidavits plainly supply probable cause for the warrants to issue. Accordingly, to the extent 26 Count One is based in allegations that the warrants were not supported by probable cause, 27 it is also properly dismissed for failure to state a plausible claim for relief. 28 -5- 1 B. 2 In their motions to dismiss, Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim 3 for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 because he has not alleged that he is a member of a suspect 4 class or that the conspiracy against him was based on an invidious discriminatory animus. 5 To state a claim for conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), “a plaintiff must demonstrate a 6 deprivation of a right motivated by ‘some racial, or perhaps otherwise class-based, 7 invidiously discriminatory animus behind the conspirators’ action.’” RK Ventures, Inc. v. 8 City of Seattle, 307 F.3d 1045, 1056 (quoting Sever v. Alaska Pulp Corp., 978 F.2d 1529, 9 1536 (9th Cir. 1992)). In his response, Plaintiff concedes that he has not alleged that the 10 conspiracy was racially motivated or based on an otherwise class-based, invidiously 11 discriminatory animus. Because Count Two thus fails to state any plausible claim for relief, 12 it will be dismissed. 13 14 C. Count Two: Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985 Count Three: Violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2701 1. Notice of Claims Under A.R.S. §12-821.01(A) 15 Defendants contend that Count Three should be dismissed because Plaintiff failed to 16 provide Defendants with notice of his claims pursuant to A.R.S. § 12-821.01(A). A.R.S. § 17 12-821.01(A) requires that “[p]ersons who have claims against a public entity or a public 18 employee shall file claims with the person or persons authorized to accept service for the 19 public entity or public employee . . . within one hundred eighty days after the cause of action 20 accrues.” Although Defendants were employed by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, 21 and as such are public employees under A.R.S. § 12-821.01(A), the notice of claims 22 provision does not apply to bar Plaintiff’s federal claims. See Felder v. Casey, 487 U.S. 131, 23 147 (holding that state notice of claim provisions may not serve to “place conditions on the 24 vindication of a federal right”). Failure to comply with A.R.S. § 12-821.01(A) is thus 25 insufficient grounds for dismissing Count Three of Plaintiff’s complaint. 26 2. 18 U.S.C. § 2707(e) 27 18 U.S.C. § 2707(e)(1) provides that a “good faith reliance on” a “court warrant or 28 order” is a “complete defense to any civil or criminal action” brought under 18 U.S.C. § -6- 1 2707. Count Three alleges broadly violations of 18 U.S.C. § 2707. However, Defendant 2 Edwards reviewed the information provided by Cox Communications pursuant to the email 3 warrant. A person acting in good faith reliance on the email warrant could conclude that 4 review of the information provided by Cox Communications, including the information of 5 multiple usernames associated with the “” account, fell within the scope of 6 the email warrant. Plaintiff has not provided any facts establishing that Defendants acted in 7 anything other than good faith reliance on the email warrant in searching Plaintiff’s email. 8 18 U.S.C. § 2707(e)(1) thus provides a complete defense to Count Three, which will 9 accordingly be dismissed. 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the Motion of Defendant Michael Edwards to Dismiss the Complaint (Doc. 14) is granted. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendant Todd Lawson’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 15) is granted. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendant Donald Conrad’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 16) is granted. DATED this 7th day of July, 2011. 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 -7-

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