Jon of the Family Knutson v. California Department of Human Services et al

Filing 2

ORDER DISMISSING THE COMPLAINT WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, signed by Magistrate Judge Jennifer L. Thurston on 9/12/2017. 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 JON OF THE FAMILY KNUTSON, Plaintiff, 12 v. 13 14 CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, 15 Defendants. 16 17 ) Case No.: 1:17-cv-1209 - AWI - JLT ) ) ORDER DISMISSING THE COMPLAINT WITH ) LEAVE TO AMEND ) ) ) ) ) ) ) Plaintiff contends the California Department of Human Services, Kern County Division of 18 Child Support Customer Services, Jonathan Shugart, and Ralph McKnight are liable for due process 19 violations related to child support orders. (See Doc. 1 at 1) Because Plaintiff fails to clearly allege 20 facts to support a claim, the complaint is DISMISSED with leave to amend. 21 I. 22 Screening The Court shall dismiss the case at any time if the Court determines that an action or appeal is 23 “frivolous, malicious or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or . . . seeks monetary 24 relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2). A claim is 25 frivolous “when the facts alleged arise to the level of the irrational or the wholly incredible, whether or 26 not there are judicially noticeable facts available to contradict them.” Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 27 25, 32-33 (1992). 28 /// 1 1 2 II. Pleading Standards General rules for pleading complaints are governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A 3 pleading stating a claim for relief must include a statement affirming the court’s jurisdiction, “a short 4 and plain statement of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief; and . . . a demand for the relief 5 sought, which may include relief in the alternative or different types of relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). 6 The Federal Rules adopt a flexible pleading policy, and pro se pleadings are held to “less stringent 7 standards” than pleadings by attorneys. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 521-21 (1972). 8 A complaint must give fair notice and state the elements of the plaintiff’s claim in a plain and 9 succinct manner. Jones v. Cmty Redevelopment Agency, 733 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1984). Further, a 10 plaintiff must identify the grounds upon which the complaint stands. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 11 U.S. 506, 512 (2002). The Supreme Court noted, 12 13 14 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. 15 Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). 16 Conclusory and vague allegations do not support a cause of action. Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 17 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982). The Court clarified further, 18 19 20 21 22 [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.’ 23 Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citations omitted). When factual allegations are well-pled, a court should 24 assume their truth and determine whether the facts would make the plaintiff entitled to relief; legal 25 conclusions in the pleading are not entitled to the same assumption of truth. Id. 26 The Court has a duty to dismiss a case at any time it determines an action fails to state a claim, 27 “notwithstanding any filing fee that may have been paid.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915e(2). Accordingly, a court 28 “may act on its own initiative to note the inadequacy of a complaint and dismiss it for failure to state a 2 1 claim.” See Wong v. Bell, 642 F.2d 359, 361 (9th Cir. 1981) (citing 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal 2 Practice and Procedure, § 1357 at 593 (1963)). However, leave to amend a complaint may be granted 3 to the extent deficiencies of the complaint can be cured by an amendment. Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 4 1122, 1127-28 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). 5 III. Discussion and Analysis 6 Plaintiff fails to allege any facts in his complaint. Rather, the complaint is filled with legal 7 argument and citations to case law, statutes, and Black’s Law Dictionary. From this, the most the 8 Court can glean is that Plaintiff is unhappy with the child support orders issued in Kern County 9 Superior Court Case No. S-1501-FL-599021.2 (See Doc. 1 at 18) 10 The court docket in Case No. S-1501-FL-599021 indicates the case was initiated in August 11 2006 for the dissolution of the marriage between Plaintiff and Lisa Knutson, which involved minor 12 children. On July 26, 2016, the Honorable Ralph McKnight modified the child support order, and 13 ordered Plaintiff “to pay the sum of $4,173.00 per month for the support” of the minor children. 14 In the spring of 2017, Plaintiff requested the modified child support order vacated. Jonathan 15 Shugart represented the Department of Child Support Services at the hearing on April 3, 2017, and 16 reported the Department was not served. The matter was continued, and in the interim Mr. Shugart 17 conferred with both Plaintiff and Lisa Knutson. On June 20, 2017, Commissioner McKnight observed 18 Plaintiff failed to appear at the hearing, and denied his motion “for lack of prosecution.” 19 A. 20 The Civil Rights Act under which this action was filed provides a cause of action against any Due Process 21 “person who, under color of [state law] . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the 22 United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, 23 or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws [of the United States.]” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In other 24 words, to prove a violation of § 1983, a plaintiff must establish that (1) the defendant deprived him of 25 26 27 28 2 The Court takes judicial notice of the dockets in the cases of Kern County Superior Court Case No. S-1501-FL599021. The Court may take notice of facts that are capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned. Fed. R. Evid. 201(b); United States v. Bernal-Obeso, 989 F.2d 331, 333 (9th Cir. 1993). The docket of the Kern County Superior Court is a source whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned, and judicial notice may be taken of court records. Mullis v. United States Bank. Ct., 828 F.2d 1385, 1388 n.9 (9th Cir. 1987); Valerio v. Boise Cascade Corp., 80 F.R.D. 626, 635 n. 1 (N.D.Cal.1978), aff'd, 645 F.2d 699 (9th Cir.); see also Colonial Penn Ins. Co. v. Coil, 887 F.2d 1236, 1239 (4th Cir. 1989). 3 1 a constitutional or federal right, and (2) the defendant acted under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 2 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Collins v. Womancare, 878 F.2d 1145, 1147 (9th Cir. 1989). Here, Plaintiff 3 contends the defendants are liable for violations of his due process rights. 4 The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides, “No State shall. . . deprive any 5 person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” U.S. Constitution, amend. XIV §1. This 6 clause guarantees both procedural and substantive due process. The procedural due process component 7 protects individuals against the deprivation of liberty or property by the government, while substantive 8 due process protects individuals from the arbitrary deprivation of liberty by the government. Portman 9 v. County of Santa Clara, 995 F.2d 898, 904 (9th Cir. 1993); Brittain v. Hansen, 451 F.3d 982, 991 (9th 10 Cir. 2006). Plaintiff fails to address clarify whether he believes the defendants are liable for a violation 11 of his substantive due process rights or his procedural due process rights. Further, Plaintiff fails to 12 identify a property interest or liberty protected by the Constitution, such that the Court may be able to 13 determine the claim upon which Plaintiff seeks to proceed. 14 Given the lack of allegations concerning what actions were taken, by whom, and when, the 15 Court is unable to find Plaintiff states a cognizable claim for a violation of his due process rights. 16 Therefore, the claim must be DISMISSED. 17 B. 18 The commissioner presiding over Plaintiff’s case has absolute immunity. Forrester v. White, Judicial Immunity 19 484 U.S. 219, 225 (1988). The Ninth Circuit explained: “Judges and those performing judge-like 20 functions are absolutely immune for damage liability for acts performed in their official capacities.” 21 Ashelman v. Pope, 793 F.2d 1072, 1075 (9th Cir. 1986) (citing Richardson v. Koshiba, 693 F.2d 911, 22 913 (9th Cir. 1982)). Thus, the doctrine of judicial immunity protects “judicial independence by 23 insulating judges from vexatious actions prosecuted by disgruntled litigants.” Forrester, 484 U.S. at 24 225 (1988). 25 Such absolute judicial immunity is lost “only when [the judge] acts in the clear absence of all 26 jurisdiction or performs an act that is not judicial in nature.” Schucker v. Rockwood, 846 F.2d 1202, 27 1204 (9th Cir. 1988). Even when a judge is accused of acting maliciously, corruptly, or erroneously, 28 judicial immunity remains. See Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991) (“judicial immunity is not 4 1 overcome by allegations of bad faith or malice”); Meek v. County of Riverside, 183 F.3d 962, 965 (9th 2 Cir. 1999) (“A judge is not deprived of immunity because he takes actions which are in error, are done 3 maliciously, or are in excess of his authority”). Plaintiff has not set forth any allegations demonstrating 4 that judicial immunity should not apply here, and defendant Ralph McKnight is entitled to absolute 5 immunity for the orders issued related to Plaintiff’s obligation to pay child support. 6 C. 7 Plaintiff challenges the rulings Commissioner McKnight related to the child support orders. The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine 8 Importantly, however, under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a party may not seek appellate review in 9 federal court of a decision made by a state court. See Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 10 11 12 13 (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 In this case, Plaintiff’s request that the Court “terminate” the support order issued in Case No. 22 S-1501-FL-599021 is a forbidden de facto appeal of the state court’s order directing Plaintiff to pay 23 child support. Indeed, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars federal review of state court decisions 24 regarding proceedings in family court. See, e.g., Moore v. County of Butte, 547 Fed. Appx. 826, 829 25 (9th Cir. 2013) (finding a plaintiff’s claims challenging the outcome of her child custody proceedings 26 were properly dismissed); Ignacio v. Judges of U.S. Court of Appeals, 453 F.3d 1160, 1165-66 (9th Cir. 27 2006) (affirming the district court’s dismissal of the case “because the complaint is nothing more than 28 another attack on the California superior court’s determination in [the plaintiff’s] domestic case”); see 5 1 also Oliver v. Owens, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 159259 at *8-9 (E.D. Cal. Nov. 5, 2013) (finding the 2 Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibited review of “multiple improprieties related to a restraining order” 3 issued by the state). Accordingly, the Court is unable to grant Plaintiff the relief requested under the 4 Rooker-Feldman doctrine. 5 IV. 6 Conclusion and Order Plaintiff fails to allege any facts to support his claim for a violation of due process. Thus, the 7 Court is unable to determine whether leave to amend would be futile, and leave to amend should be 8 granted. See Noll v. Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 1448-49 (9th Cir. 1987); see also Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1128 9 (dismissal of a pro se complaint without leave to amend for failure to state a claim is proper only where 10 it is obvious that the plaintiff cannot prevail and that an opportunity to amend would be futile). 11 Plaintiff will be given one opportunity to file an amended complaint to clearly identify the due 12 process claim upon which he seeks to proceed and to allege facts in support of that claim. Plaintiff’s 13 amended complaint must bear the docket number assigned this case and must be entitled “First 14 Amended Complaint.” Plaintiff is advised that an amended complaint supersedes the original 15 complaint. Forsyth v. Humana, Inc., 114 F.3d at 1474; King v. Atiyeh, 814 F.2d at 567. Thus, after the 16 First Amended Complaint is filed, the prior pleadings no longer serve any function in the case. See 17 Loux v. Rhay, 375 F.2d 55, 57 (9th Cir. 1967). The amended complaint must be “complete in itself 18 without reference to the prior or superseded pleading.” Local Rule 220. 19 Further, Plaintiff is advised that legal argument is not necessary and will be disregarded by the 20 Court. The Court will only consider the facts alleged by Plaintiff in his First Amended Complaint, 21 rather than any legal conclusions or arguments. If Plaintiff fails to identify a property interest or 22 liberty from which he has been deprived, the Court will find he is unable to state a claim for a violation 23 of his due process rights, and the action will be dismissed. 24 Based upon the foregoing, the Court ORDERS: 25 1. Plaintiff’s complaint is DISMISSED with leave to amend; and; 26 2. Within thirty days from the date of service of this order, Plaintiff SHALL file a First 27 Amended Complaint. 28 /// 6 1 2 If Plaintiff fails to file an amended complaint, the action may be dismissed for failure to prosecute and failure to obey the Court's order. 3 4 5 6 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: September 12, 2017 /s/ Jennifer L. Thurston 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 7

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