Barnes v. Schneider et al

Filing 7

ORDER DISMISSING ACTION. Signed by Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong on 4/18/2014. (Attachments: # 1 Certificate/Proof of Service)(ndr, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 4/21/2014)

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1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 OAKLAND DIVISION 7 TURELL L. BARNES SR., Case No: C 13-5333 SBA 8 Plaintiff, 9 ORDER DISMISSING ACTION vs. 10 EUGENE SCHNEIDER,, 11 Defendants. 12 13 On November 18, 2013, Turell L. Barnes, Sr. (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, 14 commenced the instant civil rights action against Judge Cecilia P. Castellanos (“Judge 15 Castellanos”), Eugene Schneider (“Schneider”), and the State of California (collectively, 16 “Defendants”). Compl., Dkt. 1. Plaintiff has also filed an application to proceed in forma 17 pauperis (“IFP”). For the reasons set forth below, the Court dismisses the action pursuant 18 to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), and denies Plaintiff’s IFP application as moot. 19 I. 20 LEGAL STANDARD Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), federal courts are authorized to review claims filed 21 IFP prior to service and to dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that: (1) the 22 allegation of poverty is untrue; (2) the action is frivolous or malicious; (3) the action fails to 23 state a claim; or (4) the action seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from 24 such relief. A pleading filed by a pro se plaintiff must be liberally construed. Balistreri v. 25 Pacifica Police Dep’t, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). 26 To determine whether an IFP complaint passes muster under § 1915, the Court 27 applies the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the 28 Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d 1193, 1194 (9th Cir. 1 1998). A complaint may be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim if the 2 plaintiff fails to state a cognizable legal theory, or has not alleged sufficient facts to support 3 a cognizable legal theory. Somers v. Apple, Inc., 729 F.3d 953, 959 (9th Cir. 2013). “To 4 survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as 5 true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’ ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 6 662, 678, (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim 7 has facial plausibility when a plaintiff “pleads factual content that allows the court to draw 8 the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 9 U.S. at 678. 10 II. 11 DISCUSSION The complaint alleges that an “illegal probate” was filed against Plaintiff’s real 12 property1 by Schneider and his client Armaline Childress. Compl. ¶ 2. According to 13 Plaintiff, Schneider failed to provide “Notice of Hearing to any heirs or party of interest, 14 thereby violating the statutory laws that govern Probate.” Id. The complaint further alleges 15 that Judge Castellanos willfully deprived Plaintiff of rights protected by the Constitution 16 by: (1) “appointing . . . Schneider as “Special Administer”; (2) “[a]llowing proceeding in a 17 close probate to continue”; and (3) “[d]isregarding to adhere to due process, equal 18 protection and judicial procedures.” Id. ¶ 3. 19 Plaintiff asserts that “upon the disregards to adhere to due process, equal protection, 20 judicial procedures, [he] was deprived enjoyment of his real property. Resulting in a[] loss 21 of ownership of the real property and slander of the title, causing an injury in the sum of 22 $1,000,000.00.” Compl. ¶ 5. By this action, Plaintiff seeks, among other things, 23 compensatory damages in the amount of $1,000,000, an order declaring that the judgment 24 entered in the probate matter is “null and void,” and an order reflecting that Plaintiff is the 25 owner of the subject property. Id. at 4. 26 /// 27 1 28 The real property is located at 6919 Hamilton Street, Oakland, California. Compl. ¶ 2. -2- 1 A. 2 To the extent Plaintiff seeks to disrupt or undo a prior state-court judgment, his Rooker-Feldman Doctrine 3 action is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. See Bianchi v. Rylaarsdam, 334 F.3d 4 895, 901 (9th Cir. 2003) (“Rooker–Feldman bars any suit that seeks to disrupt or undo a 5 prior state-court judgment. . . .”) (quotation marks omitted); Kougasian v. TMSL, Inc., 359 6 F.3d 1136, 1139 (9th Cir. 2004) (holding that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars federal 7 district courts “from exercising subject matter jurisdiction over a suit that is a de facto 8 appeal from a state court judgment.”). The above notwithstanding, Plaintiff’s claims fail on 9 the merits, for the reasons discussed below. 10 B. 11 A judge is absolutely immune from civil liability for acts performed in her judicial 12 capacity. See Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-357 (1978) (holding that a judge is 13 absolutely immune from § 1983 damages even if the action he took “was in error, was done 14 maliciously, or was in excess of his authority”); accord Moore v. Brewster, 96 F.3d 1240, 15 1243 (9th Cir. 1996) (superseded by statute on other grounds). Such immunity extends to 16 claims for damages as well as claims for declaratory, injunctive and other equitable relief. 17 Mullis v. U.S. Bankruptcy Court, 828 F.2d 1385, 1394 (9th Cir. 1987). Here, the claims 18 alleged against Judge Castellanos are predicated on actions she undertook in her judicial 19 capacity in the underlying state court case. Accordingly, because judges are absolutely 20 immune for judicial acts, Plaintiff’s claims against Judge Castellanos are DISMISSED 21 without leave to amend. See Harvey v. Waldron, 210 F.3d 1008, 1012 (9th Cir. 2000), 22 overruled on other grounds by Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384 (2007). Claims Against Judge Castellanos 23 C. 24 To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that Claims Against Schneider 25 a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated; and (2) that 26 the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. See 27 West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). No liability for constitutional violations may 28 attach to actions undertaken by private individuals. See Van Ort v. Estate of Stanewich, 92 -3- 1 F.3d 831, 835 (9th Cir. 1996). Here, the actions attributed to Schneider were undertaken in 2 his capacity as a lawyer in private practice. Therefore, because Schneider is alleged to have 3 been acting in a private capacity and not under color of state law, Plaintiff cannot state a § 4 1983 claim against him. See Simmons v. Sacramento County Superior Court, 318 F.3d 5 1156, 1161 (9th Cir. 2003). Accordingly, the claims alleged against Schneider are 6 DISMISSED without leave to amend. 7 D. 8 Plaintiff’s § 1983 claims against the State of California are barred by the Eleventh 9 State of California Amendment. See Dittman v. California, 191 F.3d 1020, 1025-1026 (9th Cir. 1999) (“The 10 State of California has not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity with respect to 11 claims brought under § 1983 in federal court, . . . and the Supreme Court has held that § 12 1983 was not intended to abrogate a State’s Eleventh Amendment immunity.”) (citations 13 and internal quotation marks omitted). Accordingly, the claims alleged against the State of 14 California are DISMISSED without leave to amend. 15 III. CONCLUSION 16 For the reasons stated above, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT: 17 1. The complaint is DISMISSED without leave to amend. 18 2. Plaintiff’s IFP application is DENIED as moot. 19 3. The Clerk shall close the file and terminate any pending matters. 20 IT IS SO ORDERED. 21 Dated: 4/18/2014 _______________________________ SAUNDRA BROWN ARMSTRONG United States District Judge 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 -4-

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