Severson v. King County

Filing 9

ORDER DECLINING TO SERVE AMENDED COMPLAINT AND GRANTING LEAVE TO AMEND by Hon. James P. Donohue. (cc: plaintiff with Second Amended 1983 Prisoner Civil Rights Complaint form)(ST)

Download PDF
1 2 3 4 5 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT SEATTLE 6 7 8 ALONZO J. SEVERSON, Plaintiff, 9 10 11 Case No. C17-816-JLR-JPD ORDER DECLINING TO SERVE AMENDED COMPLAINT AND GRANTING LEAVE TO AMEND v. KING COUNTY, et al., Defendants. 12 13 14 Plaintiff Alonzo Severson is currently a pretrial detainee confined at the King County 15 Jail. Proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, he filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights complaint 16 against King County. See Dkt. 4-1. The Court declined to serve and granted leave to amend. 17 Dkt. 7. Currently before the Court is plaintiff’s amended complaint, which names as defendants 18 King County prosecutors David Ryan and Gabriel Jacob, Bellevue Police Detective Steve 19 Sargent, Seattle Police Detective Todd Jacobsen, the Seattle Times, KOMO 4 News, and Q13 20 Fox News. Dkt. 8. Having reviewed plaintiff’s amended complaint, the Court finds and 21 ORDERS: 22 (1) 23 Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Ryan, Mr. Jacob, Detective Sargent, and Detective Jacobsen held a press conference where they released inaccurate information to the media ORDER DECLINING TO SERVE AMENDED COMPLAINT AND GRANTING LEAVE TO AMEND - 1 1 regarding his participation in a burglary ring. Dkt. 8 at 3. He claims that he was never charged 2 with the crimes that were mentioned at the press conference. Id. Plaintiff claims that he is the 3 victim of slander and defamation of character, which have caused emotional distress. Id. 4 Plaintiff further alleges that the Seattle Times, KOMO 4 News, and Q13 Fox News 5 discriminated against him as an African American in their coverage of the case. Id. He claims 6 that the evidence shown in the news belonged to a non-African American man, but the only faces 7 portrayed in the media were faces of African Americans, including plaintiff. Id. Plaintiff seeks 8 monetary damages. Id. at 4. 9 (2) Once a complaint is filed in forma pauperis, the Court must dismiss it prior to 10 service if it “fails to state a claim on which relief can be granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(b)(ii); 11 see Talley v. Jackson, 2015 WL 3796339, at *1 (W.D. Wash. June 18, 2015) (citations omitted). 12 To avoid dismissal, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a 13 claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 664 (2009). The 14 factual allegations must be “enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell 15 Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The complaint may be dismissed if it 16 lacks a cognizable legal theory or states insufficient facts to support a cognizable legal theory. 17 Zixiang v. Kerry, 710 F.3d 995, 999 (9th Cir. 2013). 18 The Court holds pro se plaintiffs to less stringent pleading standards than represented 19 plaintiffs and liberally construes a pro se complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. 20 Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). Nevertheless, § 1915(e) “not only permits but 21 requires a district court to dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint that fails to state a claim.” 22 Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1229 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). When dismissing a complaint 23 under § 1915(e), the Court gives pro se plaintiffs leave to amend unless “it is absolutely clear ORDER DECLINING TO SERVE AMENDED COMPLAINT AND GRANTING LEAVE TO AMEND - 2 1 that the deficiencies of the complaint could not be cured by amendment.” Cato v. United States, 2 70 F.3d 1103, 1106 (9th Cir. 1995). 3 (3) To sustain a § 1983 civil rights claim, plaintiff must show (1) he suffered a 4 violation of rights protected by the Constitution or created by federal statute, and (2) the 5 violation was proximately caused by a person acting under color of state or federal law. West v. 6 Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Crumpton v. Gates, 947 F.2d 1418, 1420 (9th Cir. 1991). To 7 satisfy the second prong, plaintiff must allege facts showing how individually named defendants 8 caused or personally participated in causing the harm alleged in the complaint. Arnold v. IBM, 9 637 F.2d 1350, 1355 (9th Cir. 1981). 10 11 12 (4) Having screened plaintiff’s amended complaint, the Court has identified the following deficiencies: a. Plaintiff complains about the actions of the Seattle Times, KOMO 4 13 News, and Q13 Fox News, alleging that they discriminated against him as an African American 14 in their news coverage of the burglary ring. Members of the media are private individuals, and 15 therefore, they generally do not act under color of law, as required for a § 1983 claim. A § 1983 16 claim can lie against a private individual or entity, however, when the private party “is a willful 17 participant in joint action with the State or its agents.” Kirtley v. Rainey, 326 F.3d 1088, 1092 18 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting Dennis v. Sparks, 449 U.S. 24, 27 (1980)). The ultimate issue in 19 determining whether a private party is subject to suit under § 1983 is whether the alleged 20 infringement of federal rights is fairly attributable to the government. Id. The plaintiff bears the 21 burden of establishing that the media defendants were state actors. Florer v. Congregation 22 Pidyon Shevuyim, N.A., 639 F.3d 916, 922 (9th Cir. 2011). 23 ORDER DECLINING TO SERVE AMENDED COMPLAINT AND GRANTING LEAVE TO AMEND - 3 1 The Ninth Circuit recognizes four different tests used to identify state action: “(1) public 2 function; (2) joint action; (3) governmental compulsion or coercion; and (4) governmental 3 nexus.” Id. (citation omitted). “Satisfaction of any one test is sufficient to find state action, so 4 long as no countervailing factor exists.” Kirtley, 326 F.3d at 1092. 5 The public function test asks whether private individuals or groups are endowed by the 6 State with powers or functions that are governmental in nature. Id. at 1093. Plaintiff makes no 7 allegation that the media defendants were endowed with such powers or functions. 8 9 Under the joint action test, courts “consider whether the state has so far insinuated itself into a position of interdependence with the private entity that it must be recognized as a joint 10 participant in the challenged activity. This occurs when the state knowingly accepts the benefits 11 derived from unconstitutional behavior.” Id. (internal quotation and citation omitted). There is 12 no allegation that the local government and media are interdependent or that the local 13 government knowingly accepted any benefits derived from the allegedly unconstitutional media 14 coverage. 15 “The compulsion test considers whether the coercive influence or ‘significant 16 encouragement’ of the state effectively converts a private action into a government action.” Id. 17 at 1094. Plaintiff alleges that state actors held a press conference, but the Court finds this 18 insufficient to constitute coercion or significant encouragement. 19 “[T]he nexus test asks whether there is such a close nexus between the State and the 20 challenged action that the seemingly private behavior may be fairly treated as that of the State 21 itself.” Id. at 1094-95 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Generally, the 22 governmental nexus test requires evidence that the private actor is “entwined with governmental 23 policies, or . . . [the] government is entwined in [the private actor’s] management or control.” ORDER DECLINING TO SERVE AMENDED COMPLAINT AND GRANTING LEAVE TO AMEND - 4 1 Brentwood Academy v. Tenn. Secondary Sch. Athletic Ass’n, 531 U.S. 288, 295 (2001). 2 Plaintiff’s allegations are insufficient to satisfy the nexus test. 3 Plaintiff fails to allege facts that would support the conclusion that the media defendants 4 were state actors. Therefore, he cannot proceed with a § 1983 action against them. If plaintiff 5 would like to proceed with this claim, he must allege fact establishing state action. 6 b. Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Ryan, Mr. Jacob, and Detectives Sargent and 7 Jacobsen released false information about him to the media and that, as a result, he received 8 threat of death and harm and has suffered extreme emotional distress. Plaintiff readily states a 9 “classical claim for defamation actionable in the courts of virtually every State.” Paul v. Davis, 10 424 U.S. 693, 697 (1976). But simple defamation by a state official does not rise to the level of a 11 federal violation required to establish a claim under § 1983. Id. at 701. Reputation, standing 12 alone, is not a liberty interest recognized by federal law. Id. at 700-02. A federally recognized 13 liberty interest is implicated only when an individual’s reputation is stigmatized in connection 14 with the denial of some specific constitutional guarantee or some “more tangible” interest, such 15 as employment. Id. at 701; see also WMX Technologies, Inc. v. Miller, 80 F.3d 1315, 1319 (9th 16 Cir. 1996) (announcing that Paul established a “stigma-plus test”); Gobel v. Maricopa, 867 F.2d 17 1201, 1205 (9th Cir. 1989), abrogated on other grounds by City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 18 378 (1989) (holding that the plaintiff sufficiently pleaded a “stigma-plus” defamation claim 19 where complaint alleged false statements were made in connection with illegal arrest). 20 Allegations of psychological trauma, humiliation, embarrassment, and emotional distress are 21 insufficient to satisfy Paul’s “stigma-plus” test. Krainski v. Nev. ex. re. Bd. of Regents of Nev. 22 Sys. of Higher Educ., 616 F.3d 963, 971 (9th Cir. 2010). 23 ORDER DECLINING TO SERVE AMENDED COMPLAINT AND GRANTING LEAVE TO AMEND - 5 1 Here, plaintiff does not allege that the defamatory statements were accompanied by the 2 denial of a specific constitutional guarantee. He does allege that they caused him to receive 3 threats and suffer emotional distress, but this is insufficient to state a “stigma plus” defamation 4 claim. See id.; Kaylor v. Fields, 661 F.2d 1177, 1181 (8th Cir. 1981) (allegation that prosecutor 5 made baseless accusation of criminal activity to the media without filing charges was not 6 actionable under § 1983). Accordingly, plaintiff fails to state a federal defamation claim that can 7 go forward in this action. c. 8 9 To the extent plaintiff’s slander and defamation claims are based on state law, they cannot stand alone in a § 1983 action; they must be accompanied by a viable federal 10 claim. Plaintiff has not alleged such a federal claim. He cannot proceed with any state law 11 slander and defamation claims unless and until he presents a viable federal claim. 12 (5) Based on the forgoing, the Court DECLINES to serve plaintiff’s amended 13 complaint, but GRANTS him leave to file a second amended complaint curing the above-noted 14 deficiencies within 30 days after the date this Order is signed. The second amended complaint 15 must carry the same case number as this one and must be filed on the appropriate form, a copy of 16 which will be sent with this Order. If no second amended complaint is timely filed or if 17 plaintiff files a second amended complaint that fails to correct the deficiencies identified 18 above, the Court may recommend that this action be dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 19 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 20 Plaintiff is advised that an amended pleading operates as a complete substitute for an 21 original pleading. See Ferdik v. Bonzelet, 963 F.2d 1258, 1262 (9th Cir. 1992). Thus, any 22 second amended complaint must clearly identify the defendant(s), the constitutional or federal 23 ORDER DECLINING TO SERVE AMENDED COMPLAINT AND GRANTING LEAVE TO AMEND - 6 1 statutory claim(s) asserted, the specific facts that plaintiff believes support each claim, and the 2 specific relief requested. 3 (6) The Clerk is directed to send plaintiff the appropriate forms so that he may file a 4 second amended complaint. The Clerk also is directed to send copies of this order to plaintiff 5 and to the Honorable James L. Robart. 6 Dated this 11th day of September, 2017. 7 A 8 JAMES P. DONOHUE Chief United States Magistrate Judge 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 ORDER DECLINING TO SERVE AMENDED COMPLAINT AND GRANTING LEAVE TO AMEND - 7

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.

Why Is My Information Online?