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Miller v. Morris

United States District Court, C.D. California

July 24, 2002





         On April 19, 2017, Norris Dajon Miller ("Plaintiff"), a California state prisoner proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights complaint pursuant 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Complaint"). Plaintiff summarily alleges that Deputy District Attorney George Morris is liable for malicious prosecution and false imprisonment in violation of his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Id. at 6) (continuous pagination).

         Congress mandates that district courts perform an initial screening of complaints in civil actions where a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or employee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a) . This Court may dismiss such a complaint, or any portion thereof, before service of process if the complaint (1) is frivolous or malicious, (2) fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or (3) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b) (1-2); see also Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 & n.7 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). For the reasons stated below, the Complaint is DISMISSED with leave to amend.[1]


         The only Defendant sued in this matter is Deputy District Attorney Morris. (Complaint at 4) . Morris is sued in his individual capacity only. (Id. at 3).

         Plaintiff states that in an underlying state criminal matter, he was assaulted by a man named Thomas Brown and "was put in jail for it" on February 10, 2016, even though Plaintiff was acting in self-defense. (Id. at 4). Morris "falsely accused" Plaintiff of a crime (or crimes) he did not commit, which Plaintiff does not specifically identify. (Id.). On June 20, 2016, Morris dismissed the charge(s) against Plaintiff. (Id.). Plaintiff states that he was "falsely imprisoned" for four months and ten days as a result of those charges, i.e., from the day he was arrested to the day the charges were dismissed. (Id.) . Plaintiff seeks $63, 000, 000 in monetary damages for "emotional stress, heartache, [and] pain and suffering, " as well as "false imprisonment."[2] (Id. at 5).


         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), the Court must dismiss the Complaint due to pleading defects. However, the Court must grant a pro se litigant leave to amend his defective complaint unless "it is absolutely clear that the deficiencies of the complaint could not be cured by amendment." Akhtar v. Mesa, 698 F.3d 1202, 1212 (9th Cir. 2012) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). For the reasons discussed below, it is not "absolutely clear" that at least some of the defects of Plaintiff's Complaint could not be cured by amendment. The Complaint is therefore DISMISSED with leave to amend.

         A. The Complaint Fails To State A Claim For Malicious Prosecution

         A claim of malicious prosecution is generally not cognizable under section 1983 if process is available within the state judicial system to provide a remedy. Lacey v. Maricopa Cnty., 693 F.3d 896, 919 (9th Cir. 2012). California law recognizes the common law tort of malicious prosecution, although such claims are "disfavored." Zamos v. Stroud, 32 Cal.4th 958, 966 (2004) . To state a claim for malicious prosecution under California law, "a plaintiff must demonstrate that the prior action (1) was initiated by or at the direction of the defendant and legally terminated in the plaintiff's favor, (2) was brought without probable cause, and (3) was initiated with malice." Seibel v. Mittlesteadt, 41 Cal.4th 735, 740 (2007) . Malicious prosecution is also actionable under state law where the defendant "continu[es] to prosecute a lawsuit discovered to lack probable cause." Zamos, 32 Cal.4th at 970.

         Nonetheless, the Ninth Circuit has determined that a civil rights plaintiff may bring a federal claim for malicious prosecution under section 1983 when certain conditions are met. To state a federal claim for malicious prosecution, a plaintiff must establish not only that a claim, brought without probable cause and initiated with malice, terminated in plaintiff's favor, but also that the prosecution was conducted "for the purpose of denying [the accused] equal protection or another specific constitutional right.'" Lacey, 693 F.3d at 919 (quoting Freeman v. City of Santa Ana, 68 F.3d 1180, 1189 (9th Cir. 1995)). Malicious prosecution actions "are not limited to suits against prosecutors but may [also] be brought . . . against other persons who have wrongfully caused the charges to be filed." Awabdy v. City of Adelanto, 368 F.3d 1062, 1066 (9th Cir. 2004).

         However, not every action taken by a prosecutor in an abandoned or unsuccessful prosecution will subject the prosecutor to suit, even when the act is "malicious or dishonest." Genzler v. Longanbach, 410 F.3d 630, 637 (9th Cir. 2005). The doctrine of "[p]rosecutorial immunity applies to § 1983 claims." Garmon v. Cnty. of Los Angeles, 828 F.3d 837, 842 (9th Cir. 2016) . Pursuant to that doctrine, "[s]tate prosecutors are absolutely immune from § 1983 actions when performing functions 'intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process, ' [Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430 (1976)], or, phrased differently, 'when performing the traditional functions of an advocate.'" Gannon, 828 F.3d at 843 (quoting Kalina v. Fletcher, 522 U.S. 118, 131 (1997)).

         Accordingly, a prosecutor is absolutely immune from suit for "'initiating a prosecution' and 'presenting a state's case, ' and during 'professional evaluation of the evidence assembled by the police and appropriate preparation for its presentation at trial . . . after a decision to seek an indictment has been made.'" Garmon, 828 F.3d at 843 (quoting Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 273 (1993)); see also Milstein v. Cooley, 257 F.3d 1004, 1012 (9th Cir. 2001) ("Initiating a prosecution has consistently been identified as a function within a prosecutor's role as an advocate."); Mishler v. Clift, 191 F.3d 998, 1008 (9th Cir. 1999) ("Filing charges and initiating prosecution are functions that are integral to a prosecutor's work."). A prosecutor is also protected by absolute immunity in the "preparation of an arrest warrant, " during "appearances before a grand jury, " "in a probable cause ...

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