United States District Court, N.D. California
October 12, 2005.
WANXIA LIAO, Plaintiff,
RONALD QUIDACHAY; PAUL ALVARADO; MAURA RAMIREZ; LAURENCE KAY; TIMOTHY REARDON; PATRICIA SEPULVEDA; MARIA RIVERA; RONALD GEORGE; SAN FRANCISCO SUPERIOR COURT; and STATE OF CALIFORNIA, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: CLAUDIA WILKEN, District Judge
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS AND DENYING
PLAINTIFF'S MOTIONS FOR STAY, REMOVAL OF COUNSEL, REQUEST FOR
TELEPHONIC APPEARANCE AND TO SHORTEN TIME
Defendants Superior Court of California for the County of San
Francisco (the Superior Court), Judge Ronald Evans Quidachay,
Judge Paul H. Alvarado and Maura Ramirez (collectively, Superior
Court Defendants) move pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) to dismiss pro se Plaintiff Wanxia Liao's
complaint against them.*fn1
Plaintiff opposes the motion,
and also moves for a stay of this action, for removal of Kay Yu,
counsel for Superior Court Defendants, for approval of a telephonic appearance and to
shorten time on these motions. The matters were submitted on the
papers. Having considered all of the papers filed by the parties,
the Court GRANTS Superior Court Defendants' motion to dismiss
(Docket No. 15). The Court DENIES Plaintiff's motions for a stay,
for removal of counsel, for telephonic appearance and to shorten
time (Docket No. 22).
The following facts are all taken from Plaintiff's
First Amended Complaint (FAC). Plaintiff, a Canadian citizen, brought a
civil rights lawsuit against James Cahill, a former professor at
the University of California, that was heard by the Superior
Court. Plaintiff alleges generally that Superior Court Defendants
engaged in a cover-up for Mr. Cahill and intentionally sabotaged
her case against him. She also alleges that Defendant Ramirez, a
court clerk, cooperated with Judge Quidachay and Judge Alvarado
and forged court documents for the purpose of having Plaintiff
declared a vexatious litigant. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and
injunctive relief and monetary damages on her claims for
violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and for intentional infliction of
Plaintiff filed her complaint against Mr. Cahill and the
Regents of the University of California in the Superior Court on
May 9, 2002. On May 19, 2003, Judge Quidachay issued an order
sustaining the defendants' demurrer, with leave to amend the
claims against Mr. Cahill to plead that his absence from
California tolled the applicable statute of limitations. On May
29, 2003, Plaintiff "served a Notice of Abandonment of the Whole
Action on the Defendants counsel" stating that she believed Judge Quidachay was
biased against her because his order did not "provid[e] any
reason and only allowed [Plaintiff] the specific leave to amend
in that the permitted amendment was in fact untenable." FAC ¶ 20.
In this notice, Plaintiff also stated her intention to refile the
action in an alternative forum. Apparently, this notice was filed
on June 2, 2003.
On June 19, 2003, Mr. Cahill moved to dismiss Plaintiff's State
court action on the grounds that she had failed to amend her
complaint as ordered. On June 20, 2003, Judge Alvarado dismissed
Plaintiff's entire action with prejudice. Plaintiff claims that
because she had filed her "Notice of Abandonment of the Whole
Action," Judge Alvarado, in dismissing her case, "acted in
complete absence of jurisdiction." FAC ¶ 26. Plaintiff appealed
to the California Court of Appeal, which dismissed the appeal as
untimely. Plaintiff also filed a civil rights case against Mr.
Cahill in federal district court. That case was dismissed on
grounds of res judicata.
On February 20, 2004, Plaintiff filed a complaint in Superior
Court against both the Superior Court and Mr. Laurenson, counsel
for Mr. Cahill, seeking revocation of Judge Quidachay and Judge
Alvarado's orders. Judge Quidachay sustained a demurrer in that
case without leave to amend, and later denied Plaintiff's
subsequent application for revocation of the order.
On August 27, 2004, Mr. Laurenson filed a motion to have
Plaintiff declared a vexatious litigant based on her attempts to
continue litigating the claim. On October 20, 2004, Judge Quidachay granted the motion, and required Plaintiff to furnish
security in order to pursue her litigation against the Superior
Court and Mr. Laurenson. Plaintiff acknowledges that Judge
Quidachay "may have an excuse" for this ruling, based on "some
misunderstandings or confusions cause by the Summons on
1st Amended." FAC ¶ 28. Plaintiff appears to allege that Ms. Ramirez
fraudulently issued a summons to Mr. Laurenson based on an
amended complaint, although he was no longer a proper party to
the State case. FAC ¶¶ 28-30, 34. Plaintiff asserts that Ms.
Ramirez issued the summons to Mr. Laurenson to trap Plaintiff
into being prosecuted as a vexatious litigant. Plaintiff also
objects to the fact that Judge Quidachay, in finding her to be a
vexatious litigant, considered two actions filed in Canada, and
concludes therefore that his order was issued "in complete
absence of the most fundamental jurisdiction." FAC ¶ 31.
On October 25, 2004, Plaintiff filed in Superior Court a
"Notice of Dismissal of Entire Action without Prejudice as
against Defendant San Francisco Superior Court only." FAC ¶ 22.
She also moved for reconsideration of Judge Quidachay's October
20, 2004 order, explaining that the confusion caused by the
allegedly improper Summons was "induced by Court Supervisor
Ramirez's fraud." FAC ¶ 28. The motion for reconsideration was
denied. On December 2, 2004, Judge Quidachay granted Mr.
Laurenson's motion to dismiss the case for failure to furnish the
Plaintiff states that, because she had no prior dealings with
Judge Alvarado and Judge Quidachay, racial discrimination is "the
only reason possible" for their acts. FAC ¶ 33. Plaintiff filed a timely appeal of Judge Quidachay's dismissal
with the California Court of Appeal. Defendants Reardon,
Sepulveda and Rivera, all judges on the Court of Appeal, denied
the appeal in an unpublished opinion. Plaintiff's petition for
rehearing was dismissed by Defendant Judge Kay. Plaintiff
currently has an unspecified "request" pending before Defendant
Ronald George, Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. FAC
A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim will be denied
unless it is "clear that no relief could be granted under any set
of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations."
Falkowski v. Imation Corp., 309 F.3d 1123, 1132 (9th Cir. 2002)
(citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002)).
A complaint must contain a "short and plain statement of the
claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). "Each averment of a pleading shall be simple,
concise, and direct. No technical forms of pleading or motions
are required." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(e). These rules "do not require
a claimant to set out in detail the facts upon which he bases his
claim. To the contrary, all the Rules require is `a short and
plain statement of the claim' that will give the defendant fair
notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds on which
it rests." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957).
The Court, however, "is not required to accept legal
conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations if those
conclusions cannot reasonably be drawn from the facts alleged." Clegg v. Cult Awareness Network, 18 F.3d 752, 754-55 (9th Cir.
1994); Baugh v. CBS, Inc., 828 F. Supp. 745, 752 (N.D. Cal.
A. Absolute Judicial Immunity
Superior Court Defendants argue that Judge Quidachay and Judge
Alvarado are entitled to absolute judicial immunity and therefore
the claims against them should be dismissed. Judges and those
performing judge-like functions are absolutely free from
liability for damages for acts performed in their official
capacities. Ashelman v. Pope, 793 F.2d 1072, 1075 (9th Cir.
1986) (en banc). Judicial immunity from claims for damages
generally can be overcome only in two sets of circumstances.
First, a judge is not immune from liability for non-judicial
actions, i.e., actions not taken in the judge's judicial
capacity. See Hyland v. Wonder, 117 F.3d 405, 413 n. 1 (9th
Cir. 1997) (holding that judge may lose protection of judicial
immunity when performing administrative act). Second, a judge is
not immune for actions, though judicial in nature, taken in the
complete absence of all jurisdiction. Mireles v. Waco,
502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991). As long as the judge has jurisdiction to perform
the "general act" in question, he or she is immune however
erroneous the act may have been, however injurious the
consequences of the act may have been, and irrespective of the
judge's claimed motivation. Harvey v. Waldron, 210 F.3d 1008,
1012 (9th Cir. 2000) (citing Cleavinger v. Saxner,
474 U.S. 193, 199-200).
Plaintiff concedes that the alleged acts by Judge Quidachay and
Judge Alvarado were taken in their judicial capacity. However, she argues that she has sufficiently plead that they lacked
jurisdiction to issue orders as they did. In doing so, Plaintiff
misconstrues this exception to judicial immunity. Even if Judge
Quidachay or Judge Alvarado erred in dismissing Plaintiff's
complaints or declaring her a vexatious litigant, e.g. by failing
to terminate the entire case without prejudice upon Plaintiff's
filing of a "Notice of Abandonment," such "general acts" are
still functions that they had jurisdiction to perform. See
Harvey, 210 F.3d at 1212 (noting that the "`general act' which
Judge Hernandez was performing in this case the issuance of an
ex parte order to destroy contraband at the request of the county
is a function that Judge Hernandez has jurisdiction to
perform'"). As the Supreme Court has explained,
A distinction must be here observed between excess of
jurisdiction and the clear absence of all
jurisdiction over the subject-matter. Where there is
clearly no jurisdiction over the subject-matter any
authority exercised is a usurped authority, and for
the exercise of such authority, when the want of
jurisdiction is known to the judge, no excuse is
permissible. But where jurisdiction over the
subject-matter is invested by law in the judge, or in
the court which he holds, the manner and extent in
which the jurisdiction shall be exercised are
generally as much questions for his determination as
any other questions involved in the case, although
upon the correctness of his determination in these
particulars the validity of his judgments may depend.
Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349
, 356 n. 6 (1978) (quoting
Bradley v. Fisher, 13 Wall. 335, 351-52 (1872)). The Court does
not take as true the FAC's legal conclusions regarding Judge
Quidachay and Judge Alvarado's alleged complete lack of
jurisdiction to issue the orders they did. In fact, because the
Superior Court is a court of general jurisdiction, the exception
to judicial immunity based on a complete lack of jurisdiction
appears to be inapposite. For this reason, Plaintiff's claims against Judge Quidachay and
Judge Alvarado are dismissed. Plaintiff has already included many
details in her FAC, and it appears to the Court that any
amendment is unlikely to overcome absolute judicial immunity.
However, the Court will allow Plaintiff an opportunity to amend
her complaint to allege actions that these Defendants have taken
that are not protected by absolute judicial immunity.
B. Absolute Quasi-Judicial Immunity
Superior Court Defendants argue that Ms. Ramirez, a court
clerk, is entitled to absolute quasi-judicial immunity and
therefore the claims against her should be dismissed.
"Court clerks have absolute quasi-judicial immunity from
damages for civil rights violations when they perform tasks that
are an integral part of the judicial process." Mullis v.
United States Bankr. Ct., 828 F.2d 1385, 1390 (9th Cir. 1987). This
absolute quasi-judicial immunity extends to "court clerks and
other non-judicial officers for purely administrative acts acts
which taken out of context would appear ministerial, but when
viewed in context are actually a part of the judicial function."
In re Castillo, 297 F.3d 940, 952 (9th Cir. 2002). Here,
Plaintiff alleges that Ms. Ramirez fraudulently issued a summons
to Mr. Laurenson. The act of issuing a summons is part of the
judicial function, and thus Ms. Ramirez is entitled to
quasi-judicial immunity for it. Therefore, the Court dismisses
Plaintiff's claims against Ms. Ramirez. Plaintiff has already
included many details in her FAC, and it appears to the Court
that any amendment is unlikely to overcome absolute
quasi-judicial immunity. However, the Court will allow Plaintiff an opportunity to amend her
complaint to allege actions that Ms. Ramirez has taken that are
not protected by absolute quasi-judicial immunity.
C. Eleventh Amendment Immunity
Superior Court Defendants move to dismiss the claims against
Defendant Superior Court on the basis that the Eleventh Amendment
to the United States Constitution, which bars the federal courts
from entertaining suits against a State by citizens of a foreign
State, deprives this Court of subject matter jurisdiction.
Superior Court Defendants are correct. See Greater Los Angeles
Council on Deafness, Inc. v. Zolin, 812 F.2d 1103, 1110 (9th
Cir. 1987) ("[A] suit against the Superior Court is a suit
against the State, barred by the eleventh amendment."). The
statute cited by Plaintiff, California Government Code § 815.2,
concerns the liability of State entities for injuries to their
employees and is not relevant to this case. Therefore, the Court
dismisses Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Superior Court of
San Francisco County without leave to amend, but without
prejudice to refiling in State court.
II. Unserved Defendants
Because the deficiencies identified by the Court with respect
to Plaintiff's complaint apply equally to the unserved
Defendants, including the State of California and judges for the
California Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, the Court also
dismisses the claims against them. See Silverton v. Dep't of
Treasury, 644 F.2d 1341, 1345 (9th Cir. 1981) (court may sua
sponte dismiss action as to defendants who have not moved to
dismiss, where such defendants are in a position similar to that of moving defendants or where
claims against such defendants are integrally related).
The dismissal of claims against the State of California is
without leave to amend, but without prejudice to refiling in
State court. With respect to the unserved State judge Defendants,
it appears to the Court that any amendment is unlikely to
overcome absolute judicial immunity. However, the Court will
allow Plaintiff an opportunity to amend her complaint to allege
actions that these Defendants have taken that are not protected
by absolute judicial immunity.
III. Plaintiff's Motions
Plaintiff states that on September 29, 2005, she initiated a
"criminal action against some of these Defendants and their
counsel Kay Yu to this action by sending a Complaint And Request
for Investigation to the Civil Rights Section of the Department
of Justice [DOJ] of the United States." Mem. P. & A. in Supp. of
Mot. at 1. She asks the Court to stay action in this case pending
the outcome of this complaint to the DOJ and to disqualify Ms. Yu
from representing Superior Court Defendants. Plaintiff also moves
to shorten time on these motions and to appear at the hearing by
Plaintiff's filing of a complaint with the DOJ does not
constitute a "criminal action." The authority upon which
Plaintiff relies for a stay, Keating v. Office of Thrift
Supervision, 45 F.3d 322, 324-25 (9th Cir. 1995), is therefore
inapplicable. Plaintiff has shown no grounds for either a stay or
the disqualification of Ms. Yu, and the Court accordingly denies
those requests. Plaintiff's motions to shorten time and for a telephonic
appearance are denied as moot.
For the foregoing reasons, Superior Court Defendants' motion to
dismiss is GRANTED (Docket No. 15). Plaintiff's motions are
DENIED (Docket No. 22).
Plaintiff may file a second amended complaint (SAC) if she is
able truthfully to amend her allegations to overcome the
deficiencies identified in this Order. Any SAC must be filed
within twenty days of the date of this Order. It may not include
any claims against Defendants Superior Court and State of
If Plaintiff chooses to file an amended complaint, she must
properly serve the SAC and summons on Defendants or ask
Defendants to waive service. Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(c), (d).
Registered mail is not a proper method of service.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
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