United States District Court, N.D. California
November 3, 2005.
JASMINE SOHAL, Plaintiff,
ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGES, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: PHYLLIS HAMILTON, District Judge
ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S REQUEST TO
PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS
Pro se plaintiff Jasmine Sohal filed this action on October 7,
2005, alleging violation of her rights to equal protection and
due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States
Constitution, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and also alleging state law
claims of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional
distress. Defendants are the administrative law judges assigned
to workers compensation appeals in Oakland, California. Plaintiff
specifically names ALJ Robert A. Baird, who presided over several
hearings involving plaintiff.
According to the allegations in the complaint, plaintiff filed
a workers compensation claim, which appears to have been denied
by Judge Baird. In connection with the hearings on her claim,
plaintiff asserts that Judge Baird denied her request for an
order compelling the attendance of subpoenaed witnesses and
interrupted plaintiff's testimony before she was finished. Plaintiff seeks leave to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP).
Because the court finds that the complaint must be dismissed
under 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2), the request for leave to proceed IFP
A. Legal Standard
Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a), "[a]ny court of the United States
may authorize the commencement . . . of any suit . . . without
prepayment of fees and costs or security therefor, by a person
who makes affidavit that he is unable to pay such costs or give
security therefor." In reviewing an application to proceed IFP,
the court may dismiss a case if the court determines that the
party applying for IFP status has filed a frivolous action, or
that the complaint fails to state a claim, or seeks monetary
damages from defendants who are immune from suit.
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2); see also Jackson v. Arizona, 885 F.2d 639, 640 (9th
Cir. 1989); Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1226-27 (9th
For purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915, a frivolous claim is one that
lacks an arguable basis in either law or fact. Neitzke v.
Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). A complaint lacks an
arguable basis in facts or law only if controlling authority
requires a finding that the facts alleged fail to establish an
arguable legal claim. Guti v. INS, 908 F.2d 495, 496 (9th Cir.
1990). Dismissal on these grounds is often ordered sua sponte
prior to the issuance of process, so as to spare prospective
defendants the inconvenience and expense of answering such
complaints. Id. at 324. Where a litigant is acting pro se and
the court finds the litigant's complaint frivolous within the
meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the court must give the
litigant notice of the deficiencies of the complaint and an
opportunity to amend before final dismissal, unless it is
absolutely clear that the deficiencies of the complaint could not
be cured by amendment. Noll v. Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 1448
(9th Cir. 1987); Eldridge v. Block, 832 F.2d 1132, 1135-37 (9th
The court has carefully reviewed the complaint, and finds that
it constitutes an impermissible attempt to collaterally attack
state court workers compensation proceedings, and that the claims against the administrative law judges must be
dismissed because those defendants are immune from suit.
1. Workers Compensation Proceedings
Plaintiff's claims are based on her dissatisfaction with
rulings by the defendant administrative law judges involved in
the adjudication of her workers compensation claim. Thus,
plaintiff's claims are essentially "nothing more than an
impermissible collateral attack on prior state court decisions,"
Branson v. Nott, 62 F.3d 287, 291-92 (9th Cir. 1995), and lie
outside this court's subject matter jurisdiction. It is
irrelevant in such a case whether federal constitutional issues
are at stake. Id. at 291.
Here, while plaintiff asserts a claim of constitutional
violations, that claim has no independent significance under the
facts alleged, apart from her challenge to the administrative law
judge's handling of her claim that is, her assertion that court
rulings regarding witness subpoenas, her testimony, and other
procedural matters violated her constitutional rights. However,
none of these allegations transforms plaintiff's case from a
dispute relating to workers compensation into an action for
violation of civil rights. While plaintiff asserts that ALJ Baird
deprived her of access to the judicial system, she is in
actuality simply attempting to challenge the rulings that were
made during the course of the workers compensation proceedings.
2. Judicial immunity
Moreover, the administrative law judges sued by plaintiff are
immune from suit. The Supreme Court has conclusively granted
absolute immunity to judges from damage liability for acts of a
judicial nature. Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 227-229
(1988); see also Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 355-57
(1978); Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 553-55 (1967). "[A] judge
will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was
in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his
authority; rather, he will be subject to liability only when he
has acted in the clear absence of all jurisdiction." Stump,
435 U.S. at 356-37; see also Forrester, 484 U.S. at 227 (a judicial
act "does not become less judicial by virtue of an allegation of
malice or corruption of motive"); Mireless v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9,
12 (1991). Here, plaintiff challenges procedural rulings made during the
course of the workers compensation hearings. The claims against
the defendant judges are based on "judicial acts" acts
performed in his or her official capacity as a judge presiding
over the workers compensation proceedings and are therefore
barred by judicial immunity.
For these reasons, the complaint is DISMISSED and the request
to proceed IFP is DENIED.
The dismissal is with LEAVE TO AMEND. If plaintiff wishes to
file an amended complaint, she must do so no later than December
5, 2005. If plaintiff does not file an amended complaint by
December 5, 2005, the action will be dismissed with prejudice and
the court will enter a final judgment.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
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