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Khalafala v. Scully

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


December 16, 2008

KHALAFALA KHALAFALA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JAN SCULLY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jennifer T. Lum United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT WITH LEAVE TO AMEND

On November 14, 2008, Khalafala Khalafala ("plaintiff"), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 ("Complaint"). Plaintiff's claims arise out of his arrest and subsequent detention by the Sacramento Police Department. Plaintiff named the following defendants in his Complaint: the State of California; the County of Sacramento; Sacramento County District Attorney's Office; Sacramento County Police Department; Jan Scully, Sacramento County District Attorney; Dawn Baldet, a Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney; and an unknown Sacramento police employee. (Complaint at 2-6). Plaintiff names all defendants in both their individual and official capacities. (Id. at 7-8). Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at the Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown, California.

In accordance with the provisions of the "Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995" ("PLRA"), the Court has screened the Complaint before ordering service to determine whether the action (1) is frivolous or malicious; (2) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (3) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A; 42 U.S.C. §1997e(c)(1); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

The Court's screening of plaintiff's Complaint under the foregoing statute is governed by the following standards: A complaint may be dismissed as a matter of law for failure to state a claim for two reasons: (1) the plaintiff fails to state a cognizable legal theory, or (2) the plaintiff has alleged insufficient facts under a cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). Because plaintiff is appearing pro se, the Court must construe the allegations of the Complaint liberally and must afford plaintiff the benefit of any doubt. See Karim-Panahi v. Los Angeles Police Dep't, 839 F.2d 621, 623 (9th Cir. 1988). Moreover, in determining whether a complaint states a claim on which relief may be granted, allegations of material fact are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Love v. United States, 915 F.2d 1242, 1245 (9th Cir. 1989). A pro se litigant must be given leave to amend his or her complaint unless it is absolutely clear that the deficiencies of the complaint cannot be cured by amendment. Noll v. Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 1448 (9th Cir. 1987).

After careful review and consideration of the Complaint under the relevant standards, and for the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and ORDERS the COMPLAINT DISMISSED WITH LEAVE TO AMEND.

ALLEGATIONS OF THE COMPLAINT

On February 19, 2004, plaintiff was arrested by the Sacramento Police Department and placed in Sacramento County Jail. (Complaint at 10). On May 1, 2004, the case against plaintiff was dismissed. Thereafter, plaintiff contacted the property division of the Sacramento Police Department several times to retrieve the personal property he had turned over to the Sacramento Police Department at the time of his arrest. (Id. at 10-11). An unknown employee of the Sacramento Police Department released plaintiff's bicycle, and told plaintiff that the rest of his property would not be released pursuant to instructions from the Sacramento County District Attorney's office. (Complaint at 11). Plaintiff alleges that the unreleased property included plaintiff's travel documents, identification documents, phone notebooks, bank account numbers and university and college diplomas. (Id.). Plaintiff argues that in denying him his property, defendants restricted plaintiff's freedom and "maliciously held plaintiff virtual prisoner in Sacramento County from the period of May 7, 2004 until June 28, 2004."*fn1 (Id.).

Plaintiff alleges that all defendants were acting under the color of state law and conspired to deprive him of his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the laws. (Id. at 8). Plaintiff further alleges that the State of California, County of Sacramento, the Sacramento County District Attorney's office, Sacramento County Police Department and Jan Scully failed to adequately train, supervise, review and enforce the laws of the State of California and the County of Sacramento. (Id. at 13-14). In addition, plaintiff alleges defendants Jan Scully and Dawn Baldet intentionally acted to deprive plaintiff of his right under the Fourth Amendment to be free from unlawful seizures. (Id. at 14-15).

Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages. (Id. at 8, 16).

DISCUSSION

I. PLAINTIFF'S OFFICIAL CAPACITY CLAIMS AND CLAIMS AGAINST THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA MUST BE DISMISSED

A. Plaintiff's Claim Against the State of California is Barred by the Eleventh Amendment

The Eleventh Amendment prohibits federal jurisdiction over claims against a state without its consent unless Congress has abrogated the state's Eleventh Amendment immunity. Pennhurst State School & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984). The State of California has not consented to be sued under Section 1983 in federal court, and the Supreme Court has held that Section 1983 was not intended to abrogate a state's Eleventh Amendment immunity. Dittman v. California, 191 F.3d 1020, 1025-26 (9th Cir. 1999); see Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 169 n.17 (1985). Because the Eleventh Amendment prohibits federal jurisdiction over claims against a state without its consent, plaintiff's claims against the State of California must be dismissed.

B. Plaintiff's Official Capacity Claims Against Jan Scully and Dawn Baldet Are Barred by the Eleventh Amendment

Plaintiff brings claims against Jan Scully, Sacramento County District Attorney and Dawn Baldet, a Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney, in their individual capacities, as well as in their official capacities. As discussed, supra, plaintiff's claims against the State of California are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Official capacity claims against state officials are merely another way of pleading an action against the state itself. See Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989) ("[A] suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is not a suit against the official but rather is a suit against the official's office. As such, it is no different from a suit against the State itself." (internal citation omitted)). Thus, official capacity claims for damages are similarly barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Dittman, 191 F.3d at 1026 ("The Eleventh Amendment bars actions for damages against state officials who are sued in their official capacities in federal court."). In addition, the Supreme Court has held that a state official sued in his official capacity is not "a person" subject to suit under Section 1983 for purposes of a suit for damages. Will, 491 U.S. at 71 & n.10. Accordingly, the claims against Jan Scully and Dawn Baldet in their official capacities must be dismissed. See Pennhurst State School & Hosp., 465 U.S. at 100.

II. PLAINTIFF HAS FAILED TO STATE A CLAIM AGAINST THE COUNTY OF SACRAMENTO, THE SACRAMENTO COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE AND THE SACRAMENTO COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT

"Municipalities and other local government units . . . [are] among those persons to whom § 1983 applies." Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). A local government entity such as Sacramento County, the Sacramento County Police Department or the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office, however, "may not be sued under § 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents. Instead, it is when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under § 1983." Monell, 436 U.S. at 694. Thus, Sacramento County, the Sacramento County Police Department and the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office may not be held liable for the acts of their employees unless "the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted or promulgated by that body's officers," or unless the alleged constitutional deprivation was "visited pursuant to a governmental 'custom' even though such a custom has not received formal approval through the decision-making channels." Id. at 690-91; see also Redman v. County of San Diego, 942 F.2d 1435, 1443-44 (9th Cir. 1991).

Here, plaintiff seeks to hold Sacramento County, the Sacramento County Police Department and the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office liable for infringing on his civil rights based on their participation in an alleged conspiracy to prevent plaintiff from accessing his personal property. (Complaint at 15-18). Under Monell, that is not enough. See Monell, 436 U.S. at 694. Monell requires that the alleged unconstitutional act resulted from the implementation or execution of an official policy, ordinance, regulation or decision, or a governmental custom. Plaintiff has failed to identify any specific policy, ordinance, regulation, custom, or officially adopted or promulgated decision, the execution of which allegedly caused him harm. Accordingly, the allegations of the Complaint are insufficient to state a claim upon which relief can be granted against Sacramento County, the Sacramento County Police Department and the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office. Thus, plaintiff's claims against Sacramento County, the Sacramento County Police Department and the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office must be dismissed.

III. THE COMPLAINT FAILS TO STATE A CLAIM AGAINST JAN SCULLY AND DAWN BALDET UNDER SECTION 1983

A person "subjects" another to the deprivation of a constitutional right within the meaning of Section 1983 if he or she "does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts, or omits to perform an act which he [or she] is legally required to do" that causes the complained-of deprivation. Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978); see also Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989) (Section 1983 liability requires personal participation in deprivation). Here, plaintiff alleges that he was deprived of his personal property, including his travel documents, identification documents, phone notebooks, bank account numbers and university and college diplomas, and that the deprivation resulted in a restriction in plaintiff's freedom to travel. Plaintiff does not allege that Jan Scully or Dawn Baldet participated in, or omitted to perform, an act that they were required to do, which resulted in harm to plaintiff. Plaintiff has, therefore, failed to state a claim against Jan Scully and Dawn Baldet under Section 1983.*fn2

IV. PLAINTIFF FAILS TO STATE A CLAIM FOR CONSPIRACY

42 U.S.C. Section 1985 proscribes conspiracies to interfere with certain civil rights. At a minimum, a claim under Section 1985 must allege a factual basis for the allegation that defendants conspired together. A mere allegation of conspiracy without factual specificity is insufficient. See Karim-Panahi, 839 F.2d at 626. The complaint must contain more than conclusory allegations. Price v. Hawaii, 939 F.2d 702, 707-08 (9th Cir. 1991).

Here, plaintiff has not alleged facts showing that defendants conspired together to violate plaintiff's rights or deprive him of his property. Because plaintiff has failed to make specific factual allegations to support a conspiracy claim, the allegations of the Complaint are insufficient to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

In addition, plaintiff does not specify the subsection under which his Section 1985 claim arises. To the extent plaintiff is attempting to state a claim under the second clause of Section 1985(2) or under the first clause of Section 1985(3), his claims fail for lack of discriminatory animus. Both the first clause of Section 1985(3) and the second clause of Section 1985(2) require that the conspirators' actions be motivated by a racial or "perhaps otherwise class-based" invidiously discriminatory animus. Griffin v. Breckenridge, 403 U.S. 88, 102 (1971); Usher v. City of Los Angeles, 828 F.2d 556, 561 (9th Cir. 1987). Plaintiff has not alleged that defendants acted pursuant to a discriminatory animus.

Moreover, to the extent plaintiff is trying to state a claim for the deprivation of property under color of state law, the Court notes that such a deprivation of property, whether negligent or intentional, does not constitute a violation of the procedural requirements of the due process clause if state law affords the plaintiff a meaningful post-deprivation remedy. Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 533 (1984) (no due process deprivation where state prisoner's personal property was intentionally destroyed because the state had made available adequate post-deprivation remedy at law); Barnett v. Centoni, 31 F.3d 813, 816 (9th Cir. 1994). The Ninth Circuit has held that California law provides an adequate post-deprivation remedy for any loss of property. Barnett, 31 F.3d at 816 (citing Cal. Gov't Code §§ 810-895); O'Neal v. Price, 531 F.3d 1146, 1148 (9th Cir. 2008). Whether a plaintiff succeeds in redressing his or her loss through the available state remedies is immaterial; the existence of these alternate remedies bar a Section 1983 procedural due process claim. Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535 (1981), overruled on other grounds by Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 330-31 (1986); see Brogan v. San Mateo County, 901 F.2d 762, 764 (9th Cir. 1990); see also Willoughby v. Luster, 717 F. Supp 1439, 1443 (D. Nev. 1989).

As discussed above, plaintiff has failed to establish a civil rights claim upon which relief can be granted. The Court will, however, afford plaintiff another opportunity to cure the deficiencies of his Complaint. See Noll, 809 F.2d at 1448. The Complaint, therefore, is DISMISSED WITH LEAVE TO AMEND.

If plaintiff desires to pursue this action, plaintiff is ORDERED to file a First Amended Complaint within thirty (30) days of the date of this Order, remedying the deficiencies discussed above. If plaintiff chooses to file a First Amended Complaint, it should bear the docket number assigned in this case; be labeled "First Amended Complaint"; and be complete in and of itself without reference to the original Complaint or any other pleading, attachment or document. The Clerk is directed to provide plaintiff with a blank Central District civil rights complaint form, which plaintiff will need to completely fill out and submit. Plaintiff is admonished that, if he fails to timely file a First Amended Complaint, the Court will recommend that the action be dismissed on the grounds set forth above and for failure to diligently prosecute.


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