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Sedillo v. Makela

February 6, 2009

ANDREW JOSEPH SEDILLO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LINDA MAKELA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Michael Seabright United States District Judge

ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT WITH LEAVE TO AMEND

On April 7, 2008, pro se prisoner Plaintiff Andrew Joseph Sedillo ("Plaintiff") filed his Complaint alleging claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On January 5, 2009, this action was reassigned to the undersigned. Based on the following, the court DISMISSES Plaintiff's Complaint with LEAVE TO AMEND.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or an employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if a plaintiff has raised claims that are legally frivolous or malicious, that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2).

A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1227-28 (9th Cir. 1984). The court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. The critical inquiry is whether a constitutional claim, however inartfully pleaded, has an arguable legal and factual basis. See Jackson v. Arizona, 885 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1989); Franklin, 745 F.2d at 1227.

The court must construe pro se pleadings liberally and afford the pro se litigant the benefit of any doubt. Morrison v. Hall, 261 F.3d 896, 899 n.2 (9th Cir. 2001); Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). "Unless it is absolutely clear that no amendment can cure the defect . . ., a pro se litigant is entitled to notice of the complaint's deficiencies and an opportunity to amend prior to dismissal of the action." Lucas v. Dep't of Corr., 66 F.3d 245, 248 (9th Cir. 1995); see also Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).

II. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff states claims against the Clerk of San Mateo County Court Linda Makela ("Makela"), his attorney Linda Ann Novak ("Novak"), and two individuals at Mule Creek State Prison, K.A. Johnson ("Johnson") and "_. Martinez" ("Martinez"). The Complaint alleges that after Plaintiff delivered administrative notices to Makela and Novak, they called Mule Creek State Prison to stop Plaintiff from filing such documents. Compl. ¶ III(1-2). As a result, Johnson and Martinez ordered Plaintiff to cease delivering any papers to San Mateo County or agents of the County. Id. ¶ 2. Johnson further demanded that Plaintiff obey this order or face disciplinary action. Id. ¶ 4. Based on the following, these allegations are insufficient to state a claim.

A. Claims Against Clerk of San Mateo County Court Linda Makela

"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. Bankr. Ct. for Dist. of Nev., 828 F.2d 1385, 1390 (9th Cir. 1987); see also Simmons v. Sacramento County Super. Ct., 318 F.3d 1156, 1161 (9th Cir. 2003); In re Castillo, 297 F.3d 940, 947 (9th Cir. 2002); Greater L.A. Council on Deafness, Inc. v. Zolin, 812 F.2d 1103, 1110 & n.10 (9th Cir. 1987). Generally, judicial immunity extends to such employees where "their judgments are 'functionally comparable' to those of judges -- that is, because they, too, exercise a discretionary judgment as a part of their function." Antoine v. Byers & Anderson, Inc., 508 U.S. 429, 436 (1993) (citation and quotation signals omitted). This immunity, however, also extends to "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 at 952 (citations omitted).

Plaintiff alleges a claim against Makela on the basis that she called Mule Creek State Prison to have Plaintiff stop filing administrative notices. Makela's alleged misconduct -- i.e., determining whether to docket a document and contacting individuals when such documents will no longer be accepted --falls squarely within Makela's discretion in carrying out her duties as Clerk of San Mateo County Court. Indeed, the Ninth Circuit has specifically found that court clerks are immune from claims based on their refusal to file documents. See Mullis, 828 F.2d at 1390 (finding that clerks who initially accepted and filed plaintiff's petition and who later refused to accept an amended petition were entitled to immunity); Sedgwick v. United States, 265 Fed. Appx. 567 (2008) (finding claim against Clerk of Supreme Court for refusing to file premature petition for writ of certiori was barred due to absolute quasi-judicial immunity).

Accordingly, the court finds that Makela is immune from Plaintiff's claims. At present, the court does not see how Plaintiff can state a claim against Makela where she was acting within her role as Clerk of San Mateo County. To the extent Plaintiff believes he can allege some facts that would overcome Makela's quasi-judicial immunity, the court gives Plaintiff the opportunity to amend this claim. Accordingly, the court DISMISSES the Plaintiff's claims against Makela WITH LEAVE TO AMEND.

B. Claims Against Novak

To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must plead (1) that the defendant acted under color of state law and (2) that the defendant deprived him of rights secured by the Constitution or federal statutes. Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, ...


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