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Robinson v. Cunan

March 16, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge


Presently before the court is defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint on the grounds that (1) plaintiff's claims are barred by the doctrine of claim preclusion/res judicata, (2) plaintiff's claims are barred by the doctrine of issue preclusion/collateral estoppel, (3) defendant is entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity as to plaintiff's claims, and (4) plaintiff's claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations.*fn1 (Dkt. No. 9.) Plaintiff is proceeding without counsel.*fn2 This matter was submitted on the briefs and record without oral argument. (Dkt. No. 11.)

The undersigned has fully considered the parties' briefs and the record in this case and, for the reasons stated below, recommends that defendant's motion to dismiss be granted and that this action be dismissed with prejudice. Plaintiff's claims are barred by the doctrine of claim preclusion as a result of the court's resolution of plaintiff's prior lawsuit, Robinson v. State of California, No. 2:04-cv-01888 GEB DAD PS ("Robinson I"), which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. Robinson v. State of California, No. 05-17291, 223 Fed. Appx. 607 (9th Cir. 2007) (unpublished) ("Robinson II"), cert. denied, 552 U.S. 824 (2007). The undersigned concludes that defendant has not met his burden to demonstrate that the doctrine of issue preclusion applies in this case. In addition, because the record soundly supports the conclusion that plaintiff may not litigate claims that he could have brought in Robinson I, the undersigned does not reach defendant's alternate arguments in favor of dismissal.


A. The Earlier Action

In Robinson I, plaintiff filed a complaint in this court against the defendant in the present action, Jeff Cunan, and nearly 20 other defendants, which sought relief in connection with plaintiff's wrongful conviction and imprisonment for "possession of marijuana for sale, transporting marijuana and offering to sell, furnish or give away marijuana, all while being armed with a firearm." Robinson I, Findings & Recommendations at 3 (Dkt. No. 82). The California Court of Appeal had previously reversed plaintiff's criminal conviction on the grounds that "plaintiff did not waive his right to the assistance of counsel at his preliminary examination and was erroneously denied appointment of counsel at that preliminary examination." Id. at 3 n.3. (taking judicial notice of the California Court of Appeal's decision). As recounted by the magistrate judge in Robinson I, Magistrate Judge Drozd, plaintiff's operative second amended complaint contained headings that alleged the following: (1) "Conspiracy to Wrongfully Convict and Imprison Plaintiff"; (2) "Wrongful Conviction and Imprisonment"; (3) "Conspiracy to Violate Plaintiff's Right to be Free From Unreasonable Search and Seizure"; (4) "Violation of Plaintiff's Right to be Secure Against Unreasonable Search and Seizure; (5) Conspiracy to Violate Plaintiff's Right to the Assistance of Counsel"; and (6) "Violation of Plaintiff's Right to the Assistance of Counsel." Id. at 4-5 (noting, however, that additional, imprecise claims had been "sprinkled" throughout the operative complaint).

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, and Magistrate Judge Drozd entered findings and recommendations recommending, in relevant part, that defendants' motion be granted and that the second amended complaint be dismissed without leave to amend. Id. at 8. He found that, even after being granted leave to amend, plaintiff's operative complaint alleged claims in a manner that "the precise nature of the attempted claims... [was] unclear" and, as a result, failed to meet the "short and plain statement" requirement of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. Id. at 4-5. In addition, he concluded that the operative complaint failed to state a cognizable claim because it "does not allege how the conduct complained of has resulted in the deprivation of a right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution or federal law by a person acting under color of state law. Id. at 5-6. Specifically as to Jeff Cunan, the defendant in the present action, Magistrate Judge Drozd further concluded that Cunan was entitled to prosecutorial immunity regardless of the state trial court's errors. Id. at 6. Finally, he recommended dismissal of a claim alleged under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 because plaintiff failed "to allege specific facts from which a conspiracy between defendants could be inferred." Id. at 7 ("Additionally, plaintiff's failure to allege a § 1983 deprivation of rights precludes a § 1985 conspiracy claim predicated on the same allegations.").

The district judge in Robinson I adopted the findings and recommendations "in full" and entered judgment against plaintiff. Robinson I, Dkt. Nos. 85, 86. Plaintiff appealed the district court's order and judgment.

In relevant part, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims against the prosecutors on the ground that the prosecutors "were entitled to absolute immunity, because they were performing functions intimately associated with the judicial phase of Robinson's criminal trial." Robinson II, 223 Fed. Appx. at 608 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The Court of Appeals further held that the district court "properly concluded that Robinson failed to adequately allege that defendants conspired to violate his civil rights." Id.

B. The Present Action

On November, 2, 2009, over two years after the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari in the earlier action, plaintiff filed his complaint, which consists of a two-page document that includes a prayer for relief, and an appended statement of facts.*fn4 (See Dkt. No. 1.) Although it is difficult to discern what claims are alleged in the complaint, it appears that plaintiff alleges that he is entitled to a declaratory judgment with respect to the violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel in the state criminal proceedings. (Compl. at 1, ¶¶ 1-3.) He also appears to request injunctive relief, as quoted below. (Id. at 2.) The initial, two-page portion of the complaint only relates to plaintiff's wrongful conviction in state court.*fn5

Attached to plaintiff's complaint is a fifteen-page "statement of facts" that purports to show how "Respondent Jeff Cunan and several other Plumas County court officers conspired to wrongfully convict and imprison [plaintiff] by violating [plaintiff's] right to counsel and a spectacular array of other intentional misconduct." (Compl. at 4.) This statement, which consists of 298 paragraphs, alleges facts that begin with plaintiff's arrest in 2000, recounts plaintiff's wrongful conviction in the state courts, and concludes with the reversal of plaintiff's conviction by the California Court of Appeal in 2003. (Id. at 4-18.) None of these factual allegations refers to a present or current dispute between plaintiff and defendant despite plaintiff's conclusory allegation that such a dispute exists. (Id. at 1, ¶ 1.)

Plaintiff's complaint includes the following prayer for relief:

1. Petitioner requests that this court declare ...

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