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Collins v. Planning Commission of the City of Madera

May 19, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge



On April 12, 2010, Plaintiffs filed a First Amended Complaint ("FAC") in this matter. (Doc. 4.) The complaint is signed by Jay D. Yount, Nancy Yount and Lynn M. Collins, as President, Vice President and Secretary, respectively, of the Jay & Andrew Yount Family Preservation Society, Inc. Named defendants include the Madera City Planning Commission, Dennis Wright, Kenny Schoettler and Willie Hibdon.


A. Screening Standard

Pursuant to Title 28 of the United States Code Section 1915(e)(2), the Court has reviewed the complaint for sufficiency to state a claim. The court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if it determines that the action is legally "frivolous or malicious," fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the Court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question (Hospital Bldg. Co. v. Trustees of Rex Hospital, 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976)), construe the pro se pleadings liberally in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff (Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 447 (9th Cir. 2000)), and resolve all doubts in the Plaintiff's favor (Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969)).

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)(2). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007)). Plaintiff must set forth "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). While factual allegations are accepted as true, legal conclusion are not. Id. at 1949.

If the Court determines that the complaint fails to state a claim, leave to amend should be granted to the extent that the deficiencies of the complaint can be cured by amendment. Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000). Dismissal of a pro se complaint for failure to state a claim is proper only where it is obvious that the Plaintiff cannot prevail on the facts that he has alleged and that an opportunity to amend would be futile. Lopez, at 1128.

A claim is frivolous if it lacks an arguable basis either in law or fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989). A frivolous claim is based on an inarguable legal conclusion or a fanciful factual allegation. Id. A federal court may dismiss a claim as frivolous if it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or if the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Id.

B. The Parties

Jay D. Yount, Nancy Yount and Lynn M. Collins, as President, Vice President and Secretary, respectively, of the Jay & Andrew Yount Family Preservation Society, Inc. ("YFPSI"), seek relief from various defendants. It is not clear whether Plaintiffs seek to bring claims as individual Plaintiffs or whether they simply wish to assert the claims on behalf of YFPSI.

Plaintiffs are advised that a "corporation may appear in the federal courts only through licensed counsel." Rowland v. California Men's Colony, 506 U.S. 194, 202, 113 S.Ct. 716, 721 (1993); United States v. High Country Broadcasting Co., Inc., 3 F.3d 1244, 1245 (9th Cir. 1993); see also Osborn v. President of Bank of United States, 9 Wheat. 738, 829, 6 L.Ed. 204 (1824); Turner v. American Bar Ass'n, 407 F.Supp. 451, 476 (N.D. Tex. 1975) (citing the "long line of cases" from 1824 to the present holding that a corporation may only be represented by licensed counsel). All artificial entities must appear in federal court through counsel. Rowland, 506 U.S. at 202. Additionally, this Court's Local Rule 183(a) provides: "A corporation or other entity may appear only by an attorney." Jay D. Yount, Nancy Yount and Lynn M. Collins are not licensed to practice law and therefore may not bring suit on behalf of YFPSI.

Because it is not clear from the FAC whether Plaintiffs seek to assert claims in their individual capacities, or only on behalf of YFPSI, they will be given an opportunity to amend their complaint accordingly.

C. Rule 8(a)

As Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states, a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim." The rule expresses the principle of notice-pleading, whereby the pleader need only give the opposing party fair notice of a claim. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). Rule 8(a) does not require an elaborate recitation of every fact a plaintiff may ultimately rely upon at trial, but only a statement sufficient to "give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Id., at 47.

Plaintiffs will be given an opportunity to amend portions of their complaint to comply with Rule 8(a). In the paragraphs that follow, the Court will provide Plaintiffs with the legal standards that appear to apply to their claims. Plaintiffs should carefully review the standards and amend only those claims that they believe, in good faith, are cognizable. Plaintiffs are advised that their second amended complaint must contain all necessary allegations. Moreover, if Plaintiffs wish to allege causes of action, they must separate each claim and state facts in support of each individual claim against each defendant.

D. Plaintiffs' Allegations

Plaintiffs appear to assert some twenty-four causes of action.*fn1 Statutory references have been included at the conclusion of the numbered paragraphs. Generally speaking, Plaintiffs allege violations of "the Brown Act or S.B. 1732," California Civil Code section 1573, California Business and Professions Code section 17001, California Government Code sections 65583 and 65589.5, and Title 18 of the United States Code sections 241, 242 and 245. Apparently these purported violations occurred during a September 8, 2009, meeting regarding Plaintiffs' application for a Conditional Use Permit to operate a "room and board" home in Madera County. Plaintiffs assert certain members of the Planning Commission acted improperly, and as a result, have violated various statutory regulations and Plaintiffs' civil rights. (Doc. 4 at 2-8.)

Plaintiffs seek monetary relief of $375,000.00 to YFPSI because it "suffered at the hands of the Madera Planning Commission." Plaintiffs also seek an order of this Court "approv[ing] and validat[ing] the Conditional Use Permit [of YFPSI] in the City and County of Madera . . .." (Doc. 4 at 8.) Finally, Plaintiffs ask this Court to "have all negative comments stricken from the September 8, 2009, notes of the Planning Commission made against . . . Lynn M. Collins," and that Collins and YFPSI be awarded punitive damages. (Doc. 4 at 9.)

1. The Brown Act

Plaintiffs assert a number of purported violations of the "Brown Act or S.B. 1732." (Doc. 4 at 2-8, ¶¶ 1, 5, 9, 11-13, 18-19.)

"The Brown Act requires that most meetings of a local agency's legislative body be open to the public for attendance by all." Los Angeles Times Communications v. Los Angeles County Bd. of Supervisors, 112 Cal.App.4th 1313, 1321, 5 Cal.Rptr.3d 776 (2003). Its objectives include facilitating public participation in local government decisions and curbing misuse of the democratic process by secret legislation. Fischer v. Los Angeles Unified School Dist., 70 Cal.App.4th 87, 95, 82 Cal.Rptr.2d 452 (1999). The Legislature declared its intent in enacting the Brown Act as follows:

In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly. [ΒΆ] The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what ...

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