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Smith v. City of Vallejo

June 9, 2010


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


I. Introduction

Plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding without counsel and in forma pauperis, seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the court is a motion to dismiss filed by defendants Greenberg, Estudillo, and Messina.*fn1 These defendants contend plaintiff's claims are barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel and Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), but that in any event, plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Plaintiff filed an opposition on February 25, 2010. For the reasons that follow, the court recommends that the motion be granted and this action be dismissed.

II. Request for Judicial Notice

On August 14, 2009, defendants filed a request for judicial notice ("RJN") (Dkt. No. 22, attachment 1.) A court may take judicial notice of court records. See, e.g., Bennett v. Medtronic, Inc., 285 F.3d 801, 803 n.2 (9th Cir. 2002) ("[W]e 'may take notice of proceedings in other courts, both within and without the federal judicial system, if those proceedings have a direct relation to matters at issue'"). Therefore, this court takes judicial notice of the court records in the following cases: 1) the California Court of Appeal opinion in People v. Anthony Craig Smith, 172 Cal. App. 4th 1354, 1358-59, 92 Cal. Rptr. 3d 106, 110 (2009) (finding the officer's search of plaintiff's underwear satisfied the Fourth Amendment and affirming the trial court's denial of plaintiff's motion to suppress the evidence obtained during that search); 2) plaintiff's appeal of his conviction to the Court of Appeal, First Appellate District Division Five, Case No. A120331 (RJN, Ex. 2).

III. Motion to Dismiss

Background On August 21, 2007, plaintiff filed the instant civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff brings a Fourth Amendment claim for an unlawful search by defendants Greenberg, Estudillo and Messina.*fn2

Plaintiff alleges the following: On June 23, 2006, while sitting in a car in a motel parking lot, he was approached by a Vallejo Police Officer. After learning he was on parole, defendants handcuffed and pat-searched him, and then searched his vehicle. Plaintiff contends there was no evidence to detain him further, but that defendants Greenberg, Estudillo, and Messina then violated his Fourth Amendment rights by strip-searching him in a public motel parking lot during check-out hours. Plaintiff alleges two officers held him while a third officer "pulled down [his] pants and underwear exposing [him] to the public." (Complt. at 3.)

Evidence discovered during the search led to plaintiff's arrest for six felony counts, including transportation of heroin, cocaine base and methamphetamine (Cal. Health & Safety Code §§ 11352(a), 11379(b)), and possession of narcotics for sale (Cal. Health & Safety Code §§ 11351, 11351.5, 11378). People v. Anthony Craig Smith, 172 Cal. App. 4th 1354, 1358-59, 92 Cal. Rptr. 3d 106, 110 (2009). Sentence enhancements were alleged in the information as follows: five prior felony convictions (three for narcotics) and four prior prison terms. Id. Ultimately, plaintiff pled no contest to all charges and admitted the prior convictions and prison terms. Id. at 1359. Plaintiff's conviction was affirmed by the state appellate court on April 9, 2009. (RJN, Ex. 2 at 26, 28.)

Plaintiff seeks damages allegedly resulting from the violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, public humiliation, mental pain and suffering, and the loss of his job. (Complt. at 5.)

Based on state court records and plaintiff's complaint and attachments, defendants filed a motion to dismiss on August 14, 2009, arguing, inter alia, that collateral estoppel applies to preclude plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff filed an opposition on February 25, 2010.

Legal Standards

A motion brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is a challenge to the sufficiency of the pleading. For purposes of ruling on such a motion, the court must take as true the material facts alleged in the complaint. Hospital Bldg. Co. v. Trustees of Rex Hosp., 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976); Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969). The court must liberally construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jenkins, 395 U.S. at 421; Meek v. County of Riverside, 183 F.3d 962, 965 (9th Cir. 1999). Pro se pleadings must be held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972), and the court must liberally construe a pro se litigant's inartful pleading, Ortez v. Washington County, 88 F.3d 804, 807 (9th Cir. 1996). A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim should not be granted unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claims which would entitle him to relief. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Palmer v. Roosevelt Lake Log Owners Ass'n, 651 F.2d 1289, 1294 (9th Cir. 1981).

Issue preclusion or collateral estoppel may apply when § 1983 plaintiffs attempt to relitigate in federal court issues decided against them in state criminal proceedings. Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94, 103 (1980) (rules of collateral estoppel apply to civil rights actions, including state court judgments or decisions, civil or criminal). A state court judgment is given the same preclusive effect it would be given under the law of the state in which it was rendered. See 28 U.S.C. § 1738; Migra v. Warren City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 465 U.S. 75, 80 (1984). Thus, plaintiff is barred from relitigating claims previously decided in a state criminal action. Allen, 449 U.S. at 103-04; Ayers v. City of Richmond, 895 F.2d 1267, 1270 (9th Cir. 1990) (civil rights plaintiff was collaterally estopped from relitigating issue of whether his arrest violated the Fourth Amendment because of adverse decisions rendered in suppression hearings in his criminal prosecution). This is true even if plaintiff was not provided an opportunity to litigate his claim in federal court. See 28 ...

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