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Tater-Alexander v. County of Fresno

June 18, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandra M. Snyder United States Magistrate Judge


(Doc. 2)

Screening Order

Plaintiff Michael Tater-Alexander challenges the constitutionality of California Vehicle Code § 4760, which requires the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to refuse to renew a vehicle's registration if the owner or lessee has been mailed a notice of a delinquent parking violation. Plaintiff, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed his complaint on June 10, 2010. He seeks damages and equitable relief. This matter has been referred to the magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rules 72-302 and 72-304.

I. Screening Requirement

A court has inherent power to control its docket and the disposition of its cases with economy of time and effort for both the court and the parties. Landis v. North American Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254-55 (1936); Ferdik v. Bonzelet, 963 F.2d 1258, 1260 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 915 (1992). In cases in which the plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court must screen the complaint and must dismiss it at any time if it concludes that the action or appeal is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim on 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). "Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action or appeal . . . fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

II. Background

A. Contesting Parking Tickets in California

California law considers parking violations as civil offenses subject to civil penalties and administrative enforcement. California Vehicle Code §§ 40200, 40203.5(b). The statutory scheme sets forth a two-step process for contesting a parking ticket. First, within 21 days of the issuance of the ticket the person may request review by the processing agency. California Vehicle Code § 40215(a). The processing agency must then conduct an investigation, either with its own staff or by the issuing agency. California Vehicle Code §§ 40215(a)(1).) If the person is not satisfied with the results of this initial review, he or she may then request "administrative review," consisting of a hearing before an examiner. California Vehicle Code § 40215(a). The request for administrative review must be made within 21 days following the mailing of the results of the initial review.

California Vehicle Code § 40215(b). The person requesting an administrative hearing shall deposit the full amount of the parking penalty or shall follow the processing agency's procedure for providing satisfactory proof of an inability to pay the amount due. California Vehicle Code § 40215(b). After exhausting this administrative review process, the contestant may obtain judicial review of the decision of the hearing examiner by filing an appeal in the superior court. California Vehicle Code § 40230.

If the parking violator does not contest the parking ticket and does not pay the parking penalty, the processing agency may notify the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and the DMV must then collect the unpaid penalties when the vehicle's registration is renewed. California Vehicle Code § 4760; 40220(a). In the alternative, if the violator has accumulated more than $400 in unpaid parking tickets, or if the vehicle's registration is not renewed, then proof of the unpaid parking tickets may be filed with the court with the same effect as a civil judgment. California Vehicle Code § 40220(b) & (c).

B. Alleged Facts

On April 21, 2009, Plaintiff received a parking ticket from Defendant Fresno County. Plaintiff alleges that he filed a "timely" request to dismiss the ticket, but provides no factual detail from which the Court can evaluate his legal conclusion. Plaintiff also does not disclose the basis of his request to dismiss the ticket. In an administrative decision dated May 26, 2009, and postmarked May 29, 2009, Fresno County denied Plaintiff's request, finding insufficient evidence to dismiss.

On June 15, 2009, Plaintiff received a notice from Fresno County advising him that the unpaid fine had doubled to $70.00 and that his vehicle registration could be withheld. On June 16, 2009, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing.

On July 17, 2009, the registration of Plaintiff's van expired. Because Plaintiff had not paid the parking ticket, the California Department of Motor Vehicles refused to reregister it. Plaintiff asked DMV for a hearing, which it denied.

Plaintiff continued to drive the van even though it was no longer registered. On September 6, 2009, Plaintiff was stopped by officers of Defendant Clovis Police Department and cited for driving an unregistered vehicle in violation of California Vehicle Code § 4000(a)(1). Plaintiff apparently refused to sign the citation and was arrested, handcuffed and taken to the emergency room of Defendant Community Regional Medical Center. Plaintiff alleges that hospital personnel tortured him by denying him his medicine for fourteen hours and denying his request to call his attorneys. Plaintiff reports that he only signed the citation under protest after he sensed that he was becoming hypoglycemic.

According to Plaintiff, the citation was tried in the Clovis branch of California Superior Court. Plaintiff complains that the court denied his request to call expert witnesses from DMV. Plaintiff also complains that Fresno County, DMV, and the Superior Court have denied his requests for administrative hearings. On September 1, 2009, Plaintiff filed a damages claim with Fresno County, which was denied on December 10, 2009.

C. Pleading Standards

"Rule 8(a)'s simplified pleading standard applies to all civil actions, with limited exceptions," none of which applies to § 1983 actions. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002). Pursuant to Rule 8(a), 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). "Such a statement must simply give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 512. Detailed factual allegations are not required, but "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of the cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ___ U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009), citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (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 conclusions are not. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949.

Although accepted as true, "[f]actual allegations must be [sufficient] to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted). A plaintiff must set forth "the grounds of his entitlement to relief," which "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Id. at 555-56 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). To adequately state a claim against a defendant, plaintiff must set forth the legal and factual basis for his claim.

Emphasizing legal conclusions but providing minimal facts, Plaintiff's complaint fails to satisfy these basic pleading requirements. The complaint simply does not provide sufficient facts to permit the Court to evaluate Plaintiff's claims. If Plaintiff elects to amend his complaint, as this screening order permits him to do, his factual allegations must establish the elements from which the Court may draw legal conclusions, rather than asserting legal conclusions without factual background. For example, at paragraph 22, Plaintiff alleges that he "has timely complied with all of the provisions of the law as it relates to the parking ticket," but he does not set forth sufficient facts for the Court to evaluate the timeliness and legal sufficiency of his claim and reach a legal conclusion. Similarly, Plaintiff repeatedly refers to the unlawful withholding of his vehicle registrations but never alleges facts from which the Court could evaluate the lawfulness of DMV's actions. In short, because Plaintiff primarily alleges labels and conclusions, without fully alleging the facts on which they are based, the complaint fails to state a cognizable claim.

III. Preliminary Matters

Before addressing Plaintiff's claims in detail, the Court will set forth matters common to all or many of Plaintiff's claims. If Plaintiff elects to amend his complaint, he must address these common or recurring deficiencies.

A. Misnumbered Claims

Although the last claim is denominated "Eighteenth Cause of Action," the complaint alleges only thirteen causes of action. No claims three, nine, ten, or thirteen appear within the complaint. In addition, claim eighteen, "Injunctive Relief Against All Defendants," is not a cause of action but a form of relief to which Plaintiff may be entitled based on his establishing one or more cognizable claims. Finally, numerous causes of action are implied within Plaintiff's "Factual Allegations," but are not separately set forth as claims. If Plaintiff elects to amend the ...

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