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Coulter v. Murrell

July 13, 2010

MICHAEL R. COULTER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GREGORY L. MURRELL; AGDA B. SHELLEY; AND MICHAEL RODDY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irma E. Gonzalez, Chief Judge United States District Court

ORDER: (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT GREGORY MURRELL'S MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF'S FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT (Doc. No. 24); and (2) GRANTING DEFENDANT GREGORY MURRELL'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES AND COSTS (Doc. No. 25).

Presently before the Court is Defendant Gregory L. Murrell's ("Defendant") motion to dismiss Plaintiff Michael Coulter's ("Plaintiff") First Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 24.) Also before the Court is Defendant's motion for attorneys' fees and costs, pursuant to the California anti-SLAPP motion to strike, California Code of Civil Procedure § 425.16. (Doc. No. 25.)

These motions are suitable for disposition without oral argument pursuant to Local Civil Rule 7.1(d)(1). For the reasons set forth herein, the Court GRANTS both motions.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The following facts are drawn from Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint ("FAC"). This matter involves Plaintiff's state Superior Court lawsuit against the estate of Daniel T. Shelley for money owed him from a joint investment. Defendant is the attorney representing the estate of Daniel T. Shelley in Plaintiff's state court action.

According to Plaintiff, Defendant obtained a Request for Dismissal of the state court action from Plaintiff on an "outdated form," knowing the form would not be accepted by the state court clerk's office. Plaintiff alleges Defendant's actions prevented him from proceeding with the state court action, in violation of his due process rights. In addition, during the six-month period between the date Plaintiff signed the Request for Dismissal and the date the state court finally dismissed the action, the estate of Daniel T. Shelley was depleted, leaving nothing to satisfy his claims. Plaintiff alleges Defendant acted under color of state law, by "previously confirming with the state court clerk's office . . . that the outdated dismissal would not be accepted."

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On January 14, 2010, Plaintiff proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis filed a Complaint in this Court against Defendants Murrell, Agda Shelley (Daniel T. Shelley's wife), and Michael Roddy (Executive Officer of the Superior Court Clerk's Office). The original Complaint alleged eight causes of action: (1) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) fraud; (3) breach of contract; (4) partnership accounting; (5) money had and received; (6) conspiracy; (7) negligence; and (8) a request for preliminary and permanent injunctions. (Doc. No. 1.) Defendant filed an anti-SLAPP special motion to strike the causes of action against him for fraud, conspiracy, and violation of § 1983. (Doc. No. 5.) At the same time, Defendant also filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the § 1983 cause of action. (Doc. No. 6.)

On March 30, 2010, the Court granted Defendant's anti-SLAPP motion, and dismissed Plaintiff's fraud and conspiracy claims with prejudice. The Court further ordered that Defendant was entitled to mandatory attorneys' fees, under the anti-SLAPP statute. The Court also granted Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's § 1983 cause of action, finding Plaintiff had not sufficiently alleged Defendant was acting under color of state law. (Doc. No. 21.)

On April 20, 2010, Plaintiff filed the FAC, alleging one cause of action for violation of § 1983. Defendant subsequently filed the instant Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the FAC, again arguing Plaintiff failed to sufficiently allege state action. Plaintiff filed an opposition, and Defendant filed a reply. Defendant also filed the instant motion for attorneys' fees and costs incurred in connection with his successful anti-SLAPP motion. Plaintiff has not filed an opposition to the motion for attorneys' fees. The Court addresses each motion in turn.

DISCUSSION

I. Motion to Dismiss

A. Legal Standard

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the claims asserted in the complaint. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 731 (9th Cir. 2001). The court must accept all factual allegations pled in the complaint as true, and must construe them and draw all reasonable inferences from them in favor of the nonmoving party. Cahill v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 337-38 (9th Cir.1996). To avoid a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, a complaint must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted). A court need not accept "legal conclusions" as true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ---, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). In spite of the deference the court is bound to pay to the plaintiff's allegations, it is not proper ...


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