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Winters v. Jordan

July 19, 2010

BRENT ALLEN WINTERS, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DELORES JORDAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Presently before the court*fn1 is a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) filed by the following defendants: Nevada County Superior Court Judges Thomas A. Anderson and Candace Heidelberger; Nevada County Superior Court clerks Delores Spindler, Hilary Berardi (formerly known as Hilary Burget), Connie Beckett, Audrey Golden, Kiira Jefferson, Teresa Long; and Nevada County Superior Court Executive Officer/Clerk of Court Sean Metroka (on occasion referred to collectively as the "Judicial Defendants"). (Dkt. No. 107.) The court heard this matter on its law and motion calendar on March 25, 2010. Deputy Attorney General Daniel B. Alweiss appeared on behalf of the moving defendants. Plaintiffs, who are proceeding without counsel,*fn2 did not appear and, just prior to the hearing, noticed their intent to rely on their written submissions. (Dkt. No. 113.) The undersigned has fully considered the parties' briefs and the record in this case and, for the reasons that follow, recommends that the Judicial Defendants' motion to dismiss be granted.

I. BACKGROUND*fn3

Plaintiffs' operative complaint, the Third Amended Complaint,*fn4 is a wide-ranging, 25-page complaint that alleges, in eight-point font, 38 claims for relief against 61 defendants. (Dkt. No. 66.) In dismissing plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 15), which spanned 163 pages and 607 numbered paragraphs, the court ordered that plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint could not exceed 25 pages and must conform to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), including the requirement that the pleading contain a short and plain statement of the claims alleged instead of recounting all of the evidence and arguments in support of those claims.*fn5 (Dkt. No. 56 at 3.) The court had stated that "[t]his will be plaintiffs' last chance to comply." (Id.)

The claims against the Judicial Defendants at issue here are, in a sense, collateral to an underlying internecine family dispute. The Third Amended Complaint alleges that plaintiff Susan Winters' elderly parents, Joe and Virginia Armstrong, encouraged plaintiffs Susan and Brent Winters to sell their house in Illinois and move to Nevada City, California, to live with the Armstrongs. (Third Am. Compl. at 4.) Plaintiffs allege that before plaintiffs returned to California, Joe Armstrong passed away and Virginia Armstrong transferred properties from the Armstrong Living Trust dated July 29, 1994, to the Virginia Armstrong Living Trust. (Id.) Plaintiffs allege that Virginia Armstrong took these actions due, in part, to the undue influence of defendants Valerie Logsdon and Michael Armstrong. (Id.)

Relevant here, the relationship between Virginia Armstrong and plaintiffs resulted in proceedings in the Nevada County Superior Court.*fn6 Plaintiffs allege that Valerie Logsdon, an attorney for Virginia Armstrong, filed an unlawful detainer action against some of the plaintiffs. (Id. at 5-6.) Plaintiffs further allege that when they attempted to file an answer in the unlawful detainer action, the superior court clerks rejected the filing as untimely and entered an allegedly improper default judgment. (Id. at 6.) Plaintiffs allege that they were thus directed to file a motion to set aside the default judgment. (Id.)

Plaintiffs also allege that they had an additional confrontation with court security officers at the courthouse and that Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderson eventually drafted an allegedly defamatory "personal memo" regarding the confrontation with court security and the court clerks that was inserted in each of the four Superior Court cases to which plaintiffs were parties. (Id. at 7-8.)

Furthermore, plaintiffs allege that Judge Anderson, on his own motion, subsequently began proceedings against plaintiffs in connection with a restraining order "in protection of Virginia Armstrong." (Id. at 7.) Judge Anderson also allegedly appointed counsel sua sponte for Virginia Armstrong, Dewey Harpainter, whom plaintiffs have also sued. (Id.) Plaintiffs allege that Harpainter trespassed on the plaintiffs' property and that they eventually sought a restraining order against Harpainter. (Id.) Judge Anderson denied that application for a restraining order. (Id. at 7-8.)

Plaintiffs also allege that Susan Winters filed a petition for conservatorship of Virginia Armstrong, which Judge Anderson denied. (Id.)

Plaintiffs allege that the superior court clerks refused, on Judge Anderson's orders, to file plaintiffs' papers seeking to dismiss the unlawful detainer and restraining order actions, but that plaintiffs were able to set up a meeting with the court executive, Sean Metroka. (Id. at 8-9.) Plaintiffs allege that Metroka verbally berated them and informed them that he would not dismiss the actions at issue. (Id.) It appears, however, that the unlawful detainer action was eventually dismissed and the restraining orders were vacated. (Id. at 9, 10.)

Plaintiffs also allege that in connection with a June 5, 2008 hearing before Judge Anderson, Judge Anderson and court staff refused to turn on a court-provided hearing device for Virginia Armstrong, who is a defendant in action before this court. (Id. at 9.) They allege that Judge Anderson also refused to file "objections" to the "personal memo" referenced above. (Id.)

Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint alleges the following claims against Nevada County Superior Court Judge Thomas A. Anderson: abuse of process (claim 6); violation of equal protection (claim 7); violation of Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment due process rights (claim 8); trespass to chattels (claim 13); violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (claim 14); civil conspiracy in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (claim 15); civil conspiracy (claim 18); slander, slander per se, libel and libel per se (claim 21); invasion of privacy (claim 25); violation of plaintiffs' First Amendment right to petition for redress of grievances (claim 26); violation of plaintiffs' First Amendment right to religious expression (claim 27); violation of plaintiffs' Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms (claim 28); conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), 18 U.S.C. 1962(d) (claim 31); respondeat superior liability for court staff's actions (claim 35); loss of consortium (claim 36); and intentional infliction of emotional distress (claim 38).

Plaintiffs allege the following claims against Nevada County Superior Court Judge Candace Heidelberger: abuse of process (claim 6); trespass to chattels (claim 13); violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (claim 14); civil conspiracy in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (claim 15); civil conspiracy (claim 18); violation of plaintiffs' First Amendment right to petition for redress of grievances (claim 26); conspiracy to violate the RICO statute (claim 31); loss of consortium (claim 36); and intentional infliction of emotional distress (claim 38).

With respect to the Nevada County Superior Court Staff, plaintiffs allege the following claims against Nevada County Superior Court Executive Officer/Clerk of Court Sean Metroka: abuse of process (claim 6); trespass to chattels (claim 13); violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (claim 14); civil conspiracy in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (claim 15); civil conspiracy (claim 18); violation of plaintiffs' First Amendment right to petition for redress of grievances (claim 26); violation of plaintiffs' Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms (claim 28); conspiracy to violate the RICO statute (claim 31); respondeat superior liability for court staff's actions (claim 33); loss of consortium (claim 36); and intentional infliction of emotional distress (claim 38).

Plaintiffs allege the same claims against Nevada County Superior Court clerks Teresa Long, Delores Spindler, and Audrey Golden as they alleged against court executive Metroka, except that they have not alleged a claims for respondeat superior liability against these defendants (claim 33) and have not alleged a claim for violation of plaintiff's Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms (claim 28) against defendants Long and Golden.

Plaintiffs allege the following claims against Nevada County Superior Court clerk Kiira Jefferson: abuse of process (claim 6); trespass to chattels (claim 13); violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (claim 14); civil conspiracy in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (claim 15); civil conspiracy (claim 18); conspiracy to violate the RICO statute (claim 31); loss of consortium (claim 36); and intentional infliction of emotional distress (claim 38).

Finally, plaintiffs allege the following claims against Nevada County Superior Court clerks Connie Beckett and Hilary Burget: abuse of process (claim 6); violation of Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment due process rights (claim 8); trespass to chattels (claim 13); violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (claim 14); civil conspiracy in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (claim 15); civil conspiracy (claim 18); violation of plaintiffs' First Amendment right to petition for redress of grievances (claim 26); violation of plaintiffs' Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms (claim 28); conspiracy to violate the RICO statute (claim 31); loss of consortium (claim 36); and intentional infliction of emotional distress (claim 38).

The Judicial Defendants filed their motion to dismiss on the grounds that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the claims asserted against them, and, alternatively, plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint fails to state claims upon which relief can be granted. (See generally Dkt. Nos. 107, 111.) Plaintiffs filed an opposition to the motion to dismiss, which has been of marginal assistance to the court because it is scattered, unfocused, and does not address all of the Judicial Defendants' arguments in favor of dismissal. (See Dkt. No. 110.) Nonetheless, the undersigned has fully considered that opposition in arriving at the findings and recommendations stated below.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) challenges the court's subject matter jurisdiction. Federal district courts are courts of limited jurisdiction that "may not grant relief absent a constitutional or valid statutory grant of jurisdiction," and "[a] federal court is presumed to lack jurisdiction in a particular case unless the contrary affirmatively appears." A-Z Int'l v. Phillips, 323 F.3d 1141, 1145 (9th Cir. 2003) (citations and quotation marks omitted). When ruling on a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the court takes the allegations in the complaint as true. Wolfe v. Strankman, 392 F.3d 358, 362 (9th Cir. 2004). However, the court is not restricted to the face of the pleadings and "may review any evidence, such as affidavits and testimony, to resolve factual disputes concerning the existence of jurisdiction." McCarthy v. United States, 850 F.2d 558, 560 (9th Cir. 1988) (collecting cases), cert. denied, 489 U.S. 1052 (1989); see also Warren v. Fox Family Worldwide, Inc., 328 F.3d 1136, 1139 (9th Cir. 2003) ("A jurisdictional challenge under Rule 12(b)(1) may be made either on the face of the pleadings or by presenting extrinsic evidence.").

A motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the pleadings set forth in the complaint. Vega v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 654 F. Supp. 2d 1104, 1109 (E.D. Cal. 2009). Under the "notice pleading" standard of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a plaintiff's complaint must provide, in part, a "short and plain statement" of plaintiff's claims showing entitlement to relief. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2); see also Paulsen v. CNF, Inc., 559 F.3d 1061, 1071 (9th Cir. 2009). "A complaint may survive a motion to dismiss if, taking all well-pleaded factual allegations as true, it contains 'enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Coto Settlement v. Eisenberg, 593 F.3d 1031, 1034 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ___ U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)). "'A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual ...


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