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Joseph Robinson v. Jeff Cunan

February 23, 2011



On February 17, 2011, the court held a hearing on defendant's motion to dismiss. Plaintiff appeared in pro per. Kristine Hall appeared for defendant. Upon review of the motion and the documents in support and opposition, THE COURT FINDS AS FOLLOWS: FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This matter was commenced against defendant Jeff Cunan on September 13, 2010. Plaintiff's suit is premised on claims of wrongful imprisonment, violation of plaintiff's right to assistance of counsel, and violation of plaintiff's right to present a defense to a jury. These claims stem from plaintiff's arrest on September 27, 2000 for possession of marijuana and the ensuing criminal action in Plumas County. Attached to plaintiff's complaint is a 298-paragraph affidavit delineating the sequence of events in the state court action, from the day of his arrest to the date on which the California Court of Appeal reversed plaintiff's conviction. At all times relevant hereto, defendant Cunan was the county prosecutor.

Upon review of plaintiff's complaint and examination of the court's files, the undersigned became aware of two actions previously filed by plaintiff in this court that were dismissed. See Robinson v. State of California (Robinson I), No. 2:04-cv-1888-GEB-DAD; Robinson v. Cunan (Robinson II), 09-cv-3045-GEB-KJN. The allegations and defendant in the instant complaint are substantially identical to plaintiff's complaint in Robinson II, which was dismissed with prejudice on May 10, 2010.*fn1

On November 16, 2010, the court issued an order to show cause why this action should not be dismissed on res judicata grounds. On December 14, 2010, defendant Jeff Cunan filed a motion to dismiss, also on res judicata grounds.

PLAINTIFF'S PRIOR CASES*fn2 A. Robinson v. State of California (Robinson I), No. 2:04-cv-1888-GEB-DAD In Robinson I, plaintiff filed a complaint in this court against the defendant in the

present action, Jeff Cunan, and nearly 20 other defendants, which sought relief in connection with plaintiff's wrongful conviction and imprisonment for "possession of marijuana for sale, transporting marijuana and offering to sell, furnish or give away marijuana, all while being armed with a firearm." Robinson I, Findings & Recommendations at 3 (Dkt. No. 82). The California Court of Appeal had previously reversed plaintiff's criminal conviction on the grounds that "plaintiff did not waive his right to the assistance of counsel at his preliminary examination and was erroneously denied appointment of counsel at that preliminary examination." Id. at 3 n.3. (taking judicial notice of the California Court of Appeal's decision). As recounted by the magistrate judge in Robinson I, Magistrate Judge Drozd, plaintiff's operative second amended complaint contained headings that alleged the following: (1) "Conspiracy to Wrongfully Convict and Imprison Plaintiff"; (2) "Wrongful Conviction and Imprisonment"; (3) "Conspiracy to Violate Plaintiff's Right to be Free From Unreasonable Search and Seizure"; (4) "Violation of Plaintiff's Right to be Secure Against Unreasonable Search and Seizure; (5) Conspiracy to Violate Plaintiff's Right to the Assistance of Counsel"; and (6) "Violation of Plaintiff's Right to the Assistance of Counsel." Id. at 4-5 (noting, however, that additional, imprecise claims had been "sprinkled" throughout the operative complaint).

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, and Magistrate Judge Drozd issued findings and recommendations recommending, in relevant part, that defendants' motion be granted and that the second amended complaint be dismissed without leave to amend. Id. at 8. He found that, even after being granted leave to amend, plaintiff's operative complaint alleged claims in a manner that "the precise nature of the attempted claims . . . [was] unclear" and, as a result, failed to meet the "short and plain statement" requirement of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. Id. at 4-5. In addition, he concluded that the operative complaint failed to state a cognizable claim because it "does not allege how the conduct complained of has resulted in the deprivation of a right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution or federal law by a person acting under color of state law. Id. at 5-6. Specifically as to Jeff Cunan, the defendant in the present action, Magistrate Judge Drozd further concluded that Cunan was entitled to prosecutorial immunity regardless of the state trial court's errors. Id. at 6. Finally, he recommended dismissal of a claim alleged under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 because plaintiff failed "to allege specific facts from which a conspiracy between defendants could be inferred." Id. at 7 ("Additionally, plaintiff's failure to allege a § 1983 deprivation of rights precludes a § 1985 conspiracy claim predicated on the same allegations.").

The district judge in Robinson I adopted the findings and recommendations "in full" and entered judgment against plaintiff. Robinson I, Dkt. Nos. 85, 86. Plaintiff appealed the district court's order and judgment.

In relevant part, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims against the prosecutors on the ground that the prosecutors "were entitled to absolute immunity, because they were performing functions intimately associated with the judicial phase of Robinson's criminal trial." Robinson II, 223 Fed. Appx. at 608 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The Court of Appeals further held that the district court "properly concluded that Robinson failed to adequately allege that defendants conspired to violate his civil rights." Id.

B. Robinson v. Cunan (Robinson II), 09-cv-3045-GEB-KJN

On November, 2, 2009, over two years after the United States Supreme Court

denied certiorari in the earlier action, plaintiff filed his complaint in Robinson II, which consisted of a two-page document that included a prayer for relief, and an appended statement of facts.*fn3 See Dkt. No. 1. Magistrate Judge Newman found it difficult to discern what claims were alleged in the complaint, having finally concluded that plaintiff was alleging entitlement to a declaratory judgment with respect to the violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel in the state criminal proceedings. Compl. at 1, ¶¶ 1-3. He also appeared to request injunctive relief. Id. at 2. The initial, two-page portion of the complaint only related to plaintiff's wrongful conviction in state court.*fn4

Attached to plaintiff's complaint was a fifteen-page "statement of facts" that purported to show how "Respondent Jeff Cunan and several other Plumas County court officers conspired to wrongfully convict and imprison [plaintiff] by violating [plaintiff's] right to counsel and a spectacular array of other intentional misconduct." (Compl. at 4.) This statement, which alleged facts in 298 paragraphs, alleged facts that began with plaintiff's arrest in 2000, recounted plaintiff's wrongful conviction in the state courts, and concluded with the reversal of plaintiff's conviction by the California Court of Appeal in 2003. (Id. at 4-18.) None of these factual allegations referred to a present or then-current dispute between plaintiff and defendant despite plaintiff's conclusory allegation that such a dispute existed. (Id. at 1, ¶ 1.)

On March 17, 2010, Magistrate Judge Newman recommended dismissal with prejudice on res judicata grounds. Specifically, he found that there was an identity of claims between Robinson I and Robinson II, the two suits arose from the same transactional nucleus of facts, and the two suits involved the infringement of the same rights. The court then found that there was a final judgment on the merits and there existed an identity or privity between the parties. Magistrate Judge Newman did not find that defendant met his ...

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