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April Premo Williams v. Home Depot Inc.

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


May 23, 2011

APRIL PREMO WILLIAMS,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
HOME DEPOT INC.,COURTS OF THE STAY S STATE OF CALIFORNIA AND DOES 1 THROUGH 10, DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION DISMISSING THE COMPLAINT ORDER DENYING REQUESTS FOR ORDER STRIKING PLAINTIFF'S FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT (Docs. 1, 5 and 7)

INTRODUCTION

On January 7, 2011, Plaintiffs April Premo Williams, filed a complaint alleging "violations of Title I and Title II of the American with Disabilities Act, violations of Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act, *fn1 violations of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, violations of the State of California Workers' Compensation and Labor Laws, Breach of Contract, Breach of Expressed Contract, Breach of Covenant of Good Fair Dealings, and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Harm." (Doc. 1). Plaintiff has named Home Depot Inc., the Courts of the State of California, and Does one through ten as defendants. *fn2 Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief. Id.

Plaintiff has also filed two Motions to Stay on February 28, and April 5, 2011 in which she requests that this Court stay the other Courts' proceedings based on the filing of the instant complaint. (Docs. 5 and 7).

On May 18, 2011, Plaintiff also filed a First Amended Complaint ("FAC"). (Doc. 9). The FAC is identical to the initial complaint filed except that Plaintiff names eight additional defendants in the caption: 1) the Worker's Compensation Board of the State of California; 2) the Department of Industrial Relations of the State of California; 3) Shavonda Early, DWC Disabilities Coordinator; 4) Judge David Bovett; 5) Judge Timothy Salter; 6) Judge Vincent Misent; 7) the Department of Social Services of the State of California; and 8) the Superior Court of the State of California County of Stanislaus.

A review of the FAC reveals that it was improperly filed and will be STRICKEN. As noted above, the only difference between the complaint and the FAC are the additional defendants named in the caption of the pleading. The body of the complaint does not link any of the newly named defendants to any alleged unlawful activity in any of the causes action. Therefore, this Court is unable to ascertain what conduct the newly added defendants allegedly engaged in, or how their conduct relates to any of the causes of actions. Moreover, the Court did not give Plaintiff leave to amend the complaint. *fn3

As such, the governing pleading in this case is the complaint filed on January 7, 2011. Finally, as outlined in more detail below, this Court will not exercise its jurisdiction over this matter. Accordingly, an amendment would be futile.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

Plaintiff's complaint is confusing, however, it appears that she is contesting a Worker's Compensation proceeding. According to the complaint, Plaintiff suffers from epilepsy, diabetes, Hashimoto Thyroiditis, melanoma, and learning disabilities including mental retardation in the areas of "visual perception, auditory recall, comprehension of abstract concepts of numbers, and coordination of visual and motor dexterity." (Doc. 1 at pg. 2). Plaintiff contends she was injured on April 15, 2003, while she was employed at Home Depot. At this time, she allegedly fell while throwing items into the trash compactor which resulted in injuries to her left shoulder, knee, neck, and back. (Doc. 1 at pg. 4).

Plaintiff subsequently filed a Worker's Compensation claim to obtain remediation for her injuries. She contends that during this proceeding, Home Depot requested that she see its doctors rather than Plaintiff's own doctor. (Doc. 1 at pg. 4). Plaintiff also contends that Home Depot agreed to pay for two surgeries and other medical services but refused to pay for the services rendered as agreed upon. (Doc. 1 at pgs. 4-5). Plaintiff filed an appeal with the Worker's Compensation Appeals Board and requested a hearing for a "breach of contract" by Home Depot.

Id . She also requested that the hearing be completed in writing due to her disability. As of the date of the filing of the complaint, Plaintiff had not received notification that her request for a written hearing was granted and she therefore, presumes it was denied. (Doc. 1 at pg. 5).

As a result of the above, Plaintiff has alleged causes of action for "violations of Title I and Title II of the American with Disabilities Act, violations of Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act, violations of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, violations of the State of California Workers' Compensation and Labor Laws, Breach of Contract, Breach of Expressed Contract, Breach of Covenant of Good Fair Dealings, and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Harm." (Doc. 1). Plaintiff is seeking inter alia , declaratory relief, compensatory damages, and attorney's fees.

In addition to the Complaint, Plaintiff filed two Motions for Stay wherein she indicates that she has filed a Writ of Mandate in the Stanislaus County Superior Court. *fn4 In the motions, Plaintiff requests that this Court stay the proceedings at the Stanislaus Superior Court, as well as before the Worker's Compensation Appeals Board, because she has made requests that the proceedings be completed in writing rather than orally and the judges have refused to honor her requests.

DISCUSSION

A. Screening Standard

"Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid," the Court shall dismiss a case at any time if it determines that the action or appeal is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). See also Omar v. Sea-Land Service, Inc. , 813 F.2d 986, 991 (9th Cir. 1987); Wong v. Bell , 642 F.2d 359, 361-62 (9th Cir. 1981). If the Court determines that the complaint fails to state a claim, leave to amend may be granted to the extent that the deficiencies of the complaint can be cured by amendment. Lopez v. Smith , 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).

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)(2). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (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 conclusion are not. Id . at 1949.

If the Court determines that the complaint fails to state a claim, leave to amend should be granted to the extent that the deficiencies of the complaint can be cured by amendment. Lopez v. Smith , 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000). Dismissal of a pro se complaint for failure to state a claim is proper only where it is obvious that the Plaintiff cannot prevail on the facts that he has alleged and that an opportunity to amend would be futile. Lopez , at 1128.

A claim is frivolous if it lacks an arguable basis either in law or fact. Neitzke v. Williams , 490 U.S. 319, 324, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989). A frivolous claim is based on an inarguable legal conclusion or a fanciful factual allegation. Id. A federal court may dismiss a claim as frivolous if it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or if the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Id.

B. Younger Abstention

Plaintiff is asking this Court to intervene in two state proceedings: a Worker's Compensation Appeal Board hearing, and a Writ of Mandate at the Stanislaus Superior Court. *fn5

As a preliminary matter, the Court finds that abstention is appropriate and therefore declines to exercise jurisdiction over Plaintiff's action.

"Younger abstention is a common law equitable doctrine holding that a federal court generally should refrain from interfering with a pending state court proceeding." Poulos v. Caesars World, Inc., 379 F.3d 654, 669 (9th Cir. 2004) (emphasis added) (citations omitted). Younger abstention is required if: (1) state proceedings are ongoing; (2) the proceedings implicate important state interests; and (3) the state proceedings provide an adequate opportunity to raise federal questions. Wiener v. County of San Diego, 23 F.3d 263, 266 (9th Cir.1994).

It is clear that the state law proceedings are ongoing in this instance. Moreover, the state has an important and substantial interest in overseeing, managing and adjudicating Worker's compensation issues. Thus, the state has a substantial interest in insuring that the program gets implemented fairly and that disputes are handled consistently. Although Plaintiff may not be able to raise federal constitutional claims in the Workers' Compensation action per se, "[her] ability to raise the claims via state judicial review of the administrative proceedings suffices." Kenneally v. Lungren, 967 F.2d 329, 332 (9th Cir.1992) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). California Labor Code section 5952 provides for judicial review of the WCAB decision, including a determination as to whether the WCAB acted in excess of its powers, or the order, decision or award was unreasonable." Cal. Labor Code, §§ 5950, 5952(a) and (c).

Finally, although Plaintiff is alleging violations of the American with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, these are issues that can be raised in the state court proceedings and addressed on appeal if needed. Similarly, even if the Court did not abstain under Younger, Plaintiff's other causes of action in the complaint would fail for the reasons set forth below

C. Constitutional Violations

Plaintiff has alleged violations of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution. Although Plaintiff failed to so, the proper manner in which to plead this cause of action is by alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The Civil Rights Act under which this action was filed provides Every person who, under color of [state law] ... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States ... to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution... shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceedings for redress. 42 U.S.C. § 1983...

Here, Plaintiff alleges violations by Home Depot, however, Home Depot is not a state actor. As a result, Plaintiff is unable to make allegations of constitutional violations against this Defendant. Moreover, the statute plainly requires that there be an actual connection or link between the actions of the defendants and the deprivation alleged to have been suffered by plaintiff. See Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976). The Ninth Circuit has held that "[a] person 'subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of section 1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made." Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978). To state a claim for relief under section 1983, plaintiff must link each named defendant with some affirmative act or omission that demonstrates a violation of plaintiff's federal rights. In this case, the only state actor that Plaintiff has named is the "Courts of the State of California," however, Plaintiff has not alleged conduct by a particular individual that violates any amendment of the Constitution.

a. Fourteenth Amendment

Plaintiff alleges a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment because she is entitled to accommodation and Defendants' refusal to do so violates her right to due process. Plaintiff argues that because courts provide attorneys for illegal immigrants who are charged with a crime, Defendants should have known that failure to accommodate her disability would result in emotional distress.

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects individuals from being deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974). Procedural due process claims require (1) a deprivation of a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest, and (2) a denial of adequate procedural protections. Kildare v. Saenz, 325 F.3d 1078, 1085 (9th Cir. 2003). However, the Supreme Court has held that "state proceedings need to no more than satisfy the minimum procedural requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause in order to qualify for the full faith and credit guaranteed by federal law. Kremer v. Chemical Construction Corporation, 456 U.S. 461, 481 (1982). Appropriate safeguards include the right to submit exhibits, present evidence, present the testimony of witnesses, rebut evidence submitted and be assisted by counsel. Kremer v. Chemical Construction 456 U.S. at 483-484. Plaintiff has appeal rights in the state system to address any alleged due process violations during those proceedings. Therefore, she has failed to state a claim for this cause of action.

b. Thirteenth Amendment

Plaintiff also alleges a violation of the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution on the basis that there is a statutory prohibition of involuntary servitude. Plaintiff alleges Home Depot violated this amendment by failing to perform various duties. However, as noted above, Home Depot is not a state actor and therefore cannot be subject to a cause of action based on a constitutional violation.

D. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

Defendant "Courts of the State of California" is entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment to the federal Constitution which provides "[t]he Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of Another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State." The United States Supreme Court has noted: "The [Eleventh] Amendment ... enacts a sovereign immunity from suit, rather than a non-waivable limit on the federal judiciary's subject matter jurisdiction." Idaho v. Couer d'Alene Tribe, 521 U.S. 261, 117 S.Ct. 2028, 2033, 138 L.Ed.2d 438 (1997).

"The Eleventh Amendment prohibits federal courts from hearing suits brought against an unconsenting state. Though its language might suggest otherwise, the Eleventh Amendment has long been construed to extend to suits brought against a state by its own citizens, as well as by citizens of other states." Brooks v. Sulphur Springs Valley Elec. Coop., 951 F.2d 1050, 1053 (9th Cir.1991), cert. denied, 503 U.S. 938, 112 S.Ct. 1478, 117 L.Ed.2d 621 (1992) (citation omitted); see also Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 116 S.Ct. 1114, 1122, 134 L.Ed.2d 252 (1996); Puerto Rico Aqueduct Sewer Auth. v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U.S. 139, 144, 113 S.Ct. 684, 121 L.Ed.2d 605 (1993); Austin v. State Indus. Ins. Sys., 939 F.2d 676, 677 (9th Cir.1991).

The Eleventh Amendment bars suits against state agencies as well as those where the state itself is named as a defendant. See Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Authority v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U.S. 139, 144, 113 S.Ct. 684, 121 L.Ed.2d 605 (1993); Natural Resources Defense Council v. California Dept. of Transportation, 96 F.3d 420, 421 (9th Cir.1996); Brooks, 951 F.2d at 1053; see also Lucas v. Department of Corrections, 66 F.3d 245, 248 (9th Cir.1995) (per curiam) (Board of Corrections is agency entitled to immunity); Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir.1989) (Nevada Department of Prisons was a state agency entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity). In this instance, Plaintiff names the "Courts of the State of California" as a defendant which is a state entity and therefore, it is immune from liability for the constitutional challenges. *fn6

E. State Law Causes of Action

Plaintiff alleges several state law causes of action including, violations of the State of California Workers' Compensation and Labor Laws, Breach of Contract, Breach of Expressed Contract, Breach of Covenant of Good Fair Dealings, and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Harm. As the Court will recommend that the claims over which it had original jurisdiction be dismissed, it declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over these state law claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3); see also Ove v. Gwinn, 264 F.3d 817, 826 (9th Cir.2001) (holding that the district court may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over related state-law claims once it has dismissed all claims over which it had original jurisdiction).

CONCLUSION

Based on the above, this Court recommends that all of the causes of action in Plaintiff's complaint be DISMISSED WITHOUT LEAVE TO AMEND. Moreover, it is recommended that the following order issue: IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff's motions for stay are DENIED as moot (Docs. 5 and 7), and the First Amended Complaint (Doc. 9) is STRICKEN.

These findings and recommendations regarding the dismissal of the complaint are submitted to the Honorable Lawrence J. O'Neill, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). *fn7 Within thirty (30) days of service of this recommendation, Plaintiff may file written objections to these findings and recommendations with the Court and serve a copy on all parties. Such a document should be captioned "Objections to Magistrate Judge's Findings and Recommendation." The district judge will review the magistrate judge's findings and recommendations pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c) Plaintiff is advised that failure to file objections within the specified time may waive the right to appeal the district judge's order. Martinez v. Ylst, 951 F.2d 1153 (9th Cir. 1991).

IT IS SO ORDERED.

6i0kij


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