UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
September 28, 2011
WARREN STANLEY, ET AL.,
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Suzanne H. Segal United States Magistrate Judge
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
DISMISSING FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT WITH LEAVE TO AMEND
On June 15, 2011, plaintiff Keith Page ("Plaintiff") filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (the "Complaint") against various defendants. On August 16, 2011, the Court dismissed the *fn1 Complaint with leave to amend due to various pleading deficiencies. On August 25, 2011, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint (the "First Amended Complaint"). Because the First Amended Complaint also suffers from pleading deficiencies, it must also be dismissed with leave to amend.*fn2
Congress mandates that district courts initially screen civil complaints filed by a prisoner seeking redress from a governmental entity or employee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). This Court may dismiss such a complaint, or any portions thereof, before service of process if the Court concludes that the complaint (1) is frivolous or malicious, (2) fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or (3) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1)-(2); see also Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 & n.7 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).
ALLEGATIONS OF THE COMPLAINT
Plaintiff alleges that the following five defendants violated his civil rights: (1) California Highway Patrol ("C.H.P.") Officer Robbert [sic] Corral ("Officer Corral"); (2) C.H.P. Sergeant M. Steffanoff ("Sergeant Steffanoff"); (3) C.H.P. Captain W. G. Siegl ("Captain Siegl"); (4) C.H.P. Assistant Chief Calvin Aubrey ("Assistant Chief Aubrey"); and (5) C.H.P. Chief Warren A. Stanley ("Chief Stanley") (collectively, "Defendants"). (See First Amended Complaint at 3-4). Plaintiff sues all Defendants in their individual capacities. (See id.). Plaintiff also sues Captain Siegl, Assistant Chief Aubrey and Chief Stanley in their official capacities. (See id.).
Plaintiff's allegations are difficult to decipher. It appears, however, that Plaintiff is attempting to allege five interrelated claims arising from his arrest for driving under the influence by Officer Corral on March 20, 2007 and his subsequent re-arrest and incarceration. (Id. at 5, 10). First, Plaintiff alleges that his "[F]ourth [A]mendment right was violated due to unlawful seizure, because [he] was arrested without reasonable or probable cause." (Id.). Second, Plaintiff alleges that he was deprived of "procedural protection," and "of [his] choice of the implied consent chemical test" in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments and his right to due process. (Id.). Third, Plaintiff alleges that "[his] [E]ighth [A]mendment rights were violated when [he] was unlawfully imprisoned for 14 months due to fabricated charges, subjecting [him] to cruel and unusual punishment." (Id.). Fourth, Plaintiff vaguely claims that his "right to equal protection" was violated "due to conspiracy." (Id.). Fifth, in an equally vague claim, Plaintiff alleges that he was "deprived of [his] right to liberty interest [sic], or a liberty interest." (Id.). Among other specific allegations of misconduct, Plaintiff appears to accuse various Defendants in a long and largely incomprehensible factual narrative of making false allegations (id. at 6-8, 11), prohibiting Plaintiff from collecting evidence for his defense (id. at 7-8, 14), failing to investigate Officer Corral's conduct (id. at 9, 13), and failing to train and supervise their employees. (Id. at 9-10).
Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages in the amount of $18,737,666.66, punitive damages in "whatever amount court deems appropriate," court costs, and attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. (Id. at 16).
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), the Court must dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint due to defects in pleading. Pro se litigants in civil rights cases, however, must be given leave to amend their complaints unless it is absolutely clear that the deficiencies cannot be cured by amendment. See Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1128-29. Accordingly, the Court grants Plaintiff leave to amend, as indicated below.
A. To The Extent Plaintiff Is Suing Individual Defendants Simply For Their Role As Other Officers' Supervisors, Plaintiff Fails To State A Claim
Plaintiff appears to allege that Defendants Sergeant Steffanoff, Captain Siegl, Assistant Chief Aubrey, and Chief Stanley violated his constitutional rights because they "failed to supervise" and properly train their subordinates, including Officer Corral. (First Amended Complaint at 3-4, 9-10). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Sergeant Steffanoff "failed in his supervisory official position and his conduct that shows a reckless and callous indifference to the rights of [Plaintiff]." (Id. at 9). Plaintiff also claims Captain Siegl "failed in his supervisory official position and his conduct shows a reckless and callous indifference to the rights of the [Plaintiff], by failing to 'exercise independent judgment.'" (Id.). Plaintiff further alleges that both Assistant Chief Aubrey and Chief Stanley are "responsible and liable . . . for [their] own culpable action and inaction in the training, supervision, and control of [Officer] Corral and for [their] acquiescence in the constitutional deprivation of which this complaint is made." (Id. at 10).
Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint fails to include specific allegations that these Defendants were directly involved in the constitutional violations. Plaintiff must establish that Defendants had personal involvement in the civil rights violation or that their action or inaction caused the harm suffered. Starr v. Baca, F.3d , 2011 WL 2988827 at *2 (9th Cir. July 25, 2011); see Jones v. Williams, 297 F.3d 930, 934 (9th Cir. 2002) ("In order for a person acting under color of state law to be liable under section 1983 there must be a showing of personal participation in the alleged rights deprivation: there is no respondeat superior liability under section 1983.").
Here, Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint does not allege facts that establish either personal involvement by these defendants or any direct causal connection between their actions and the constitutional violations that Plaintiff is attempting to assert. Plaintiff must allege specific facts showing what each individual Defendant personally did or did not do, when and where, and how his action or inaction directly caused a violation of Plaintiff's civil rights. Accordingly, the First Amended Complaint must be dismissed with leave to amend.
B. Some Or All Of Plaintiff's Claims May Be Barred By The Heck Doctrine
Plaintiff seems to allege civil rights violations stemming from a "false" arrest "without probable cause" on March 20, 2007 for "driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs," "attempted car jacking," and "driving when privilege suspended for prior 'DUI' conviction." (First Amended Complaint at 8-9, Exh. A at 34-36). Plaintiff alleges that he was "acquitted on June 3, 2008" of charges in the case that accrued on March 20, 2007. (Id. at 10, Exh. A at 34-36). However, Plaintiff was convicted of driving under the influence and other criminal charges resulting from a March 23, 2007 incident with strikingly similar facts to the facts alleged in the First Amended Complaint. See People v. Page, 2010 WL 2654640 at *1 (Cal. App. Ct. July 6, 2010) (California Court of Appeal decision referencing Los Angeles County Superior Court Case Nos. KA0788896 and TA090349 and affirming Plaintiff's conviction). *fn3 Plaintiff's incarceration is evidently the result of a conviction that was affirmed on direct appeal and that has not otherwise been invalidated. To the extent Plaintiff's civil rights claim essentially attacks officers for conduct that ultimately resulted in a conviction, such claims are barred by the doctrine announced in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S. Ct. 2364, 129 L. Ed. 2d 383 (1994).
In Heck, the Supreme Court held:
[I]n order to recover damages for an allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983 Plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus. A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalided is not cognizable under § 1983.
Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-87 (emphasis in original) (footnote and internal citation omitted).
Under Heck, a § 1983 complaint must be dismissed if judgment in favor of the plaintiff would undermine the validity of his conviction or sentence, unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated. Id. at 487; see also Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641, 648, 117 S. Ct. 1584, 137 L. Ed. 2d 906 (1997) ("[A] claim for declaratory relief and money damages . . . that necessarily impl[ies] the invalidity of the punishment imposed, is not cognizable under Section 1983"); Whitaker v. Garcetti, 486 F.3d 572, 583-85 (9th Cir. 2007) (recognizing that Heck also applies to claims for declaratory relief). Conversely, as the Heck Court observed, when "the plaintiff's action, even if successful, will not demonstrate the invalidity of any outstanding criminal judgment against the plaintiff, the action should be allowed to proceed in the absence of some other bar to the suit." Heck, 512 U.S. at 487 (footnotes omitted). Accordingly, the Heck doctrine may bar some, if not all, of Plaintiff's claims.
In any future complaint, Plaintiff must only allege claims for civil rights violations that, if the claims are successful, will not invalidate a conviction. If Plaintiff is merely attacking evidence that ultimately led to a conviction, whether Plaintiff believes the conviction was lawful or not, he will be barred from pursuing any civil rights claim that would ultimately call into question the validity of his convictions.
C. Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint Violates Rule 8
Plaintiff's Complaint does not comply with the standards of Rule 8. The unnecessarily long First Amended Complaint, which mixes potentially relevant and irrelevant facts with legal argument, is confusing and nonsensical. (See First Amended Complaint at 5-16). Plaintiff's vague claims fail to clearly identify the incident giving rise to each individual claim and the specific Defendants Plaintiff believes are liable for each of those claims. The First Amended Complaint therefore fails to provide Defendants with fair notice of the claims in a short, clear and concise statement. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint contain "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(e)(1) (instructing that "[e]ach averment of a pleading shall be simple, concise, and direct").
Although Plaintiff utilized the standard form for civil rights complaints, the First Amended Complaint contains a largely incomprehensible factual narrative that makes it largely impossible to identify with precision the factual bases for each of his claims. (See First Amended Complaint at 5-16). Even if the factual allegations pertaining to Plaintiff's claims were more clearly identified, it would be difficult, as a practical matter, for Defendants to frame a responsive pleading given Plaintiff's failure to tie specific allegations to specific named defendants.
In sum, the First Amended Complaint fails to provide a short, clear, and concise statement of Plaintiff's claims, as required by Rule 8. Where the violation of Rule 8 is egregious, as in this case, dismissal is appropriate. See McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1177-80 (9th Cir. 1996) (affirming dismissal of third amended complaint that was "argumentative, prolix, replete with redundancy, and largely irrelevant" and violative of Rule 8); see also Nevijel v. North Coast Life Ins. Co., 651 F.2d 671, 673-74 (9th Cir. 1981) (affirming dismissal of first amended complaint that named additional defendants without leave of court and was "equally as verbose, confusing and conclusory as the initial complaint"); Washington v. Baenziger, 656 F. Supp. 1176, 1177 (N.D. Cal. 1987) (dismissing complaint for failure to comply with Rule 8) (citing Nevijel). Accordingly, the First Amended Complaint is dismissed with leave to amend.
D. Defendants Siegl, Aubrey, And Stanley Are Immune From Suit In Their Official Capacities
Plaintiff sues three employees of the California Highway Patrol --Defendants Captain Siegl, Assistant Chief Aubrey, and Chief Stanley -in both their individual and official capacities. (First Amended Complaint at 3-4). These defendants are immune from suit in their official capacities, however. Pena v. Gardner, 976 F.2d 469, 472 (9th Cir. 1992)(Eleventh Amendment bars civil rights suit against state officials in their official capacities). As such, the Complaint is defective and must be dismissed. If Plaintiff intends to proceed with this action, he may only sue individual state actors under section 1983 in their individual capacities.
For the reasons stated above, the First Amended Complaint is dismissed with leave to amend. If Plaintiff still wishes to pursue this action, he is granted thirty (30) days from the date of this Memorandum and Order within which to file a Second Amended Complaint. In any amended complaint, the Plaintiff shall cure the defects described above. The Second Amended Complaint, if any, shall be complete in itself and shall bear both the designation "Second Amended Complaint" and the case number assigned to this action. It shall not refer in any manner to the prior complaints. Plaintiff shall limit his action only to those Defendants who are properly named in such a complaint, consistent with the authorities discussed above.
In any amended complaint, Plaintiff should confine his allegations to those operative facts supporting each of his claims. Plaintiff is advised that pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), all that is required is a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Plaintiff is strongly encouraged to keep his allegations only to the facts that are relevant and material to his claims. Plaintiff is reminded that he only need provide a short and concise statement of his claims. Plaintiff is strongly encouraged to utilize the standard civil rights complaint form when filing any amended complaint, a copy of which is attached. In any amended complaint, the Plaintiff should make clear the nature and grounds for each claim and specifically identify the defendants he maintains are liable for that claim. In addition, Plaintiff should avoid a long narrative and keep his allegations clear, concise and simple. The Court admonishes Plaintiff that failure to adhere to a short and concise statement of claims, as well as failure to use legible writing, may result in dismissal of Plaintiff's action. It is not necessary for Plaintiff to cite case law or include legal argument.
Plaintiff is explicitly cautioned that failure to timely file a Second Amended Complaint, or failure to correct the deficiencies described above, will result in a recommendation that this action be dismissed with prejudice for failure to prosecute and obey Court orders pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b). Plaintiff is further advised that if he no longer wishes to pursue this action, he may voluntarily dismiss it by filing a Notice of Dismissal in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1). A form Notice of Dismissal is attached for Plaintiff's convenience.
THIS MEMORANDUM IS NOT INTENDED FOR PUBLICATION NOR IS IT INTENDED TO BE INCLUDED IN OR SUBMITTED TO ANY ONLINE SERVICE SUCH AS WESTLAW OR LEXIS.