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Julie Fritcher v. Robert L. Zucco

January 9, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jennifer L. Thurston United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff has filed a civil rights action along with an application to proceed in forma pauperis. This proceeding was referred to this Magistrate Judge in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Rule 302.

I. In Forma Pauperis

The Court may authorize the commencement of an action in federal court without prepayment of fees if the party submits an affidavit that includes a statement of its assets and demonstrates that it is unable to pay the fees. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). The Court has reviewed Plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis and has determined that she satisfies the requirements of § 1915(a)(1). Thus, Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis is GRANTED .

II. Screening Requirement

The Court is required to review a case filed in forma pauperis. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). The Court must review the complaint and dismiss any portion thereof that is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim on 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)(B). If the Court determines the complaint fails to state a claim, leave to amend should be granted to the extent that the deficiencies in the pleading can be cured by amendment. Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127-28 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). "Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only '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 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Nevertheless, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of entitlement to relief under Rule 8(a)(2) requires more than "naked assertions," "labels and conclusions," or "formulaic recitation[s] of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-57. The complaint "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937');">129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868, 883 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Vague and conclusory allegations are insufficient to state a claim. See Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

III. Plaintiff's Allegations

Plaintiff names Defendants Robert L. Zucco, Linda Puckett, Owens Valley Indian Housing Authority, and Does 1 through 100. Plaintiff states that Defendant Zucco is a Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Tribal member and the executive director of the Owens Valley Indian Housing Authority (OVIHA). According to the complaint, Defendant Puckett is employed as a bookkeeper by the OVIHA. (Doc. 1 at 2-3.) Additionally, it appears that the OVIHA is a tribal agency. (Id.)

Though the factual basis of Plaintiff's claims are unclear, Plaintiff appears to allege that Defendants were properly served with a request for documents pertaining to the Housing Improvement Program ("HIP") but that Defendants refused to provide these documents. (Doc. 1 at 4-5.) Plaintiff contends that Defendants refusal to provide the documents violates federal law, provided under the Freedom of Information Act, ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 522. *fn1 (Id. at 4-5.) Based on the foregoing allegations, Plaintiff's prayer for relief seeks both compensatory and injunctive relief. (Id. at 7.)

IV. Federal question jurisdiction

The district court is a court of limited jurisdiction, and is not empowered to hear every dispute filed by litigants. See Exxon Mobil Corp v. Allapattah Servs., Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 552 (2005); A-Z Int'l. v. Phillips, 323 F.3d 1141, 1145 (9th Cir. 2003). The district court "possess[es] only the power authorized by Constitution and statute," and may only adjudicate claims raising federal questions or involving parties with diverse citizenship. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). The federal courts are "presumed to lack jurisdiction in a particular case, unless the contrary affirmatively appears." A-Z Int'l, 323 F.3d at 1145 (quotations omitted).

In her complaint, Plaintiff alleges that the Court's jurisdiction arises under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, federal question jurisdiction. Federal question jurisdiction, arising under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, requires a complaint (1) arise under a federal law or the U.S. Constitution, (2) allege a "case or controversy" within the meaning of Article III, §2 of the U.S. Constitution, or (3) be authorized by a federal statute that regulates a specific subject matter and confers federal jurisdiction. Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 198 (1962).

A. Tribal Sovereign Immunity

Without specific authority granted from a sovereign, a court does not possess jurisdiction to hear an action against that sovereign. Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez, 436 U.S. 49, 58 (1978) ("Santa Clara Pueblo"). As the Santa Clara Pueblo Court stated: "Indian tribes have long been recognized as possessing the common-law immunity from suit traditionally enjoyed by sovereign powers [citations]" Id. at 58. In this regard, the Supreme Court has held that as a matter of federal law, a Tribal Nation is subject to suit only where Congress has authorized the suit *fn2 or the Tribe has expressly waived its sovereign immunity. See Kiowa Tribe of Okla. v. Mfg. Techs., 523 U.S. 751, 754 (1998). Waivers of tribal sovereign immunity "cannot be implied but must be unequivocally expressed." Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez, 436 U.S. 49, 58 (1978) (citation omitted); Pan Am. Co. v. Sycuan Band of Mission Indians, 884 F.2d 416, 418 (9th Cir. 1989); Am. Vantage Cos., Inc. v. Table Mountain Rancheria, 292 F.3d 1091, 1099 (9th Cir. 2002). Tribal sovereign immunity extends to the off-reservation activities and to the economic as well as the governmental activities of the tribe, so long as the entity "functions as an arm of the tribe." Allen v. ...

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