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Bartley S. Backus v. Placer Count


March 5, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gregory G. Hollows United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff, proceeding in this action pro se, has requested leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. This proceeding was referred to this court by Local Rule 302(21), pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

Plaintiff has submitted an affidavit making the showing required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). Accordingly, the request to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted.

The federal in forma pauperis statute authorizes federal courts to dismiss a case if the action is legally "frivolous or malicious," fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1227-28 (9th Cir. 1984). The court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. The critical inquiry is whether a constitutional claim, however inartfully pleaded, has an arguable legal and factual basis. See Jackson v. Arizona, 885 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1989); Franklin, 745 F.2d at 1227.

A complaint must contain more than a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action;" it must contain factual allegations sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007). "The pleading must contain something more...than...a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action." Id., quoting 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure 1216, pp. 235-235 (3d ed. 2004). "[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id.

Pro se pleadings are liberally construed. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21, 92 S. Ct. 594, 595-96 (1972); Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't., 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988). Unless it is clear that no amendment can cure the defects of a complaint, a pro se plaintiff proceeding in forma pauperis is entitled to notice and an opportunity to amend before dismissal. See Noll v. Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 1448 (9th Cir. 1987); Franklin, 745 F.2d at 1230.

In this case, plaintiff alleges in part that defendant Placer County Sheriff's Department failed to investigate and recommend for prosecution crimes committed by Dave Lauicka, as reported by plaintiff. As a result, the complaint alleges that plaintiff was arrested for violating a restraining order and for contempt on March 21, 2006. (Compl. at 1-2.) While incarcerated at Placer County Jail, plaintiff claims he was assaulted by a "RF wave" while he slept, injuring his back. The complaint proceeds to allege:

The premeditated, planned, purchase, installation and use of sound, RF wave, microwave and laser assault systems of invisible warfare officially designated security systems in Placer County Jails, Supervisor Chambers, Courthouses, Sheriff building, District Attorney and Probation building are illegal. Also Electronic Monitoring by the use of cyber computer programs which use the cell phone system like radar to locate, stalk and assault selected individuals anywhere they are in the county with crippling or deadly signals that alter automatic body fu[n]ctions is a violation of state and federal laws.

(Id. at 2.)

On their face, plaintiff's allegations are so bizarre and delusional that they are wholly insubstantial and cannot invoke this court's subject matter jurisdiction. See O'Brien v. U.S. Department of Justice, 927 F. Supp. 382, 385 (D. Ariz. 1995); Best v. Kelly, 39 F.3d 328, 330-31 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (dismissal for lack of jurisdiction under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) warranted when claims are "clearly fanciful" and "so attenuated and unsubstantial as to be absolutely devoid of merit"); see also Cook v. Peter Kiewit Sons Co., 775 F.2d 1030, 1035 (9th Cir. 1985) (holding that under the substantiality doctrine, the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction when the claim is "so insubstantial, implausible, foreclosed by prior decisions of this Court or otherwise completely devoid of merit as not to involve a federal controversy"). Even though plaintiff's complaint makes reference to various amendments to the constitution as well as 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiff's fanciful and implausible allegations fail to state in a comprehensible manner how any federal rights were violated.

Additionally, plaintiff attempts to bring this action on behalf of others similarly situated. Plaintiff is a non-lawyer proceeding without counsel. It is well established that a layperson cannot ordinarily represent the interests of a class. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a)(4) (requiring that class representative be able "to fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class"). See Martin v. Middendorf, 420 F. Supp. 779 (D.D.C. 1976). "[C]courts have routinely adhered to the general rule prohibiting pro se plaintiffs from pursuing claims on behalf of others. Plaintiff's privilege to appear in propria persona is a "privilege ... personal to him. He has no authority to appear as an attorney for others than himself." McShane v. U. S., 366 F.2d 286, 288 (9th Cir.1966), citing Russell v.United States, 308 F.2d 78, 79 (9th Cir. 1962); Collins v. O'Brien, 93 U.S.App.D.C. 152, 208 F.2d 44, 45 (1953), cert. denied, 347 U.S. 944, 74 S. Ct. 640 (1954). If plaintiff is able to proceed with this action, it is likely that he can proceed only on his own behalf. This action, therefore, will not presently be construed as a class action and, instead, will proceed as an individual civil suit brought by plaintiff .

In sum, the court finds the allegations in plaintiff's complaint so vague and conclusory that it is unable to determine whether the current action is frivolous or fails to state a claim for relief. The court has determined that the complaint does not contain a short and plain statement as required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Although the Federal Rules adopt a flexible pleading policy, a complaint must give fair notice and state the elements of the claim plainly and succinctly. Jones v. Community Redev. Agency, 733 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1984). Plaintiff must allege with at least some degree of particularity overt acts which defendants engaged in that support plaintiff's claim. Id. Because plaintiff has failed to comply with the requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), the complaint must be dismissed. The court will, however, grant leave to file an amended complaint.

If plaintiff chooses to amend the complaint, plaintiff must set forth the jurisdictional grounds upon which the court's jurisdiction depends. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). Further, plaintiff must demonstrate how the conduct complained of has resulted in a deprivation of plaintiff's federal rights. See Ellis v. Cassidy, 625 F.2d 227 (9th Cir. 1980).

In addition, plaintiff is informed that the court cannot refer to a prior pleading in order to make plaintiff's amended complaint complete. Local Rule 220 requires that an amended complaint be complete in itself without reference to any prior pleading. This is because, as a general rule, an amended complaint supersedes the original complaint. See Loux v. Rhay, 375 F.2d 55, 57 (9th Cir. 1967). Once plaintiff files an amended complaint, the original pleading no longer serves any function in the case. Therefore, in an amended complaint, as in an original complaint, each claim and the involvement of each defendant must be sufficiently alleged.

In accordance with the above, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. Plaintiff's request for leave to proceed in forma pauperis is granted.

2. Plaintiff's complaint is dismissed.

3. Plaintiff is granted twenty-eight (28) days from the date of service of this order to file an amended complaint that complies with the requirements of the Civil Rights Act, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the Local Rules of Practice; the amended complaint must bear the docket number assigned this case and must be labeled "Amended Complaint"; plaintiff must file an original and two copies of the amended complaint; failure to file an amended complaint in accordance with this order will result in a recommendation that this action be dismissed.


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