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Bernard Lampley v. Jesus Toris

March 8, 2012

BERNARD LAMPLEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JESUS TORIS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: United States District Judge Honorable Margaret M. Morrow

"Administratively Close - JS-6"

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER SUMMARILY DISMISSING CASE IN PART AND STAYING REMAINDER OF CASE

I. INTRODUCTION

On January 18, 2012, plaintiff Bernard Lampley, a pretrial detainee proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights complaint against Los Angeles Police Department ("LAPD") Officer Jesus Toris. Plaintiff alleges that defendant arrested plaintiff and planted drugs on him in violation of his civil rights. The complaint indicates that the drug charges are still pending against plaintiff, and seeks equitable relief in addition to damages.

The Court issued an Order to Show Cause ("OSC") why the complaint should not be dismissed under the Younger Abstention Doctrine. In plaintiff's response to the OSC, he does not dispute that he is asking this Court to effectively intervene in his pending state criminal case, but argues that extraordinary circumstances warrant such intervention. Plaintiff has failed to show that intervention is warranted, however, and therefore this Court must refrain from proceeding in this case while the state criminal case is still pending. Accordingly, under the Younger Abstention Doctrine, the Court will dismiss plaintiff's claims for equitable relief, and stay the remainder of his case seeking damages until the state criminal case is no longer pending.

II. BACKGROUND

In the complaint, plaintiff alleges that on January 10, 2010, defendant Toris stopped plaintiff and a female companion without consent or reasonable suspicion. Complaint at 1, 2. Although only the female companion was found to be in possession of a "rock like substance," both she and plaintiff were arrested. Id. at 2-3. Defendant searched, arrested and charged plaintiff with possession of a controlled substance without probable cause, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Id. At the police station, defendant planted evidence upon plaintiff. Id. at 3. The relief plaintiff seeks includes damages and "that an order be given to adhere to the court's order in Fitzgerald v. City of Los Angeles." Id. at 5.

Plaintiff alleges that he "has and is being falsely accused by defendant." Complaint at 3A. Based on his address of record, it appears that plaintiff is in custody at the Mens Central Jail. Accordingly, the complaint indicates that plaintiff is a pretrial detainee awaiting trial on the charges for which he was arrested on January 10, 2010.

To confirm that plaintiff is in fact awaiting trial on the charges he challenges in his complaint, on January 19, 2012 the Court issued an OSC, requiring plaintiff to show cause why the complaint should not be dismissed under the Younger Abstention Doctrine. Plaintiff filed a response to the OSC on February 8, 2012.

In his response to the OSC, plaintiff implicitly concedes that he is still pending trial in the state criminal case on the drug charges that are at the heart of his challenge in this civil rights case. But plaintiff argues that this case qualifies for an exception from the Younger Abstention Doctrine. In making his arguments, plaintiff confirms that he is effectively asking this Court to intervene in the pending state criminal case. See OSC Response at 4.

III. DISCUSSION

The Prison Litigation Reform Act obligates the Court to review complaints filed by all persons proceeding in forma pauperis, and by prisoners seeking redress from government entities. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A. Under these provisions, the Court may sua sponte dismiss, "at any time," any prisoner civil rights action and all other in forma pauperis complaints that are frivolous or malicious, fail to state a claim, or seek damages from defendants who are immune. Id., see also Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).

In Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S. Ct. 746, 27 L. Ed. 2d 669 (1971), the Supreme Court held that a federal court was prohibited from enjoining a state criminal proceeding without a valid showing of "extraordinary circumstances" that warrant federal intervention. Id. at 43-54; see Gilbertson v. Albright, 381 F.3d 965, 984 (9th Cir. 2004) (Younger Abstention applies to actions for damages). Under the Younger Abstention Doctrine, federal courts may not stay or enjoin pending state criminal court proceedings, nor grant monetary damages for constitutional violations arising from them. Mann v. Jett, 781 F.2d 1448, 1449 (9th Cir. 1986). Younger abstention is appropriate when: (1) the state court proceedings are ongoing; (2) the proceedings implicate important state interests; and (3) the state proceedings provide an adequate opportunity to raise the constitutional claims. Middlesex County Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 432, 102 S. Ct. 2515, 73 L. Ed. 2d 116 (1982); Baffert v. Cal. Horse Racing Bd., 332 F.3d 613, 617 (9th Cir. 2003).

Plaintiff somewhat unclearly suggests that not all the Middlesex elements for the Younger Abstention Doctrine to be invoked are present here. To the extent that is plaintiff's contention, it is without merit. Here, there is an ongoing state proceeding, i.e., the criminal case against plaintiff. The criminal proceedings implicate important state interests because they involve an alleged violation of state criminal law that is being adjudicated in state court. See Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 13, 107 S. Ct. 1519, 95 L. Ed. 2d 1 (1987) (enforcement of state court judgments and orders implicates important state interests); see also People of State of Cal. v. Mesa, 813 F.2d 960, 966 (9th Cir. 1987) ("A [state's] ability to protect its citizens from violence and other breaches of the peace through enforcement of criminal laws is the centermost pillar of sovereignty."). Finally, the state court criminal proceeding provides an adequate opportunity for plaintiff to litigate his constitutional claims by way of a suppression motion or other challenge to the evidence. "The 'adequate opportunity' prong of Younger ...


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