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Darrell Archer, et al v. City of Taft

April 26, 2012


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


Darrell Archer and Keitha Darquea ("Plaintiffs") initiated this action by filing a complaint and paying the requisite filing fee on February 23, 2012. (Doc. 1). For the following reasons, Plaintiffs‟ complaint is DISMISSED WITH LEAVE TO AMEND.

I. Pleading Requirements

General rules for pleading complaints are governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A complaint must include a statement affirming the court‟s jurisdiction, "a short and plain statement of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief; and . . . a demand for the relief sought, which may include relief in the alternative or different types of relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). The Federal Rules adopt a flexible pleading policy, and pro se pleadings are held to "less stringent standards" than pleadings by attorneys. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 521-21 (1972).

A complaint must state the elements of the plaintiff‟s claim in a plain and succinct manner. Jones v. Cmty Redevelopment Agency, 733 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1984). The purpose of a complaint is to give the defendant fair notice of the claims against him, and the grounds upon which the 2 complaint stands. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002). The Supreme Court noted, 3 Rule 8 does not require detailed factual allegations, but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation. A pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement.

Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). 7 Conclusory and vague allegations do not support a cause of action. Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 8 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982). The Court clarified further, 9 [A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." [Citation]. 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. [Citation]. The plausibility standard is not akin to a "probability requirement," but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. [Citation]. Where a complaint pleads facts that are "merely consistent with" a defendant‟s liability, it "stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of "entitlement to relief.‟

Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (citations omitted). When factual allegations are well-pled, a court should assume their truth and determine whether the facts would make the plaintiff entitled to relief; conclusions in the pleading are not entitled to the same assumption of truth. Id.

The Court has a duty to dismiss a case at any time it determines an action fails to state a claim, "notwithstanding any filing fee that may have been paid." 28 U.S.C. § 1915e(2). Accordingly, a court "may act on its own initiative to note the inadequacy of a complaint and dismiss it for failure to state a claim." See Wong v. Bell, 642 F.2d 359, 361 (9th Cir. 1981) (citing 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure, § 1357 at 593 (1963). However, the Court may grant leave to amend a complaint to the extent deficiencies of the complaint can be cured by an amendment. Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127-28 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).

II. Plaintiffs' Allegations

Plaintiffs assert they own real property in the City of Taft, located at 300 Lucard Street. (Doc. 1 at 10). Plaintiffs allege the corner property is large and contains three buildings, including a three-apartment building, a two-car garage, and a two-story cottage. Id. According to Plaintiffs, they "have been doing construction and improvement on the property for the last few years when they have had time, already having put a new foundation under the cottage and the garage, and a new roof on the 2 garage along with remodeling two of the apartments. . ." Id. Consequently, Plaintiffs had a stack of 3 lumber, some metal sheeting, and some smaller pieces of lumber on the property "being saved for 4 when they returned to further their construction work." Id. 5

According to Plaintiffs, on June 17 2010, defendant Jill Gipson, Code Enforcement Officer for Taft, "trespassed on [their] property for the purpose of posting a Code Violation Notice, then mailed a 7 certified letter of Notice of Violation . . . to Mary Meredith, a co-owner of the Lucard St. property, to 8 the address of Plaintiffs." (Doc. 1 at 11). Plaintiffs assert they did not receive notice of the certified 9 letter from the Post Office, and the letter was returned to Taft on July 12, 2010. Id.

Plaintiffs contend "employees and machinery" of J.E. Burke Construction, Inc., a contractor for the City of Taft, "trespassed on Plaintiffs‟ property, stole all the lumber, destroyed the large rock planter, [and] stole the components of it" on September 24, 2010. (Doc. 1 at 12). The Contractor "created an invoice in the amount of $892 for work performed." Id. at 25. Plaintiffs allege the invoice included "trash removal and vegetation removal," but "[t]here was no overgrown vegetation [and] no trash." Id. at 12, 25. A "Declaration of Substandard Property was filed with the Kern County Recorder by Taft Code Enforcement Dept. signed by Jill Gipson" on October 11, 2010. Id. at 12. Thereafter, Jill Gipson created an invoice dated October 26, 2010 charging Plaintiffs a total of $937.36, which included the costs for removal by the contractor, time expended by code enforcement in the amount of $39.82, and mailing costs in the amount of $5.54. Id. at 25.

Plaintiffs allege they "were not aware of any of these actions at the time of their occurrence." (Doc. 1 at 13). Rather, Plaintiffs assert they "only became aware of Taft‟s actions after receipt of a certified letter dated February 23, 2011 wherein Plaintiffs were notified of Taft‟s intention to file a lien on their property" for violations of Taft City Code §§ 3-4-8(A)(3)(a) and (c), which govern public nuisances and inadequately maintained property. Id. at 13, 22.The notice informed Plaintiffs also that their property would be addressed at the City Council meeting held on March 15, 2011, which Plaintiffs attended. Id. at 13.

At the City Council meeting, Plaintiffs assert they "expressed their concern over Taft‟s actions." (Doc. 1 at 13). Plaintiffs contend the mayor, council members, the city clerk, and the city attorney displayed a "uniform attitude" of "general indifference." Id. In addition, Plaintiffs allege the 2 mayor told Darrell Archer to "sit down" after he accused the city of "exerting acts of ownership over 3 private property." Id. According to Plaintiffs, "Taft‟s only procedure to address action by code 4 enforcement is a notice, and a hearing before the City Council." Id. at 27. Because Plaintiffs refused 5 to pay the amount due, the city placed a lien on the property located at 300 Lucard Street. Id. 6

III. Discussion and Analysis

Based upon the foregoing facts, Plaintiffs allege violations of the Fourth Amendment, Fifth Amendment, Eighth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment; civil rights violations pursuant to 42 9 U.S.C. § 1983; and a conspiracy to violate civil rights pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 241. Plaintiffs allege defendants violated several sections of the California Penal Code by destroying private property, trespassing, and committing grand theft. Further, Plaintiffs state causes of action for violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations ("RICO") Act, failure to perform mandatory duties, violations of oath of office, and domestic terrorism.

A. Civil Rights Violations

Notably, the Fourth Amendment, Fifth Amendment, Eighth Amendment, and Fourteenth Amendment do not create direct causes of action. Arpin v. Santa Clara Valley Transp. Agency, 261 F.3d 912, 929 (9th Cir. 2001) ("a litigant complaining of a violation of a constitutional right does not have a direct cause of action under the United States Constitution." However, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") "is a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred." Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994). Thus, an individual may bring an action for the deprivation of civil rights pursuant to Section 1983, which states in relevant part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. A plaintiff must allege facts from which it may be inferred (1) he was deprived of a federal right, and (2) a person or entity who committed the alleged violation acted under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Williams v. Gorton, 529 F.2d 668, 670 (9th Cir. 1976).

To sufficiently allege a Section 1983 claim, a plaintiff must allege a specific injury and show 2 causal relationship between the defendant‟s conduct and the alleged injury suffered by the plaintiff. 3 See Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 371-72, 377 (1976); Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 4 1978) (a connection shown where a defendant "does an affirmative act, participates in another‟s 5 affirmative acts, or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do so that it causes the 6 deprivation of which complaint is made"). Significantly, there is no respondeat superior liability 7 under Section 1983, and the supervisor of an individual who allegedly violated constitutional rights is 8 not made liable to a plaintiff simply by virtue of that role. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 9 658, 691 (1978).

Finally, as with other claims, conclusory allegations unsupported by facts are insufficient to state a civil rights claim under Section 1983. Sherman v. ...

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