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Sara Batterham v. Mono County Law Enforcement

June 18, 2012



This case, in which plaintiff is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, is before the undersigned pursuant to Eastern District of California Local Rule 302(c)(21). See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Defendants Doug Hornbeck and the Town of Mammoth Lakes, and defendant Mono County Sheriff's Department*fn1 , move to dismiss plaintiff's second amended complaint. Dckt. Nos. 20, 21. For the reasons stated herein, the court recommends that both motions be granted and that the remainder of plaintiff's second amended complaint be dismissed without leave to amend pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915.


On April 26, 2011, plaintiff filed a complaint alleging numerous claims against the Town of Mammoth Lakes, Mono County Law Enforcement, the Mono County District Attorneys' Office, Mono County district attorney George Booth, Mono County deputy district attorneys Kyle Graham and Jeremy Ibrihim, and Mono County district attorney investigators Wade McCammond, Frank Smith, and Doug Hornbeck. Dckt. No. 1. Among other things, the complaint alleged that defendants violated plaintiff's due process and other civil rights, as well as a variety of state law rights, by falsely arresting and imprisoning plaintiff for alleged embezzlement from her former employer, searching plaintiff's residence and seizing her belongings, and altering evidence regarding plaintiff's case. Id. The complaint also included numerous allegations regarding a variety of alleged misconduct by defendants. Id.

Then, after defendants Doug Hornbeck and the Town of Mammoth Lakes filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's initial complaint, on December 29, 2011, plaintiff filed an amended complaint against "Mono County Law Enforcement, et al.," John Ball, Intuit Inc., and Leanne Jesperson, alleging violations of her rights to a fair trial, due process, and equal protection of the laws, based on conduct that allegedly occurred during plaintiff's jury trial in October and November 2011. Dckt. No. 15. The amended complaint also continued to include allegations against previously named defendant Doug Hornbeck. Id. at 2-3.*fn2 However, the amended complaint did not include many of the allegations stated in plaintiff's original complaint, nor did it allege any claims against many of the defendants named therein.

Nonetheless, on January 11, 2012, the undersigned issued an order stating that "[a]lthough it is unclear whether plaintiff intended for her amended complaint to supercede her original complaint or only to supplement it, because such supplementation is impermissible and because amended complaints supersede earlier complaints filed in an action, the court assumes plaintiff's amended complaint was intended to supercede her original complaint." *fn3 Dckt. No. 16 at 2. The order then found that plaintiff should be granted leave to amend; deemed plaintiff's first amended complaint, Dckt. No. 15, the operative complaint in this action; and denied defendants' motion to dismiss as moot. Id. at 4. However, out of an abundance of caution, the order also provided that "[i]f plaintiff did not intend for her amended complaint to supercede her original complaint, on or before January 27, 2012, plaintiff shall file a motion for leave to further amend her complaint to include all of her allegations and all defendants." Id. The order noted that "[i]f plaintiff does not file such a motion, the court will issue an order directing service of process on only the defendants named in the first amended complaint and setting a deadline for already-served defendants to respond to the first amended complaint." Id. at 5. Finally, the order provided that defendants who have already been served with the first amended complaint need not file a response to that complaint until directed to do so by the court.

Plaintiff did not file a motion for leave to further amend her complaint. Therefore, on February 8, 2012, the court issued an order indicating that, as provided in the January 11, 2012 order, the court would direct service of process on only the defendants named in the caption and/or the allegations in the first amended complaint: Mono County Law Enforcement, Judge John T. Ball, Intuit Inc., Leanne Jesperson, Doug Hornbeck, and the Mono County District Attorney's Office. Dckt. No. 18.

The order then went on to dismiss the entire first amended complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). The order noted that in plaintiff's first amended complaint, she alleged that "Mono county law enforcement engaged in numerous civil rights violations including denying plaintiff the right to a fair trial, due process, and equal protection of the laws." Dckt. No. 15 at 1.

She claimed that her criminal jury trial in October and November 2011 was an "ambush," and that she was denied counsel, denied her right to confront witnesses, and denied her right to equal protection and due process. Id. at 1, 2. Specifically, she contended that (1) Officer Hornbeck tampered with witness statements, witnesses, and jurors, id. at 2; (2) witness Leanne Jesperson conspired with Hornbeck and the prosecution, committed perjury, and dissuaded other potential witnesses from attending trial, id. at 3; (3) Hornbeck and the prosecution illegally tapped plaintiff's phone and computer during trial, id. at 3; (4) the judge engaged in numerous fair trial and equal protection violations and is not immune because he is not a properly elected official, id. at 3; (5) her former attorney, Christian Zeaman, testified against her and revealed confidential communications, id. at 3; and (6) the charges against her violated her due process and equal protection rights, id. at 3. She sought immediate release from custody and wanted the court to direct the Department of Justice to oversee all cases prosecuted by the Mono County district attorney's office. Id. at 3-4.

The February 8 order then stated that because it appeared that plaintiff really sought to challenge the fairness of her trial and the validity of her conviction, the first amended complaint was barred under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), which precludes federal courts from entertaining collateral challenges to state criminal convictions absent the conviction being called into question. Dckt. No. 18 at 4. The order also provided that "to the extent plaintiff's complaint claims that her conviction was unlawful and to the extent that plaintiff requests that this court reverse her conviction, such a claim is dismissed" under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which provides that a federal district court does not have subject-matter jurisdiction to hear an appeal from the judgment of a state court. Id. at 4-5 (citing Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 283-84 (2005); see also Dist. of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 476 (1983); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 415 (1923)). Finally, the order noted that "many of the parties plaintiff names in her first amended complaint are improper defendants and/or are immune from liability" and that plaintiff also failed "to allege that some of the defendants named in the first amended complaint are state actors or were otherwise acting under color of law." Id. at 5-6. Therefore, plaintiff's entire first amended complaint was dismissed with leave to amend. Plaintiff was granted leave to amend only if she could "allege a cognizable legal theory against a proper defendant and sufficient facts in support of that cognizable legal theory." Id. at 6.

On March 12, 2012, plaintiff filed a 66-page second amended complaint. Dckt. No. 19. The second amended complaint consists of plaintiff's original complaint, plaintiff's first amended complaint, excerpts from a petition for a writ of habeas corpus allegedly filed in the California Supreme Court, and multiple pages of handwritten and largely illegible argument. Id. It identifies in the caption all nine defendants named in the original complaint ("Mono County Law Enforcement," Mono County District Attorney's Office, Town of Mammoth Lakes, Kyle Fletcher Graham, George Booth, Wade McCammond, Frank Smith, Doug Hornbeck, and Jeremy Ibrahim), two of the additional defendants named in the first amended complaint (Leanne Jesperson and Judge John T. Ball), as well as six new defendants (Innovative Merchant Solutions, Christian Zeaman, Oklahoma Bar Association, Surat Singh, Khalsa Resorts, and Officer Brown). Id.

Defendants Doug Hornbeck and the Town of Mammoth Lakes, and defendant Mono County Sheriff's Department, then filed motions to dismiss the second amended complaint. Dckt. Nos. 20, 21. On April 30, 2012, because the court determined that oral argument on the motions would not be of material assistance to the court, the motions were submitted without oral argument and the May 2, 2012 hearings thereon were vacated. Dckt. No. 24; see also E.D. Cal. L.R. 230(g). On May 1, 2012, a motion to continue the hearings and what appeared to be both an opposition to the motions and a request for additional time to file a further opposition, which plaintiff filed on April 27, 2012, appeared on the docket. Dckt. No. 25 (asking the court to reschedule the May 2, 2012 hearing because plaintiff is in custody; stating that she just received the transcripts from her criminal trial on April 24, 2012 and would be "support[ing] her . . . Civil Rights petition with exhibits verifying facts shortly"; and requesting that the court issue and send plaintiff ten subpoenas so she can gather more evidence).

Although the April 27 filing was untimely in several respects, on May 2, 2012, the undersigned issued an order giving plaintiff an opportunity to file a further opposition to the pending motions to dismiss, and stating that if plaintiff elects not to file a revised opposition, plaintiff's April 27, 2012 opposition, Dckt. No. 25, would be considered by the court. Id. at 3. Plaintiff did not file a revised opposition within the time prescribed; therefore, the court will consider the opposition she filed on April 27, 2012.*fn4


A. Legal Standards Under Rule 12(b)(1) "Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute . . . ." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377, (1994) (internal citations omitted). Rule 12(b)(1) allows a party to seek dismissal of an action where federal subject matter jurisdiction is lacking. "When subject matter jurisdiction is challenged under Federal Rule of Procedure 12(b)(1), the plaintiff has the burden of ...

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