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Lamont A. Houze Ii v. State of California

November 8, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff, proceeding in this action without counsel or "pro se," has requested leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915.*fn1 (Mot. to Proceed In Forma Pauperis, Dkt. No. 4.) 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 is granted.


The determination that plaintiff may proceed in forma pauperis does not complete the required inquiry. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the court is directed to dismiss the case at any time if it determines that the allegation of poverty is untrue, or if the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against an immune defendant.

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.

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 (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. "[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, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "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 (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.


1. Screening Plaintiff's Complaint

Plaintiff's claims are alleged as against several defendants: the State of California, the County of Sacramento District Attorney Office, the Sacramento Superior Court, the Sacramento Department of Child Support, the Sacramento Sheriff Department, and the Sacramento Police Department. (Compl. at 1.)

In this case, plaintiff seeks damages for several allegedly wrongful sentences of confinement imposed by the Sacramento County Superior Court in 2005, 2006, and 2007. (See generally Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) The first sentence allegedly arose in connection with plaintiff's "riding on the Sacramento light rail system without payment of fare." (Compl., Dkt. No. 1 at 2-3, 5.) Plaintiff alleges that his sentence for riding the light rail without paying went beyond the sentence allowed for the crime charged, which resulted in deprivation of his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. (Id. at 2-3, 5-6.) Plaintiff also alleges he was improperly imprisoned after being held in contempt of court in a "child support matter." (Id. at 4.) Similarly, plaintiff alleges that he was improperly arrested and imprisoned for multiple violations of a "false restraining order." (Id. at 6-8.) Plaintiff alleges a broad conspiracy to violate his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985 with respect to each of the above-described imprisonments. (Id. at 5-6.) Plaintiff seeks damages in the amount of $100 million. (Id. at 12.)

A. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

Because of the immunity from suit provided by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, plaintiff's claims for damages from the State of California are barred. The Eleventh Amendment prohibits federal courts from hearing suits brought against a state by its own citizens or citizens of other states. Brooks v. Sulphur Springs Valley Elec. Coop., 951 F.2d 1050, 1053 (9th Cir. 1991). The Eleventh Amendment also "bars suits for money damages in federal court against a state, its agencies, and state officials acting in their official capacities." Alolelei v. Dep't of Pub. Safety, 488 F.3d 1144, 1146 (9th Cir. 2007); accord Flint v. Dennison, 488 F.3d 816, 824-25 (9th Cir. 2007); Simmons v. Sacramento Cnty. Superior Court, 318 F.3d 1156, 1161 (9th Cir. 2003) (holding that damages claims alleged against the Superior Court and its employees barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity); see also Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991) ("Although state officials literally are persons, an official-capacity suit against a state officer is not a suit against the official but rather is a suit against the official's office. As such it is no different from a suit against the State itself." (citation and quotation marks omitted).).*fn2

Here, plaintiff's "civil rights" claims against the State of California are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has recognized that "[t]he State of California has not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity with respect to claims brought under § 1983 in federal court, and the Supreme Court has held that § 1983 was not intended to abrogate a State's Eleventh Amendment immunity." Dittman v. California, 191 F.3d 1020, 1025-26 (9th Cir. 1999) (citations and quotation marks omitted). As a suit against the State of California, plaintiff's constitutional claims against this defendant are barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity. Accordingly, plaintiff shall not ...

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