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Harry Lloyd Howard v. Barbara Whitson

February 27, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Allison Claire United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff, a state prisoner, proceeds pro se and in forma pauperis in this action seeking injunctive relief and money damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff has consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned. ECF No. 4.

On August 13, 2012, the court dismissed plaintiff's original complaint with leave to amend, and advised plaintiff that no further amendments would be allowed. ECF No. 8. On February 6, 2013, plaintiff filed his amended complaint. ECF No. 19. For the reasons outlined below, the amended complaint will be dismissed without leave to amend.

The Complaint

Screening Requirements The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally "frivolous or malicious," that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1),(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, 555 (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, 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.

In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Hospital Bldg. Co. v. Rex Hospital Trustees, 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976), construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and resolve all doubts in the plaintiff's favor. Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969).

Summary of the Complaint

Plaintiff alleges that between November 1, 2007 and February 18, 2010, defendants essentially used him to obtain information about contraband coming into California State Prison - Solano ("CSP-Solano"). ECF No. 19 at 2, 4-6. Plaintiff, who is apparently serving a term of 25 years to life (ECF No. 19 at 7), claims that he had an oral contract with defendants Whitson and Middlebrooks for plaintiff's release in exchange for plaintiff's cooperation. Id. at 7. Plaintiff alleges that, instead of being released, defendants stole his property and issued disciplinary violations to plaintiff which have resulted in plaintiff's loss of conduct credits, forcing him to serve an extra eight years. Id. at 20-23.


Contract Claims Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. E.g., Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute. Id. For example, parties may litigate in this court cases involving a federal question, such as a civil complaint alleging deprivation of federal constitutional rights by a person acting under color of law (42 U.S.C. § 1983), or a habeas corpus petition alleging custody, pursuant to a state court judgment, in violation of the federal constitution (28 U.S.C. § 2254). See also Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 71-72, 75 (1991) (error under state law is not a basis for federal habeas relief unless error "so infused trial with unfairness as to deny due process of law"); Bailey v. Hill, 599 F.3d 976, 984 (9th Cir. 2010) (federal courts lack jurisdiction to adjudicate a challenge to a restitution order by a custodial state prisoner who does not challenge the lawfulness of his custody under federal law); Sweaney v. Ada County, Idaho, 119 F.3d 1385, 1391 (9th Cir.1997), quoting Lovell v. Poway Unified Sch. Dist., 90 F.3d 367, 370 (9th Cir.1996) ("To the extent that the violation of a state law amounts to the deprivation of a state-created interest that reaches beyond that guaranteed by the federal Constitution, [s]section 1983 offers no redress." ).

In its prior order, the court noted that plaintiff's state law contract claims were not colorable because the claims did not implicate any Constitutional or other federally-protected right. See ECF No. 8 at 3 (cases cited). Plaintiff again attempts to raise this contract claim, along with various other state law extortion and larceny claims, alleging that defendants' breach has infringed his liberty interest. See ECF No. 19 at 20-21.

However, plaintiff fails to offer any authority for his conclusory premise that the alleged contract created a liberty ...

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