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Moore v. State

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

August 7, 2013

DARRELL MOORE, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF CALIFORNIA; STATE OF CALIFORNIA SUPERIOR COURT JUDGES; STATE OF CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT; THE STATE CHARTED AGENCY-THE HOUSING AUTHORITY OF THE CITY OF LOS ANGELES; STATE OF CALIFORNIA JUDICIAL COMMISSION, et al., Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS Dkt. Nos. 10 & 12

DEAN D. PREGERSON, District Judge.

Presently before the court are Defendants' Motions to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint. Having considered the submissions of the parties, the court grants the Motions and adopts the following order.

I. Background

Plaintiff, Darrell J. Moore, Sr., seeks a declaratory judgment that the California Court of Appeal Order declaring him a vexatious litigant is an "incorrect and wrongful application of the State Statute." (First Amended Complaint ("FAC") ¶ 59.) Plaintiff further seeks to "enjoin the State of California from denying [his] rights to due process, " and to "[reinstate] his appeals." (Id.) Plaintiff names the State of California, State of California Superior Court Judges, the State Appellate Court, the State of California Supreme Court, the State Chartered Agency the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles ("HACLA"), the Commissioners of the HACLA, and the State of California Judicial Commission as Defendants.

Plaintiff has previously filed multiple lawsuits against Defendants including his former employer, the HACLA. At the request of the HACLA, the California Court of Appeal issued an order declaring Plaintiff a vexatious litigant subject to the provisions of the California Code of Civil Procedure ("CCP") Section 391. (State's Request for Judicial Notice ("RJN"), Exh. A.) In the order, the California Court of Appeal stated, "in the preceding seven years, in this District alone, [Plaintiff] has prosecuted at least five appeals and writ petitions pro se which have been finally determined adversely to him." (Id. at 2). The appellate court denied Plaintiff's petition for rehearing. (State's RJN, Exh. B.) The California Supreme Court denied Plaintiff leave to file a petition for writ of mandate. (State's RJN, Exh. C.)

Plaintiff claims that the Court of Appeal illegally and wrongfully used at least three non-final judgment interim matters as litigations for purposes of declaring Plaintiff a vexatious litigant. (FAC ¶¶ 21, 22.) Plaintiff further alleges that the HACLA fraudulently led the court to miscalculate the required number of litigations needed to declare him a vexatious litigant. (Id.) Plaintiff argues that the five cases that were used to determine that Plaintiff is a vexatious litigant (B205489, B208276, B208560, B231379, and B333818) are "cases that were still pending, had not been fully or finally determined, or were case numbers for writs and or petitions born out of cases that ended in a final resolution in favor of [Plaintiff]." (FAC ¶¶ 13, 18-21.) Plaintiff claims that this miscalculation resulted in the violation of many constitutional and statutory rights. (FAC ¶¶ 5, 44, 47-48).

Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Specifically, the Defendants seek to dismiss on the grounds that (1) Plaintiff's claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment and (2) federal jurisdiction to review and correct state court decisions is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

II. Legal Standard

A. Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)

The district court must dismiss an action if the court lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter of the suit. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). The party seeking to invoke federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing that jurisdiction exists. Scott v. Breeland , 792 F.2d 925, 927 (9th Cir.1986). A complaint will be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction where a plaintiff's claim is barred by sovereign immunity. See Porter ex rel. Porter v. Board of Trustees of Manhatten Beach Unified School Dist. , 123 F.Supp.2d 1187, 1194 (C.D.Cal.2000)(reversed on other grounds); Wright, Miller & Cooper, Federal Practice & Procedure: Civil § 1350 (3d ed.1998).

B. Failure to State a Claim Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

The district court may grant dismissal when a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A well-pleaded complaint must provide "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544(2007). When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must presume all well-pleaded factual allegations of the complaint to be true. Syverson v. IBM Corp. , 472 F.3d 1072, 1075 (9th Cir.2007). However, the court need not presume as true allegations of law that are conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences. See Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors , 266 F.3d 979, 988(9th Cir. 2001).

III. Discussion

A. Plaintiff's Claims against the State of California

1. Eleventh Amendment Bars Plaintiffs Claims against the State of California

The Eleventh Amendment immunizes states from suits brought by their citizens in federal court without their consent. Hans v. Louisiana , 134 U.S. 1(1890); U.S. Const. amend. XI. Waiver of Eleventh Amendment immunity by a state will be found "only where stated by the most express language or by such overwhelming implication from the text as [will] leave no room for any other reasonable construction." Atascadero State Hosp. v. Scanion , 473 U.S. 34, 239-40(quoting Edelman v. Jordan , 415 U.S. 651, 673(1974)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

The present case is a classic example of a state's Eleventh Amendment immunity. Plaintiff, a citizen of California, is bringing suit against the State of California. The State of California does not purport to waive its immunity. (State of California Motion to Dismiss ("Cal. Motion") at 3.) Nor does Plaintiff claim that the State has waived its immunity. (Plaintiffs Opposition to State of California's Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint ("Cal. Opposition") at 5). Plaintiff has failed to show why this Court has jurisdiction over his claims against the State of California. Thus, this court must dismiss all claims against the State of California for lack of jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1).

2. The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine Bars Plaintiff's Claims against the State of California

Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, jurisdiction to review final state court judgments rests with the United States Supreme Court. Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co. , 263 U.S. 413, 415-16 (1923); Noel v. Hall , 341 F.3d 1148, 1154 (9th Cir. 2003). District courts do not have jurisdiction "over challenges to state court decisions." Dist. of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman , 460 U.S. 462, 486(1983); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1257. When a non-prevailing plaintiff in state court seeks to set aside the judgment of the state court in a federal district court, "the federal suit is a forbidden de facto appeal." Noel 341 F.3d at 1156; see also Carmona v. Carmona , 603 F.3d 1041, 1050 (9th Cir. 2008) (holding that Rooker-Feldman bars suits by state-court losers "complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments"). "To reverse or modify the judgment of the state court because of such errors would be an exercise of appellate jurisdiction' possessed only by the Supreme Court." Noel , 341 F.3d at 1156 (quoting Rooker , 263 U.S. at 416).

In the present case, Plaintiff asserts that the California state court decision to declare him a vexatious litigant is a legal wrong and is seeking to set aside the state court judgment. Plaintiff also asks the federal district court to reverse the California Supreme Court's decision to deny Plaintiff leave to file a petition for a writ of mandate. Plaintiff, a state-court loser, discontented with the state-court judgments, is "seeking district court review and rejection of those judgments." Carmona, at 1050.

In Kougasian v. TMSL, Inc., the Ninth Circuit held that Rooker-Feldman does not bar federal jurisdiction over claims asserting that state-court judgments had been obtained by extrinsic fraud upon the court. 359 F.3d 1136 (9th Cir. 2004). Rooker-Feldman applies "only when the plaintiff both asserts as her injury legal error or errors by the state court and seeks as her remedy relief from the state court judgment." Id. at 1140. However, if a plaintiff "asserts as a legal wrong an allegedly illegal act or omission by an adverse party, Rooker-Feldman does not bar jurisdiction." Noel , 341 F.3d 1148, 1164 (9th Cir. 2003).

Thus, if Plaintiff can state a claim for fraud on the court, such claims are not barred by Rooker-Feldman. "A plaintiff alleging extrinsic fraud on a state court is not alleging a legal error by the state court; rather, he or she is alleging a wrongful act by the adverse party." Kougasian, at 1140-41. Plaintiff is asserting a wrongful act, fraud upon the court, by an adverse party, the HACLA. Thus, the district court is not deprived of subject matter jurisdiction as to Plaintiffs claims against HACLA.

2. Plaintiff Fails to State a Claim for Fraud on the Court

A state court judgment may be set aside for fraud on the court. Pumphrey v. K.W. Thompson Tool Co. , 62 F.3d 1128, 1130 (9th Cir. 1995). However, a claim of fraud on the court "should be read narrowly, in the interest of preserving the finality of judgments." Toscano v. Comm'r , 441 F.2d 930, 934 (9th Cir.1971). Plaintiffs seeking relief from a judgment based on fraud on the court face a high burden and must establish fraud upon the court by clear and convincing evidence. Latshaw v. Trainer Wortham & Co., Inc. , 452 F.3d 1097, 1104 (9th Cir. 2006). Plaintiff must establish that the alleged fraud involved "an unconscionable plan or scheme which is designed to improperly influence the court in its decision." Abatti v. Commissioner , 859 F.2d 115, 118 (9th Cir.1988). See also England v. Doyle , 281 F.2d 304, 309-10 (9th Cir. 1960) (to set aside a judgment arising out of fraud on the court "it is necessary to show an unconscionable plan or scheme which is designed to improperly influence the court in its decision."). Fraud "connected with the presentation of a case to a court" does not necessarily improperly influence the judicial process. United States v. Estate of Stonehill , 660 F.3d 415, 444 (9th Cir. 2011). Also, non-disclosure by itself or a failure to produce evidence do not necessarily constitute fraud on the court. See In re Levander , 180 F.3d 1114, 1119 (9th Cir. 1999); Doyle , 281 F.2d at 310 (9th Cir.1960).

Plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the alleged misconduct of the HACLA "affected the integrity of the judicial process, " either because the court itself was defrauded or because the misconduct was perpetrated by officers of the court. Alexander v. Robertson , 882 F.2d 421, 424. See also In re Intermagnetics Am., Inc. , 926 F.2d 912, 917 (9th Cir. 1991). Moreover, Plaintiff must show that the fraud "harms the integrity of the judicial process, regardless of whether [Plaintiff] is prejudiced." Dixon v. C.I.R. , 316 F.3d 1041, 1046 (9th Cir. 2003); see also Intermagnetics Am., Inc. , 926 F.2d at 916 (9th Cir. 1991)(determining fraud on the court is focused not "in terms of whether the alleged fraud prejudiced the opposing party but more in terms of whether the alleged fraud harms the integrity of the judicial process").

Here, Plaintiff fails to establish that the allege fraud involved an unconscionable plan or scheme' to improperly influence the court. To be declared a vexatious litigant under CCP § 391, a person must have "commenced, prosecuted, or maintained in propria persona at least five litigations... that have been (i) finally determined adversely to the person" in the immediately preceding seven-year period. CCP § 391(b)(1). The fraud' plaintiff alleges is the HACLA's presentation to the California Court of Appeal of interim matters and writs that were not finally determined adversely to him as the litigations to declare Plaintiff a vexatious litigant. Plaintiff claims that the HACLA intentionally used these cases to confuse the Court of Appeal into miscalculating the required number of litigations needed to declare a plaintiff a vexatious litigant.

However, fraud connected with the presentation of a case to a court does not necessarily harm the judicial process. Estate of Stonehill , 660 F.3d at 444. Non-disclosure of a case and non-disclosure of the fact that a case may have been an interim case or a case without final judgment does not constitute fraud on the court. See In re Levander at 1119; Doyle , 281 F.2d at 310. The records and case numbers are all a matter of public record easily accessible by the state court, Plaintiff, and Defendant. Regardless of what the HACLA presented to the court, a unanimous panel of the California Court of Appeal and the California Supreme Court determined that declaring Plaintiff a vexatious litigant was warranted. It is clear that the HACLA did not contrive an unconscionable plan in attempt to improperly obtain a favorable ruling from the state court. No material fact was concealed from the state court and the HACLA disclosed all that was necessary for its motion to declare Plaintiff a vexatious litigant.

A claim of fraud upon the court must also show how the alleged fraud harms the integrity of the judicial process. Dixon, 316 F.3d at 146. Plaintiff fails to show that the alleged fraud harms the integrity of the judicial process; rather, he focuses on how the alleged fraud prejudices him. Throughout his complaint, Plaintiff claims that Defendants' actions were done with intent to injure him and to prevent him from asserting his legal rights. (FAC ¶ 47, 48, 51, 52, 55, 56.) Plaintiff alleges no facts to show that the HACLA defiled, or attempted to defile, the state court so that it could not perform in its usual manner. Alexander , 882 F.2d at 424.

Thus, the court finds that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for fraud upon the court and that no relevant exception to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies. The action is therefore barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine as improperly challenging a state court judgment in federal court.

IV. Conclusion

For these reasons, Defendants' motions to dismiss are GRANTED. Plaintiff's Ex Parte Application for Extension of Time to File (Dckt. No. 23) and Ex Parte Application for Leave to Amend the Complaint (Dckt. No. 24) are VACATED as moot.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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