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Gregory v. County of San Diego

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

October 15, 2013



WILLIAM Q. HAYES, District Judge.

The matter before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss Complaint ("Motion to Dismiss"), filed by all Defendants. (ECF No. 10).

I. Background

On April 29, 2013, Plaintiff Patricia A. Gregory, proceeding pro se, filed a Complaint in this Court. (ECF No. 1).

A. Allegations of the Complaint

"On March 13, 2011, Plaintiff, a family law attorney, was placed on inactive status after a three day trial [before a California State Bar trial court] charging her with misappropriation of $112, 000 in trust funds in regards to two former clients, Luwain Ng and Denise Doll." Id. ¶ 9. "Plaintiff filed a motion for review based upon perjured testimony of the clients, prosecutorial misconduct and trial court error.... Prior to the State Bar Review Court's ruling, on September 29, 2011, Plaintiff was charged with 11 felony charges adding up to possibly 20 years in State Prison." Id. ¶¶ 9-10. "On January 23, 2012 Plaintiff signed a plea bargain/no contest to one felony and two misdemeanor counts because she been frightened and intimidated with the eleven felony charges made against her and the corresponding prison time. Plaintiff also feared that the perjured statements of the former clients made at the state bar trial would be believed at a criminal trial." Id. ¶ 15. "At the end of February 2012, the Review Department [of the State Bar of California] affirmed the [State Bar] Trial Court's ruling." Id., Ex. 8, ECF No. 1-2.

"On February 24, 2012 Plaintiff was sentenced to one year in [Las Colinas Women's Jail] based in part on the large amount of fees at issue and was immediately taken into custody from the courtroom." Id. ¶ 20, ECF No. 1. "Several days after Plaintiff's incarceration she began to request the use of the Las Colinas law library.... Plaintiff wanted to use the law library to research issues from the state bar trial that formed the basis for her criminal conviction and subsequent restitution order. Plaintiff wanted to investigate if she was entitled to relief from her criminal conviction and length of sentence. She also had to research the upcoming deadline for her petition for a writ of review [of the State Bar proceeding] to the Supreme Court." Id. "Plaintiff made about four visits to the law library, over a ten-day period, each visit lasting approximately two hours.... Then, without notice or reason, her requests for library time went unanswered." Id. Plaintiff submitted "Inmate Request forms" on March 12, 2012 and March 14, 2012, seeking law library access. Id. ¶¶ 21-22. For the last two weeks of March 2012, "there was absolutely no access to the law library or legal research materials." Id. ¶ 23. On April 1, 2012, Plaintiff received "a notice that the Law Library had been replaced by a legal research service." Id. "The legal research service limited inmate requests to only ONE per calendar month and only FIVE questions could be asked each month." Id. "This service was woefully deficient...." Id.

On April 18, 2012 and April 30, 2012, Plaintiff sent handwritten letters to the Supreme Court of California "explaining that she was incarcerated and unable to comply with procedures, fearful that she would miss the deadline for submitting a petition for writ of review [of the State Bar proceeding]." Id . ¶ 26. On April 24, 2012, May 4, 2012, and June 4, 2012, a deputy clerk with the Supreme Court of California wrote to Plaintiff stating that, "[t]o consider your petition, we require the petition to be in the proper form, " and "[i]t is still not clear which State Bar discipline matter you are appealing." Id., Exs. 7, 9, 10, ECF No. 1-2. On June 15, 2012, Plaintiff sent another letter to the Supreme Court of California. Id. ¶ 30, ECF No. 1. "On June 28, 2012, the [Supreme Court] clerk acknowledged Plaintiff's letter of June 15, 2012, however the deadline for submitting a petition had pas[sed]. He further explained that the documents returned to the Plaintiff were due to her failure to provide clarification and original verification." Id. "It was impossible for Plaintiff to clarify as she had no access to the tools necessary to comply. The verification form would have accompanied the petition, but Plaintiff was unable to prepare a petition without access to adequate research materials. There was no access to a copy machine to make three copies as required." Id. "The lack of a law library, lack of research materials and lack of the tools needed to draft and make copies of a petition caused Plaintiff to miss the deadline for filing a writ of petition to the Supreme Court regarding the underlying ruling of her criminal conviction and restitution order." Id.

"Defendants... violated Plaintiff's First, Sixth and Fourteenth amendment rights causing actual injury to Plaintiff." Id. ¶ 8. "The constitutionally defective policies and practices of Defendants as described within [the Complaint], stymied Plaintiff's access to the courts, resulting in Plaintiff's inability to file a timely appeal to an administrative ruling of the State Bar of California while she was incarcerated. And as the State Bar's ruling formed a basis for Plaintiff's conviction, confinement and restitution orders, Plaintiff's inability to access the courts to address trial court errors, resulted in pain, suffering, physical injury and emotional distress." Id.

On August 10, 2012, Plaintiff was released from custody. Id. ¶ 3.

The Complaint alleges that "once the State Bar's ruling became final, that ruling acted as res judicata as to the subsequent amount of criminal restitution ordered and supported the length of the criminal sentencing. Plaintiff never had the opportunity to petition the Supreme Court for a review of this administrative ruling as she is entitled. Plaintiff had a constitutional right to access the courts in order to properly address this crippling ruling, a right that was cruelly denied by the arbitrary acts of Defendants." Id. ¶ 56. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1983, the Complaint seeks declaratory relief, compensatory damages in the amount of $250, 000 against each Defendant, and punitive damages in the amount of $250, 000 against each Defendant. Id. ¶¶ 57-59.

B. Motion to Dismiss

On June 24, 2013, all Defendants jointly filed the Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 10). In conjunction with the Motion to Dismiss, Defendants filed a Request for Judicial Notice of certified copies of the "Felony Minutes" from the San Diego County Superior Court in the criminal case against Plaintiff. (ECF No. 10-2).[1] The "Felony Minutes" indicate that, at Plaintiff's sentencing on February 24, 2012, Plaintiff was ordered to pay restitution to the victims "in an amount to be determined" at a later hearing. Id. at 3. At hearings on March 26, 2012, May 2, 2012, July 5, 2012, and September 9, 2012, the restitution hearing was repeatedly continued to a future date. Id. at 5-11. At the restitution hearing on October 22, 2012, Plaintiff was ordered to "pay the following stipulated amounts: to Luwain Ng = $43, 130; to Denise Doll = $41, 865.48." Id. at 13. Plaintiff was no longer incarcerated at the time of the September 9, 2012 and October 22, 2012 hearings. Id. at 11, 13. At all hearings in Plaintiff's criminal case prior to September 12, 2012, Plaintiff was represented by retained counsel. Id. at 3-9. At the September 9, 2012 and October 22, 2012 hearings, a public defender appeared as attorney for Plaintiff. Id. at 11, 13.

Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint with prejudice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Defendants contend that the Complaint fails to state a ...

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