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Todd v. Ellis

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

January 2, 2014

DEREK TODD, Plaintiff,
JOHN ELLIS et al., Defendants.


KENDALL J. NEWMAN, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Derek Todd, who proceeds without counsel and in forma pauperis, initially commenced this action on May 22, 2013. (ECF No. 1.)[1] On June 25, 2013, the court dismissed plaintiff's original complaint, but with leave to amend. (ECF No. 3.) Thereafter, on July 3, 2013, plaintiff filed a first amended complaint, which remains pending for screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. (ECF No. 4.)

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. 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.

To avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim, a complaint must contain more than "naked assertions, " "labels and conclusions, " or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555-57 (2007). In other words, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Furthermore, a claim upon which the court can grant relief has facial plausibility. 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." Iqbal , 129 S.Ct. at 1949. When considering whether a complaint states a claim upon which relief can be granted, the court must accept the allegations as true, Erickson v. Pardus , 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007), and construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, see Scheuer v. Rhodes , 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974).

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 ordinarily 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. However, "[t]he district court's discretion to deny leave to amend is particularly broad where plaintiff has previously amended the complaint." Allen v. City of Beverly Hills , 911 F.2d 367, 373 (9th Cir. 1990).

After reviewing plaintiff's first amended complaint, the court concludes, as an initial matter, that plaintiff improperly joined defendants in violation of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a)(2). Rule 20(a)(2) provides that:

Persons...may be joined in one action as defendants if: (A) any right to relief is asserted against them jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and (B) any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a)(2).

In this case, plaintiff named approximately 34 defendants. Plaintiff's claims arise from at least five separate incidents or series of incidents: (1) plaintiff's February 3, 2010 arrest by Roseville Police Department officers based on plaintiff's alleged violation of an ex parte court order suspending plaintiff's visitation rights with his daughter; (2) the July 12, 2011 alleged obstruction of a criminal investigation by a state court judge, his judicial assistant, the Solano County District Attorney's Office, and the mother of plaintiff's son; (3) the June 15, 2011, June 21, 2011, and September 28, 2012, refusals of the Placer County Sheriff's Department/Placer County District Attorney's Office, the Solano County Sheriff's Department, and the Davis Police Department to investigate alleged perjury during a trial by defendant Lisa Rapalyea (plaintiff's son's former tutor); (4) the July 16, 2012 overcharging by officers of the Solano County Sheriff's Department for copies of police reports; and (5) various law enforcement officers' and agencies' refusals to investigate other miscellaneous alleged crimes against plaintiff and his son. (See ECF No. 4.) Plaintiff cannot join the presently-named defendants in one action, because plaintiff's claims against all these defendants plainly do not arise from the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences. The above-mentioned incidents, implicating various groups of defendants, involve different times, different types of acts, and different subject matter.

As such, the court only proceeds to substantively screen plaintiff's claims against the first-named defendant (defendant John Ellis), which pertain to the July 12, 2011 alleged obstruction of a criminal investigation, as well as the other defendants involved in that incident (defendants Cyndy Pymm, Solano County District Attorney's Office, and Crystal Williams Archer). The court recommends that the remaining claims and defendants be dismissed without prejudice for improper joinder under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a)(2).

As to the incident involving alleged obstruction of a criminal investigation, plaintiff alleges that, on July 12, 2011, defendant John Ellis, a state court judge, ordered his judicial assistant, defendant Cyndy Pymm, to obstruct a criminal investigation by a Solano County deputy sheriff. According to plaintiff, the deputy told plaintiff on the telephone that defendant Ellis "wanted to help the deputy write his criminal report." The criminal report at issue apparently concerned plaintiff's allegations that the mother of his son, Crystal Williams Archer, had somehow committed contempt of court, and the report purportedly stated that it would be forwarded to the Solano County District Attorney's Office for review. However, the Solano County District Attorney's Office allegedly informed plaintiff that they had never received the deputy's report and refused to write a letter to plaintiff explaining the incident. Plaintiff claims that defendants Ellis, Pymm, and Solano County District Attorney's Office wanted defendant Crystal Archer to get away with contempt of court, and that these defendants all conspired to violate various California Penal Code provisions and plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the law. (ECF No. 4 at 9-10.)

As to the alleged violations of the California Penal Code, plaintiff, as a private individual, has no standing to prosecute any violations of criminal laws. As such, those claims must be dismissed.

Furthermore, plaintiff's allegations fail to state a plausible claim for violation of plaintiff's equal protection rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff fails to plead any facts suggesting that any of the defendants acted with an intent or purpose to discriminate against plaintiff based on his membership in a protected class. Thornton v. City of St. Helens , 425 F.3d 1158, 1166-67 (9th Cir. 2005). Liberally construed, the first amended complaint merely suggests, in conclusory fashion, that the governmental defendants were essentially bad actors who wanted to help defendant Archer get away with contempt of court, not that their actions were attributable to plaintiff's membership in some protected class. A court cannot "accept as true allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences." Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors , 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001); see also Doe I v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. , 572 F.3d 677, 683 (9th Cir. 2009) ...

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