United States District Court, E.D. California
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
DALE A. DROZD, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Mark Adams, is proceeding in this action pro se. This matter was referred to the undersigned in accordance with Local Rule 302(c)(21) and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Plaintiff has requested for leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and has filed a motion to file documents electronically.
Plaintiff's in forma pauperis application makes the showing required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). However, a determination that a plaintiff qualifies financially for in forma pauperis status does not complete the inquiry required by the statute. "A district court may deny leave to proceed in forma pauperis at the outset if it appears from the face of the proposed complaint that the action is frivolous or without merit.'" Minetti v. Port of Seattle , 152 F.3d 1113, 1115 (9th Cir. 1998) (quoting Tripati v. First Nat. Bank & Trust , 821 F.2d 1368, 1370 (9th Cir. 1987)). See also Smart v. Heinze , 347 F.2d 114, 116 (9th Cir. 1965) ("It is the duty of the District Court to examine any application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis to determine whether the proposed proceeding has merit and if it appears that the proceeding is without merit, the court is bound to deny a motion seeking leave to proceed in forma pauperis.").
Moreover, the court must dismiss an in forma pauperis case at any time if the allegation of poverty is found to be untrue or if it is determined that 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. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). A complaint is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis 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). Under this standard, a court must dismiss a complaint 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; 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e).
To state a claim on which relief may be granted, the plaintiff must allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). In considering whether a complaint states a cognizable claim, the court accepts as true the material allegations in the complaint and construes the allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Hishon v. King & Spalding , 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Hosp. Bldg. Co. v. Trustees of Rex Hosp. , 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976); Love v. United States , 915 F.2d 1242, 1245 (9th Cir. 1989). Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner , 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). However, the court need not accept as true conclusory allegations, unreasonable inferences, or unwarranted deductions of fact. Western Mining Council v. Watt , 643 F.2d 618, 624 (9th Cir. 1981).
The minimum requirements for a civil complaint in federal court are as follows:
A pleading which sets forth a claim for relief... shall contain (1) a short and plain statement of the grounds upon which the court's jurisdiction depends..., (2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, and (3) a demand for judgment for the relief the pleader seeks.
FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a).
Here, in his complaint plaintiff alleges eight causes of action and seeks "$1 Million Dollars" in compensatory damages and "$1 Million Dollars" in punitive damages. (Compl. (Dkt. No. 1) at 13.) The first, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh causes of action identified in the complaint, however, allege facts implicating plaintiff's various civil and criminal matters in state court and name as the defendants various state court judges, state court personnel and the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office. Specifically, in his complaint plaintiff makes the following allegations: (1) on September 26, 2010, "the [d]efendant Superior Court Judge of San Mateo County named Judge John Grandseart... deprived" plaintiff of his "right to obtain Brady discovery" to prove his "factual innocence in a trial court proceeding;" (2) "since April 2005, the Superior Court of San Mateo County has established a pattern and practice" of discriminating against plaintiff "in an ongoing family law case;" (3) in April of 2010 the San Mateo County Human Services Agency, Sheriff's Department, District Attorney's Office, Family Court Services and Superior Court negligently misrepresented facts, depriving plaintiff of his "factual innocence in CASE# SPA000743A;" (4) since "April 2012" there has been a "pattern and practice of racial discrimination... by judges and County employees" to block plaintiff from "fair access to a hearing;" (5) "two County of San Mateo Sheriff's officers appeared as witnesses" and made fraudulent "statements during factual innocence hearings in CASE# SP000743A;" and (6) "Judge DuBois" deprived plaintiff of his right to due process by continuing the hearing of plaintiff's motion for a change of venue and striking his motion to disqualify Judge DuBois from hearing plaintiff's family law matter. (Compl. (Dkt. No. 1) at 5-12.)
All of these causes of action presented in plaintiff's complaint, however, are deficient in several respects. First, under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine a federal district court is precluded from hearing "cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments." Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp. , 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005). The Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies not only to final state court orders and judgments, but to interlocutory orders and non-final judgments issued by a state court as well. Doe & Assoc. Law Offices v. Napolitano , 252 F.3d 1026, 1030 (9th Cir. 2001); Worldwide Church of God v. McNair , 805 F.2d 888, 893 n. 3 (9th Cir. 1986).
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibits "a direct appeal from the final judgment of a state court, " Noel v. Hall , 341 F.3d 1148, 1158 (9th Cir. 2003), and "may also apply where the parties do not directly contest the merits of a state court decision, as the doctrine prohibits a federal district court from exercising subject matter jurisdiction over a suit that is a de facto appeal from a state court judgment." Reusser v. Wachovia Bank, N.A. , 525 F.3d 855, 859 (9th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). "A suit brought in federal district court is a de facto appeal' forbidden by Rooker-Feldman when a federal plaintiff asserts as a legal wrong an allegedly erroneous decision by a state court, and seeks relief from a state court judgment based on that decision.'" Carmona v. Carmona , 603 F.3d 1041, 1050 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Noel , 341 F.3d at 1164). See also Doe v. Mann , 415 F.3d 1038, 1041 (9th Cir. 2005) ("[T]he Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars federal courts from exercising subject-matter jurisdiction over a proceeding in which a party losing in state court' seeks what in substance would be appellate review of the state judgment in a United States district court, based on the losing party's claim that the state judgment itself violates the loser's federal rights.'") (quoting Johnson v. De Grandy , 512 U.S. 997, 1005-06 (1994), cert. denied 547 U.S. 1111 (2006)). "Thus, even if a plaintiff seeks relief from a state court judgment, such a suit is a forbidden de facto appeal only if the plaintiff also alleges a legal error by the state court." Bell v. City of Boise , 709 F.3d 890, 897 (9th Cir. 2013).
[A] federal district court dealing with a suit that is, in part, a forbidden de facto appeal from a judicial decision of a state court must refuse to hear the forbidden appeal. As part of that refusal, it must also refuse to decide any issue raised in the suit that is inextricably intertwined' with an issue resolved by the state court in its judicial decision.
Doe , 415 F.3d at 1043 (quoting Noel , 341 F.3d at 1158). See also Exxon , 544 U.S. at 286 n. 1 (stating that "a district court [cannot] entertain constitutional claims attacking a state-court judgment, even if the state court had not passed directly on those claims, when the constitutional attack [is] inextricably intertwined' with the state court's judgment") (citing Feldman, 460 U.S. at 482 n. 16)); Bianchi v. Rylaarsdam , 334 F.3d 895, 898, 900 n. 4 (9th Cir. 2003) ("claims raised in the federal court action are inextricably intertwined' with the state court's decision such that the adjudication of the federal claims would undercut the state ruling or require the district court to interpret the application of state laws or procedural rules") (citing Feldman, 460 U.S. at 483 n. 16, 485).
Moreover, the Younger abstention doctrine generally forbids federal courts from interfering with ongoing state judicial proceedings. See Younger v. Harris , 401 U.S. 37, 53-54 (1971); Kenneally v. Lungren , 967 F.2d 329, 331 (9th Cir. 1992). Thus, Younger abstention is appropriate when state proceedings of a judicial nature: (1) are ongoing; (2) implicate important state interests; and (3) provide an adequate opportunity to raise federal questions. Middlesex County Ethics Comm'n v. Garden State Bar Ass'n. , 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982); Gilbertson v. Albright , 381 F.3d 965, 984 (9th Cir. 2004) (en banc). State judicial proceedings involving domestic relations implicate important state interests. See Ankenbrandt v. Richards , 504 U.S. 689, 703-04 (1992) (holding that the domestic relations exception to federal subject matter jurisdiction "divests the federal courts of power to issue divorce, alimony and child custody decrees); Coats v. Woods , 819 F.2d 236, 237 (9th Cir. 1987) (affirming abstention where the case raised constitutional issues but was "at its core a child custody dispute"); Peterson v. Babbitt , 708 F.2d 465, 466 (9th Cir. 1983) (finding abstention appropriate despite the presence of constitutional issues where the plaintiff sought visitation with children who were wards of the state ...