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Gaines v. County of Los Angeles

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 16, 2014

RODNEY GAINES, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES et al., Defendants.

ORDER DISMISSING PLAINTIFF'S FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT WITH LEAVE TO AMEND

JEAN ROSENBLUTH, Magistrate Judge.

On February 27, 2014, Plaintiff, a prisoner at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, lodged pro se a civil-rights action and was subsequently granted in forma pauperis status. On April 11, 2014, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint ("FAC") against the County of Los Angeles; Sheriff's Deputies Christopher J. McMaster, Steven Lehrman, and Roger Izzo; Deputy District Attorney Joseph D. Payne; and Does one through 10. (FAC at ¶¶ 4-8.) Plaintiff's claims arise out of his state criminal proceeding and the events underlying it, which were also the subject of a federal habeas petition that was granted by this Court in part.

In May 2006, Plaintiff was charged in an amended information in state superior court with one count of sale, transportation, or offer to sell cocaine base under California Health & Safety Code section 11352(a) and one count of possession of a smoking device under section 11364(a). Gaines v. Stolc, No. 2:11-cv-02181-TJH-JPR, at 3 (C.D. Cal. Nov. 14, 2011) (report and recommendation). Although Plaintiff had never been charged with possession of cocaine base under Health & Safety Code section 11350, the trial court nonetheless sua sponte instructed the jury on that charge and provided the jury with a verdict form for it. Id . On May 15, 2006, the jury acquitted Plaintiff of the sales charge but convicted him of possessing a smoking device and the uncharged possession-of-cocaine-base offense. (Id.) In June 2006, Plaintiff was sentenced to 11 years' imprisonment. (Id.)

Plaintiff appealed to the California Court of Appeal, raising a due process claim based on the trial court's instructing the jury on the simple-possession charge and allowing it to convict him of that crime. Id . The court of appeal agreed that the trial court erred but found that Plaintiff had forfeited his claim by failing to object to the instruction or the verdict form at trial. Id . Plaintiff later raised the due process claim in a Petition for Review and habeas petition to the California Supreme Court, which denied it both times. Id. at 3-4.

Plaintiff then filed a federal habeas petition in this Court. The Court found that Plaintiff's right to due process was violated when he was convicted of a crime with which he was never charged and that Respondent had waived any procedural-bar defense. Id. at 11; see also Gaines, No. 2:11-cv-02181-TJH-JPR, at 4 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 16, 2012) (order and judgment). It therefore entered judgment conditionally granting the petition and ordering that Plaintiff be discharged from "all consequences of his conviction pursuant to California Health & Safety Code § 11350 in Los Angeles Superior Case No. MA032254" unless he was brought to retrial within a certain period of time. Gaines, No. 2:11-cv-02181-TJH-JPR, at 6-7 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 16, 2012) (order and judgment). The Court did not disturb Plaintiff's conviction for possession of a smoking device under section 11364(a).[1] The state apparently declined to retry Plaintiff. (FAC ¶ 10.)

In the instant civil-rights action, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his rights under the U.S. Constitution and state law in various ways by arresting him on June 11, 2005, and subsequently prosecuting him. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants L.A. County, McMaster, Lehrman, Izzo, and Does violated the Fourth and 14th amendments by falsely arresting and imprisoning him (FAC ¶¶ 16-26), using excessive force against him (FAC ¶¶ 27-30), maliciously prosecuting him (FAC ¶¶ 31-35), and conspiring to violate his constitutional rights (FAC ¶¶ 36-38); Defendants L.A. County, Payne, and Does violated the Fourth and 14th amendments by maliciously prosecuting him (FAC ¶¶ 39-41); Defendants County, McMaster, Lehrman, Izzo, Payne, and Does violated state law by falsely imprisoning him (FAC ¶¶ 42-43); Defendants County, McMaster, Lehrman, and Does violated state law by committing assault and battery on him (FAC ¶¶ 44-47); Defendants County, Payne, and Does violated state law by failing to arraign him on the possession charge (FAC ¶¶ 48-52); and Defendants County, McMaster, Lehrman, Izzo, Payne, and Does violated state law by negligently inflicting emotional distress on him (FAC ¶ 53).

After screening the FAC in accordance with 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A prior to ordering service, the Court finds that much of it fails to state a claim upon which relief might be granted.

Because it appears to the Court that at least some of the deficiencies of the FAC are capable of being cured by amendment, it is dismissed with leave to amend. See Lopez v. Smithk, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130-31 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (holding that pro se litigant must be given leave to amend complaint unless absolutely clear deficiencies cannot be cured by amendment). If Plaintiff desires to pursue this action, he is ORDERED to file a Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") within 28 days of the service date of this Order, remedying the deficiencies discussed below.[2]

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Court's screening of a complaint under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A is governed by the following standards. A complaint may be dismissed as a matter of law for failure to state a claim "where there is no cognizable legal theory or an absence of sufficient facts alleged to support a cognizable legal theory." Shroyer v. New Cingular Wireless Servs., Inc. , 622 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted); accord O'Neal v. Price , 531 F.3d 1146, 1151 (9th Cir. 2008). In considering whether a complaint states a claim, a court must accept as true all the factual allegations in it. Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009); Hamilton v. Brown , 630 F.3d 889, 892-93 (9th Cir. 2011). The court need not accept as true, however, "allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences." In re Gilead Scis. Sec. Litig. , 536 F.3d 1049, 1055 (9th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Shelton v. Chorley, 487 F.Appx. 388, 389 (9th Cir. 2012) (finding that district court properly dismissed claim when plaintiff's "conclusory allegations" did not support it). Although a complaint need not include detailed factual allegations, it "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when it "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678. "A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed, and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus , 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

DISCUSSION

I. Plaintiff's § 1983 Claims for Unlawful Arrest and Imprisonment, Malicious Prosecution, and Conspiracy Must Be Dismissed

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Los Angeles County, McMaster, Lehrman, Izzo, and Does violated his rights under the Fourth and 14th amendments by falsely arresting and imprisoning him, maliciously prosecuting him, and conspiring to violate his civil rights. (FAC ¶¶ 16-26, 31-43.) In support, Plaintiff contends that he did "absolutely nothing" to give Defendants "reason to believe a crime was committed" and that they therefore "had no reason to detain or search Plaintiff" or to "report that Plaintiff had committed a crime." (FAC ¶ 18.) Plaintiff also notes that he was acquitted of the charge of selling cocaine base and his conviction of simple possession was overturned on federal habeas review. (FAC ¶¶ 9-10). Plaintiff's claims must be dismissed because they are barred by Heck v. Humphrey , 512 U.S. 477, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994), and for other reasons.

In Heck v. Humphrey , the U.S. Supreme Court held that if a judgment in favor of a plaintiff in a civil rights action would necessarily imply the invalidity of his or her conviction or sentence, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has been invalidated. 512 U.S. at 486-87; see also Smith v. City of Hemet , 394 F.3d 689, 695 (9th Cir. 2005) (en banc) ("Heck says that if a criminal conviction arising out of the same facts stands and is fundamentally inconsistent with the unlawful behavior for which section 1983 damages are sought, the 1983 action must be dismissed." (internal quotation marks omitted)). Thus, the "relevant ...


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