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Brown v. County of Los Angeles

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Fourth Division

August 29, 2014

KEITH A. BROWN, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, Defendant and Respondent.

APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County No. BC497928, Mary H. Strobel, Judge.

Page 321

COUNSEL

Keith A. Brown, in pro. per., for Plaintiff and Appellant.

John F. Krattli, County Counsel, Jennifer A.D. Lehman, Assistant County Counsel, and Edward L. Hsu, Deputy County Counsel, for Defendant and Respondent.

Page 322

OPINION

EPSTEIN, P. J.

Keith A. Brown appeals from an order sustaining respondent County of Los Angeles’ demurrer without leave to amend.[1] Appellant contends that, under civil contract law, his plea of guilty is invalid because he was a minor when it was entered. Appellant may not challenge his criminal conviction by means of a civil lawsuit. We affirm the order of dismissal.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL SUMMARY

In 1987, appellant pled guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to seventeen years to life in prison. In 2012, he filed this civil action against respondent, alleging “contract fraud” and seeking $30 million in damages and a declaration that his plea was void. Appellant claimed that he was 16 years old at the time the plea was entered and that he was “coerced” to enter it. He asserted the plea was entered pursuant to a plea bargain, in violation of Civil Code sections 38 and 1556, which provide that minors and persons “entirely without understanding” may not contract. (Id., § 38.) The trial court sustained respondent’s demurrer without leave to amend, ruling that appellant could not rely on civil statutes to challenge a criminal judgment in civil court. Appellant filed a notice of appeal from the court’s minute order. An order of dismissal was subsequently entered.

DISCUSSION

When the trial court sustains a demurrer, we review the complaint de novo to determine whether it contains facts sufficient to state a cause of action. (Holland v. Jones (2012) 210 Cal.App.4th 378, 381 [148 Cal.Rptr.3d 550].) We accept as true all properly pled material facts and consider matters subject to judicial notice. (Zelig v. County of Los Angeles (2002) 27 Cal.4th 1112, 1126 [119 Cal.Rptr.2d 709, 45 P.3d 1171].)

Appellant’s civil challenge to his criminal conviction is barred by the established rule that civil actions may not be used to challenge “the validity of outstanding criminal judgments.” (Yount v. City of Sacramento (2008) 43 Cal.4th 885, 893 [76 Cal.Rptr.3d 787, 183 P.3d 471] (Yount), quoting Heck v. Humphrey (1994) 512 U.S. 477, 486 [129 L.Ed.2d 383, 114 S.Ct. 2364] (Heck).) ‘“[I]n order to recover damages for... harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness ...


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