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Lopez v. City of Santa Ana

United States District Court, C.D. California

September 10, 2014

JOSE MANUEL LOPEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF SANTA ANA, ET AL., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT WITH LEAVE TO AMEND

RALPH ZAREFSKY, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff appears to claim that he was wrongfully arrested for an unspecified alleged parole violation, never proven, and not released until he had spent 67 days in a dangerous and substandard jail. He sues several officials and the City of Santa Ana for a morass of claims and quasi-claims. The Court will dismiss the overlong, speechifying and confusing civil rights complaint, with leave to amend, for several reasons discussed below, but principally because Plaintiff states no "short and plain" entitlement to relief.

I.

NO "SHORT AND PLAIN" STATEMENT

A. Applicable Law

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that "[a] pleading which sets forth a claim for relief... shall contain... a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." "A claim is the aggregate of operative facts which give rise to a right enforceable in the courts.'" Bautista v. Los Angeles County, 216 F.3d 837, 840 (9th Cir. 2000) (quoting Original Ballet Russe, Ltd. v. Ballet Theatre, Inc., 133 F.2d 187, 189 (2d Cir. 1943)). To comply with the Rule, a plaintiff must plead a short and plain statement of the elements of his or her claim, "identifying the transaction or occurrence giving rise to the claim and the elements of a prima facie case, " which elements, of course, will vary depending on the species of claim being asserted. See Bautista, 216 F.3d at 840.

Here, the complaint is neither "short" nor "plain." Even though some of its pages improperly are not double-spaced, see CIV. L.R. 11-3.6, it is 55 pages long. But it is not the complaint's length per se that troubles the Court. What is troubling is how much shorter the pleading could be without losing any clarity (although it likely would thereby gain much). The Court refers Plaintiff to the admonitions of Circuit Judge Arthur Alarcón:

... Plaintiff must identify as a defendant only persons who personally participated in a substantial way in depriving plaintiff of a federal constitutional right. Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978) (a person subjects another to the deprivation of a constitutional right if he does an act, participates in another's act or omits to perform an act he is legally required to do that causes the alleged deprivation). If plaintiff contends he was the victim of a conspiracy, he must identify the participants and allege their agreement to deprive him of a specific federal constitutional right.
...
Plaintiff's claims must be set forth in short and plain terms, simply, concisely and directly. See Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514, 122 S.Ct. 992, 152 L.Ed.2d 1 (2002) ("Rule 8(a) is the starting point of a simplified pleading system, which was adopted to focus litigation on the merits of a claim."); FED. R. CIV. P. 8.
Plaintiff must eliminate from plaintiff's pleading all preambles, introductions, argument, speeches, explanations, stories, griping, vouching, evidence, attempts to negate possible defenses, summaries, and the like. McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1180 (9th Cir. 1996) (affirming dismissal of § 1983 complaint for violation of Rule 8 after warning); see Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 597, 118 S.Ct. 1584, 140 L.Ed.2d 759 (1998) (reiterating that "firm application of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is fully warranted" in prisoner cases).
A district court must construe pro se pleading "liberally" to determine if it states a claim and, prior to dismissal, tell a plaintiff of deficiencies in his complaint and give a plaintiff an opportunity to cure them. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130-31 (9th Cir. 2000). However, the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (citations omitted).
The court (and any defendant) should be able to read and understand Plaintiff's pleading within minutes. McHenry, 84 F.3d at 1177. A long, rambling pleading, including many defendants with unexplained, tenuous or implausible connection to the alleged constitutional injury or joining a series of unrelated claims against many defendants very likely will result in delaying the review required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and an order dismissing plaintiff's action pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 41 for violation of these instructions.

Clayburn v. Schirmer, No. CIV S 06-2182 ALA P, 2008 WL 564958, slip op. at 3-4 (E.D. Cal. Feb. 28, 2008) (Alarcón, Circuit J., sitting by designation) (emphasis in bold added).

What is a "short and plain" statement of a claim? The Ninth Circuit in McHenry, one of the cases cited by Circuit Judge Alarcón above, illustrated this by quoting from an official federal form, one for negligence, as follows:

The complaints in the official Appendix of Forms are dramatically short and plain. For example, the standard negligence complaint consists of three short paragraphs:
1. [Allegation of jurisdiction.]
2. On June 1, 1936, in a public highway called Boylston Street in Boston, Massachusetts, defendant negligently drove a motor vehicle against ...

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