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MacHul v. Browning

United States District Court, C.D. California, Western Division

September 15, 2014

PHILIP L. BROWNING et al., Defendants.


DOUGLAS F. McCORMICK, Magistrate Judge.

A. Procedural History

On July 7, 2014, Plaintiff filed a pro se civil rights complaint. Dkt. 3 ("Complaint"). On July 28, 2014, after initial screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court dismissed the Complaint with leave to amend, finding that the Complaint suffered from various pleading deficiencies. Dkt. 8.

On September 8, 2014, Plaintiff filed a first amended complaint. Dkt. 10 ("FAC"). The FAC names Philip L. Browning, Charles Tadlock, Tedji Dessalegn, Vivian Pham, the County of Los Angeles ("County"), the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services ("DCFS"), the Superior Court of California for the County of Los Angeles, and Does 1 through 5 as Defendants. Id. at 3-4.

B. Screening Standard

In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court has screened Plaintiff's FAC before ordering service for purposes of determining whether the action is frivolous or malicious; or fails to state a claim on which relief might be granted; or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.[1]

The Court's screening of the FAC under the foregoing statute is governed by the following standards. A complaint may be dismissed as a matter of law for failure to state a claim for two reasons: (1) lack of a cognizable legal theory; or (2) insufficient facts under a cognizable legal theory. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't , 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). In determining whether the complaint states a claim on which relief may be granted, its allegations of material fact must be taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. See Love v. United States , 915 F.2d 1242, 1245 (9th Cir. 1989).

Further, because Plaintiff is appearing pro se, the Court must construe the allegations of the complaint liberally and must afford Plaintiff the benefit of any doubt. See Karim-Panahi v. Los Angeles Police Dep't , 839 F.2d 621, 623 (9th Cir. 1988). However, "the liberal pleading standard... applies only to a plaintiff's factual allegations." Neitzke v. Williams , 490 U.S. 319, 330 n.9 (1989). "[A] liberal interpretation of a civil rights complaint may not supply essential elements of the claim that were not initially pled." Bruns v. Nat'l Credit Union Admin. , 122 F.3d 1251, 1257 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting Ivey v. Bd. of Regents , 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982)). Moreover, with respect to Plaintiff's pleading burden, the Supreme Court has held that "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.... Factual 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 Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted, alteration in original); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (holding that to avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' 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." (internal citation omitted)).

C. Analysis

After careful review and consideration of the FAC under the foregoing standards, the Court finds that it suffers from the following pleading deficiencies:

1. Younger Abstention and the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

As with the Complaint, it appears from the face of the FAC that Plaintiff is challenging decisions currently being made or that have been made in state juvenile court dependency proceedings. See, e.g., FAC ¶¶ 6-7, 12-14, 17-18; see also id. ¶ 3 ("Basically, this case involves the assessment of the legality of the juvenile dependency proceedings' involving the parties to this action...."). As that is the case, Plaintiff's claims are precluded by Younger and Rooker-Feldman.

A federal court must abstain from hearing a suit if deciding the merits of the suit would interfere with a state proceeding that: (1) is ongoing, (2) implicates important state interests, and (3) provides an adequate opportunity to raise federal questions. Middlesex County Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass'n , 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982); Younger v. Harris , 401 U.S. 37 (1971); see also Mission Oaks Mobile Home Park v. City of Hollister , 989 F.2d 359, 360 (9th Cir. 1993). Insofar as the state juvenile dependency court proceedings at issue here are ongoing, then it appears that all three criteria for Younger abstention are met. See H.C. ex rel. Gordon v. Koppel , 203 F.3d 610, 613 (9th Cir. 2000) (dismissing case under Younger where parents sought "wholesale federal intervention into an ongoing state domestic dispute" involving child custody).

Even if the state court proceedings are concluded, this Court is precluded from exercising jurisdiction by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which provides that federal district courts may not exercise appellate jurisdiction over state court decisions. See District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman , 460 U.S. 462, 482-86 (1983); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co. , 263 U.S. 413, 415-16 (1923); see also Bennett v. Yoshina , 140 F.3d 1218, 1223 (9th Cir. 1998) (as amended). Review of state court decisions may be ...

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