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Presas v. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York

United States District Court, E.D. California

February 17, 2015

COSME PRESAS, Plaintiff,


SHEILA K. OBERTO, Magistrate Judge.


On January 5, 2015, Plaintiff Cosme Presas ("Plaintiff"), a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed an amended complaint against Defendants Watchtower Bible and Tract Society ("the Society"), Olivia Moreno, Wayne Frazee, Marin Moreno, Alicia Navarro, and several Doe defendants (collectively "Defendants"). (Doc. 9.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's first amended complaint is DISMISSED without prejudice and with leave to amend.


In his first amended complaint filed on January 5, 2015, Plaintiff details half a decade of abuse by congregation members and leaders of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York. (Doc. 9, 1-3.) He alleges that from 1994 through 1998, he was physically and sexually abused by "Rosa, " in both Arvin, California, and Baja California, Mexico. (Doc. 9, 2.)

Plaintiff alleges that he was coerced into performing sexual acts by adult congregation members, for which he was incapable of consenting as a child. (Doc. 9, 2-3.) He alleges that the congregation members gained his compliance by threatening that God would "destroy" him if he "attempt[ed] to bring down [his] own." (Doc. 9, 2.) When he did report abuse, he was "disfellowshipped, " his mother was threatened by his abuser, and the New York office repeatedly ignored his letters and calls. (Doc. 9, 3.) Plaintiff also alleges he was physically "punished" through whip lashings and forced feeding. (Doc. 9, 2-3.)

Plaintiff alleges that when he reported the abuse to church elders or wrote the Society's New York office, he either received no response or was told directly to "say nothing." (Doc. 9, 2-3 ("I was ignored by letter and phone and just told they could do nothing and to tell police.... I was made to believe nothing would be done.").) Plaintiff "was told not to lie" when he would contact the New York office, and alleges that the elders and members "all showed deliberate negligence" in their refusal to acknowledge or end the abuse he was suffering. (Doc. 9, 3.)

Plaintiff does not identify an amount in controversy, but seeks "declaratory judgment that the defendants violated the laws of the land and abused [him] in the ways listed[, ]" monetary damages, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and nominal damages "in an amount to be determined at trial, " and all such further relief as the Court deems necessary and just. (Doc. 9, 4.)


In cases where the plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court is required to screen each case, and must dismiss the case at any time if the Court determines that the allegation of poverty is untrue, or the Court determines that the action or appeal is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. ยง 1915(e)(2). If the Court determines that the complaint fails to state a claim, leave to amend may be granted to the extent that the deficiencies of the complaint are capable of being cured by amendment. Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).

A complaint must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). A complaint may not simply allege a wrong has been committed and demand relief. The pleading standard "demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation[;]" the complaint must contain "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570). Further, while factual allegations are accepted as true, legal conclusions are not. Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).


The Court must determine whether it has the power to consider the claims alleged within the complaint. Federal courts have no power to consider claims for which they lack subject-matter jurisdiction. Bender v. Williamsport Area Sch. Dist., 475 U.S. 534, 541 (1986); see also Vacek v. United States Postal Serv., 447 F.3d 1248, 1250 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)). Subject matter jurisdiction is determined and must exist at the time the complaint is filed. See Morongo Band of Mission Indians v. Cal. State Bd. of Equalization, 858 F.2d 1376, 1380 (9th Cir. 1988) (looking to original complaint, and not amended complaint, for subject matter jurisdiction).

The Court has an independent duty to consider its own subject-matter jurisdiction, whether or not the issue is raised by the parties ( id. ), and must dismiss an action over which it lacks jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3); see also Cal. Diversified Promotions, Inc. v. Musick, 505 F.2d 278, 280 (9th Cir. 1974) ("It has long been held that a judge can dismiss sua sponte for lack of jurisdiction."). Subject matter jurisdiction to hear a plaintiff's claim must either "arise under" federal law or be established by diversity jurisdiction. ...

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