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Corona v. Verderosa

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 30, 2015

CHRISTINE CORONA, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHELE VERDEROSA, et al., Defendants.

FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATIONS

ALLISON CLAIRE, District Judge.

On March 18, 2015, the court held a hearing on Defendants Michele Verderosa and Marian Tweddell's ("the State Defendants") motion to dismiss; Defendants Brandon Vinson, Kevin Jones, Laurie Gatie, and Stacey Montgomery's ("the County Defendants") motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for a more definite statement; and Defendant Nathan Horton's motion for a more definite statement, motion to strike, and/or motion to dismiss. Plaintiff Christine Corona appeared in pro per; Margaret E. Long appeared for the County Defendants; William D. Ayres appeared for Defendant Nathan Horton; and Jeffrey Lovell appeared for the State Defendants. On review of the motions, the documents filed in support and opposition, hearing the arguments of counsel, and good cause appearing therefor, THE COURT FINDS AS FOLLOWS:

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff filed her original complaint against Defendants Michelle Verderosa, Brandon Vinson, Kevin Jones, Laurie Gatie, and Nathan Horton on June 20, 2014. ECF No. 1. Subsequently, plaintiff filed a first amended complaint ("FAC") on October 15, 2014. ECF No. 4. Plaintiff's FAC named two defendants not included in her original complaint, Stacey Montgomery and Marian Tweddell. Id. On October 21, 2014, the court ordered plaintiff to file proof of service on the defendants named in her original complaint or a request for additional time to affect service within fourteen (14) days. ECF No. 6. On October 24, 2014, summons upon all defendants were returned executed to the court. ECF Nos. 7 & 8. According to plaintiff's proof of service she served two defendants, Vinson and Montgomery, by "substitute service" after three failed attempts. ECF No. 8 at 4, 6.

On December 22, 2014, the court granted defendants' motions to dismiss plaintiff's FAC with leave to amend for failure to state a claim. ECF No. 26. On January 16, 2015, plaintiff filed a second amended complaint ("SAC"). ECF No. 27. On February 2, 2015, the State Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that (1) plaintiff's claims against the State Defendants are barred by the Eleventh Amendment; (2) plaintiff's claims against Defendant Verderosa are barred the doctrine of judicial immunity; (3) plaintiff's claims against Defendant Tweddell are barred by the doctrine of quasi-judicial immunity; (4) plaintiff's SAC fails to state a claim as all of the allegations relating to the State Defendants concern actions taken in their official capacities as agents of the State; and (5) to the extent that plaintiff intends to bring state law causes of action she has failed to state a claim because she does not allege compliance with the California Torts Claims Act ("CTCA").[1]

On February 4, 2015, Defendant Horton filed a motion for a more definite statement, motion to strike, and/or motion to dismiss. ECF No. 33. Defendant Horton's motion argues that the court should require plaintiff to file a more definite statement because her SAC is so vague and unintelligible that it fails to provide Defendant Horton with reasonable notice. Id. at 4-7. Defendant Horton also argues that plaintiff's SAC should be stricken because it contains substantial "improper" material. Id. at 7. Finally, Defendant Horton argues that plaintiff's SAC fails to state a claim because he is immune from liability under both California Government Code § 821.8 and the doctrine of qualified immunity. Id. at 7-8. Defendant Horton also argues that to the extent plaintiff seeks to bring state law causes of actions those claims are barred by the CTCA. Id. at 8.

Also on February 4, 2015, the County Defendants filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for more definite statement.[2] ECF No. 34. The County Defendants argue that plaintiff's claims against Defendant Montgomery are barred by prosecutorial immunity, while her claims against Defendants Gatie, Jones, and Vinson are barred by qualified immunity. Id. at 3-4. The County Defendants also move to dismiss plaintiff's SAC as to Defendant Vinson for insufficiency of service under Rule 12(b)(5). Id. at 4-6. In addition, the County Defendants argue that plaintiff's SAC fails to state a cognizable legal theory, id. at 6-7, and is barred by the Younger Abstention Doctrine, id. at 8. Finally, the County Defendants also argue that to the extent plaintiff brings state law causes of action those claims are barred by the CTCA. Id. at 7-8.

On February 23, 2015, plaintiff filed an opposition to the foregoing motions, arguing that defendants have effectively admitted to wrongdoing by choosing to pursue "loopholes' (technicalities)" instead of responding to her complaint. ECF No. 39 at 2-3. On March 10, 2015, the County Defendants filed a reply to plaintiff's opposition, contending that (1) plaintiff's opposition fails to address the arguments contained in their motion and accordingly, those arguments are deemed admitted; (2) the County Defendants have not waived any defenses to plaintiff's claims as plaintiff contends in her opposition; and (3) plaintiff's SAC fails to state a cognizable legal theory. ECF No. 46. On the same date, Defendant Horton filed a reply again asserting that plaintiff's SAC fails to give him reasonable notice of her claims and, accordingly, should be dismissed. ECF No. 47.

UNDERLYING FACTS

Plaintiff alleges that defendants are liable for violations of her constitutional rights under § 1983. Against many defendants however, she alleges few facts.

For example, plaintiff alleges that Defendant Montgomery, the District Attorney for Lassen County, "failed to prosecute" criminal charges against her and, for reasons that are unclear, filed new charges constituting "fictitious litigation." Id. at 6. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants Gatie, Vinson, Horton, and Jones executed a search warrant on May 6, 2014, that was "void on its face" by placing a GPS tracking device on her car. Id. at 7.[3] Defendant Horton subsequently removed that tracking device at an unspecified time. Id. Although plaintiff does not say explicitly why she believes the search warrant was void, that belief probably arises out of her allegations relating to Defendant Verderosa, the state court judge who approved the warrant. Id. at 4-5. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Verderosa did not have the authority to sign a search warrant for her car because her involvement in plaintiff's case was a conflict of interest. Id. at 5.

Specifically, plaintiff argues that Defendant Verderosa's involvement in plaintiff's case was a conflict of interest because (1) Defendant Verderosa was plaintiff's public defender in another matter in October 2002, and (2) Defendant Verderosa's husband works for plaintiff's significant other and would stand to gain professionally if plaintiff was convicted. Id. at 5. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant Verderosa did not have the authority to sign the search warrant because according to the Lassen County Superior Court Rules, felony criminal matters are assigned to Judge Sokol and not to Defendant Verderosa. Id. at 4. As for Defendant Tweddell, plaintiff alleges that she discriminated against plaintiff by refusing to file plaintiff's notices of discharge on two occasions. Id. at 5.

Plaintiff also alleges that she was arrested twice. Id. at 6-7. On May 6, 2014, plaintiff was pulled over and arrested by two unknown officers, one from the Lassen County Sherriff's Department and the other from the California Highway Patrol. Id. at 7. Plaintiff was not read her Miranda rights, advised of the charges against her, or shown a warrant after she requested to see one. Id. At some point after her arrest her property was seized, including $642.00 in cash, her cell phone, and her vehicle. Id. After her vehicle was towed it was taken to Susanville Towing, where it was stored for eight days, costing her a total of $900. Id. Plaintiff had to post bail of "$90, 000.00 at 10% or $9, 000, " which she alleges was excessive. Id.

Plaintiff was arrested a second time on December 17, 2014, after an appearance in federal court, by FBI agents. Id. at 6. Defendant Horton was present at the time of this arrest. Id. During her arrest plaintiff asked to see a copy of her arrest warrant, but the agents refused. Id. Plaintiff claims that she was falsely imprisoned for five days and ultimately had to pay bail of "$110, 000.00, $11, 000.00 or 10% of [her] property." Id. at 6-7.[4]

LEGAL STANDARDS

I. Failure to State a Claim

The purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint. N. Star Int'l v. Ariz. Corp. Comm'n, 720 F.2d 578, 581 (9th Cir. 1983). "Dismissal can be based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory." Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). A plaintiff is required to allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Thus, a ...


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