United States District Court, N.D. California
April 1, 2015
ATOA ATUALEVAO, Plaintiff,
DIANA A. BELLAS; RENE C. DAVIDSON, Defendants.
ORDER OF DISMISSAL (Dkt. 2, 8, 9)
WILLIAM ALSUP, District Judge.
This is a pro se civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. 1983 filed by a civil detainee under California's Sexually Violent Predator Act ("SVPA"). He claims that defendants, two supervisors in the Alameda County Public Defender's Office, were ineffective in representing him throughout his commitment proceedings. For the reasons discussed below, the complaint is DISMISSED without prejudice.
A. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Federal courts must engage in a preliminary screening of cases in which prisoners seek redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. which are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. at 1915A(b)(1), (2).
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." "Specific facts are not necessary; the statement need only "give the defendant fair notice of what the.... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests."'" Erickson v. Pardus, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007) (citations omitted). Although in order to state a claim a complaint "does not need detailed factual allegations, ... a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitle[ment] 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." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007) (citations omitted). A complaint must proffer "enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 1974. Pro se pleadings must be liberally construed. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).
To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
B. LEGAL CLAIMS
Plaintiff claims defendants, supervisors at the Alameda County Public Defender's Office, failed to adequately supervise and train their subordinates. According to plaintiff, this led to his receiving ineffective assistance of counsel in his civil commitment proceedings, which in turn led to his civil commitment. He claims that his civil commitment violates his procedural and substantive due process rights and his right to equal protection because he should receive outpatient treatment instead of civil commitment. He seeks ten million dollars in damages and a declaratory judgment.
Plaintiff's claims for monetary damages are not allowed. The United States Supreme Court has held that to recover damages for an allegedly unconstitutional confinement, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render the confinement invalid, a plaintiff must prove that the judgment has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus. Heck v. Humphrey, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 2372 (1994). The rationale of Heck applies to detainees under an involuntary civil commitment scheme such as California's Sexually Violent Predator's Act ("SVPA") with access to habeas relief. Huftile v. Miccio-Fonseca, 410 F.3d 1136, 1140 (9th Cir. 2005). Such a detainee's claim for damages and/or declaratory relief must be dismissed without prejudice under the rationale of Heck if success on the claim would necessarily imply the invalidity of the detainee's civil commitment. See id. at 1140-41, 1142. If plaintiff were successful here on his claims that his civil commitment violates his rights to due process and equal protection, that would necessarily imply the invalidity of his commitment. Accordingly, plaintiff's claims for monetary damages are dismissed without prejudice until and unless his civil commitment is overturned or otherwise called into question. See generally Alvarez-Machain v. United States, 107 F.3d 696, 700-01 (9th Cir. 1997).
Plaintiff's claims for declaratory relief must also be dismissed without prejudice. Claims challenging the validity of a civil commitment must be brought in a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, not a civil rights case. See, e.g., Carty v. Nelson, 426 F.3d 1064, 1072-73 (9th Cir. 2005), amended, 431 F.3d 1185 (9th Cir. 2005); Hubbart v. Knapp, 379 F.3d 773, 781 (9th Cir. 2004) (SVPA does not violate due process); Nelson v. Sandritter, 351 F.2d 284, 285 (9th Cir. 1965). Accordingly, plaintiff's declaratory relief claims are dismissed without prejudice to bring them in a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court after he has exhausted his state court remedies.
For the reasons set out above, this action is DISMISSED without prejudice. Because the deficiencies are not cured by the proposed amended complaint - which names different supervisory public defenders as defendants but otherwise suffers from the same problems described above - nor could they be cured by amendment, the motion for leave to amend (dkt. 9) is DENIED. The motion for access to the court (dkt. 8) in order to serve the defendants is DENIED as moot in light of the dismissal of his claims. Leave to proceed in forma pauperis (dkt. 2) is GRANTED.
The clerk shall enter judgment and close the file.
IT IS SO ORDERED.