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Conerly v. Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors

United States District Court, N.D. California

June 28, 2016



          MARIA-ELENA JAMES United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff, an inmate at the Santa Clara County Jail, has filed a pro se civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He is granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis by separate order. His complaint is now before the Court for review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.


         A. Standard of Review

         A federal court must conduct a preliminary screening in any case in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In its review, the court must identify any cognizable claims and dismiss any claims that 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. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Pro se pleadings must, however, be liberally construed. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't., 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988).

         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.

         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 alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         B. Legal Claims

         As plaintiff's complaint currently reads, the Court cannot determine what the contours of plaintiff's claims are. He appears to allege that he was subject to discriminatory charging by the Office of the Santa Clara County District Attorney when arrested and charged for possession for sale and transportation of heroine, cocaine, and methamphetamine. He does not dispute possessing the drugs but contends that they were obviously in amounts that indicated personal use, and that he was overcharged because of his race. He names as defendants Santa Clara County district attorney Jeff Rosen, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, and Does 1 through 20.

         The allegations of the complaint suggest that the Heck rule applies to this case, but plaintiff has not provided sufficient information for the court to make that determination. In Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), the Supreme Court held that in order to state a claim for damages for an allegedly unconstitutional conviction or term of imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a plaintiff asserting a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed or declared invalid. See id. at 486-87. A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under Section 1983. Id. at 487. Such a damages claim will not be barred under Heck if the plaintiff has not yet been convicted, however. See Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 395 (2007) (Heck does not encompass the principle that "an action which would impugn an anticipated future conviction cannot be brought until that conviction occurs and is set aside.") Nonetheless, the claim should not go forward if the plaintiff's criminal proceedings are still pending; rather, the court can "stay the civil action until the criminal case or the likelihood of a criminal case is ended." See at 394.

         Accordingly, the complaint will be dismissed with leave to amend. In his amended complaint, plaintiff must provide information as to whether the criminal charges are still pending, resulted in a conviction, or resulted in a dismissal. Without this information, the Court cannot determine whether the complaint states a claim for relief, whether it is barred by Heck, and/or whether it must be stayed under Wallace.

         Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Rosen are barred because the district attorney is an officer of the court entitled to absolute immunity for his conduct as an advocate during the course of plaintiff's state criminal proceedings. See Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 272-73 (1993). Defendant Rosen is therefore DISMISSED with prejudice from this action.

         Plaintiff's claim against the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is also deficient. To impose liability under Section 1983 against a municipal entity such as Santa Clara County for a violation of constitutional rights, a plaintiff must show: (1) that the plaintiff possessed a constitutional right of which he or she was deprived; (2) that the municipality had a policy; (3) that this policy amounts to deliberate indifference to the plaintiff's constitutional rights; and (4) that the policy is the moving force behind the constitutional violation. Plumeau v. School Dist. #40 County of Yamhill, 130 F.3d 432, 438 (9th Cir. 1997); see Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). Plaintiff does not allege any policy by Santa Clara County that led to the alleged actions against him. Plaintiff may correct this deficiency in his amended complaint, if he can do so in good faith.

         Finally, plaintiff has a Doe defendant problem. If plaintiff files an amended complaint, he is advised that the use of "Jane Doe" or "John Doe" to identify a defendant is not favored in the Ninth Circuit. See Gillespie v. Civiletti, 629 F.2d 637, 642 (9th Cir. 1980). Although the use of a Doe defendant designation is acceptable to withstand dismissal of a complaint at the initial review stage, using a Doe defendant designation creates its own problem: that person cannot be served with process until he or she is identified by his or her real name. If plaintiff files an amended complaint, plaintiff must take steps promptly to discover the full name (i.e., first and last name) of each of the officers and provide that ...

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