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Hamilton v. California Air Resources Board

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 5, 2016

CALIFORNIA AIR RESOURCES BOARD, a California Public Agency; TAJINDER GILL, BARRY HO, in their official capacity as Engineers of the CALIFORNIA AIR RESOURCES BOARD, and KIRK OLIVER, in his official capacity as Esquire, Office of Legal Affairs, of the CALIFORNIA AIR RESOURCES BOARD, Defendants.


         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff William A. Hamilton (“Plaintiff”), acting in pro per, has filed the instant action against the California Air Resources Board and several of its employees in their official capacities. Plaintiff alleges causes of action that he frames as follows: (1) conspiracy to deprive Plaintiff of rights protected by the Constitution or the laws of the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 241; (2) unlawful search of Plaintiff’s business premises; (3) interference with existing private contracts; (4) unreasonable interference with future contracts; (5) violation of equal protection of the laws; (6) violation of substantive due process; (7) violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act; (8) defamation per se; (9) false light; (10) intrusion upon seclusion; (11) malicious prosecution; and (12) intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. See Doc. 1. On April 21, 2016, the California Air Resources Board, Tajinder Gill, Barry Ho, and Kirk Oliver (“Defendants”) have filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. Doc. 17. The matter was set for hearing on June 6, 2016. See Doc. 17. The matter was taken under submission on June 2, 2016. Doc. 19. Plaintiff filed an untimely opposition on June 16, 2016. Doc. 21. Defendants object to Plaintiff’s untimely filing and request an opportunity to respond if the Court is inclined to consider Plaintiff’s untimely opposition.

         For the following reasons, Defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim will be granted in part and denied in part.[1]

         II. Background

         Plaintiff is the owner and operator of West Coast Diesel, a heavy-duty truck repair shop at 2320 South Taylor Avenue in Fresno, California. Complaint, Doc. 1 (“Compl.”) at ¶ 2; Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, Doc. 17 (“MTD”) at 8.[2] In 2014, the California Air Recourses Board (“CARB”)-the California agency charged with enforcing California’s Toxic Air Contaminants laws and California’s vehicle anti-tampering and aftermarket parts laws-received complaints that Plaintiff and West Coast Diesel were “installing illegal diesel particulate filters in heavy-duty diesel vehicles.” MTD at 8. Thereafter, it “conducted a site inspection at West Coast Diesel.” MTD at 8. CARB did not obtain a warrant to conduct the site inspection. Compl. at ¶ 2. On or around December 31, 2014, CARB sent a cease and desist letter to West Coast Diesel. MTD at 8; Compl. at ¶ 3. Plaintiff contends that the cease and desist letter “restrains [him] from fulfilling his contractual obligations.” Compl. at ¶ 3.

         “In 2015, CARB continued to document illegal sales and installation of diesel particulate filters by West Coast Diesel.” MTD at 8. On October 23, 2015, Carb filed an action against West Coast Diesel and Plaintiff in Fresno County Superior Court, seeking injunctive relief and civil penalties (the “Underlying Action”). See State of California v. West Coast Diesel, Fresno Cnty. Super. Ct. No. 15CECG03337; see Defendants’ Request for Judicial Notice, Doc. 17-1 at 4-15. That action remains pending before the Fresno County Superior Court.

         III. Discussion

         Defendants raise three bases for their motion to dismiss: (1) the claims against CARB and the named defendants in their official capacities are barred by eleventh amendment immunity; (2) the Court should invoke Younger abstention to refuse jurisdiction; and (3) the three individual defendants are protected under qualified immunity.[3]

         “[W]here an official is entitled to absolute immunity, that immunity bars the court's jurisdiction as to claims against that official so that dismissal is warranted pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1).” Uptergrove v. United States, 2008 WL 2413182, *5 (E.D. Cal. 2008) (citing Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 419 n. 13 (1976)). Similarly, a court invoking Younger abstention may refuse to exercise subject matter jurisdiction, a de facto 12(b)(1). Morris v. Peterson, 2015 WL 4776088, *2 (N.D. Cal. 2015). “Qualified immunity, by contrast, is not jurisdictional and dismissal is warranted, if at all, only pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for defendants who enjoy only qualified immunity.” Uptergrove 2008 WL 2413182, *5 (citation omitted).

         A. Eleventh Amendment Absolute Immunity

         i. Legal Standard 12(b)(1)

         Federal courts are of limited jurisdiction, having subject matter jurisdiction only over matters authorized by the Constitution and Congress. See, e.g. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994); A-Z Intern. v. Phillips, 323 F.3d 1141, 1145 (9th Cir. 2003). “A party invoking the federal court’s jurisdiction has the burden of proving the actual existence of subject matter jurisdiction.” Thompson v. McCombe, 99 F.3d 352, 353 (9th Cir. 1996). Where subject matter jurisdiction is lacking dismissal is appropriate pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1). Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). A Rule 12(b)(1) motion may either allege a lack of jurisdiction that exists despite the formal sufficiency of the complaint (a factual challenge) or, as here, attack the sufficiency of the pleadings to establish federal jurisdiction (a facial challenge). See White v. Lee, 227 F.3d 1214, 1242 (9th Cir. 2000); Thornhill Publishing Co., Inc. v. General Tel. & Electronics Corp., 594 F.2d 730, 733 (9th Cir. 1979); Roberts v. Corrothers, 812 F.2d 1173, 1177 (9th Cir. 1987).

         Because Defendants bring a facial challenge, the court accepts all allegations of fact in the complaint as true and construes them in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff. See Warren v. Fox Family Worldwide, Inc., 328 F.3d 1136, 1139 (9th Cir.2003).

         ii. Analysis

         The Eleventh Amendment bars a lawsuit against a state or its instrumentalities absent the state's consent or abrogation of immunity by Congress. See Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 276-77 (1986). As Plaintiff notes, he brings constitutional claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1983. Doc. 21 at 5. Section 1983 did not abrogate a state's Eleventh Amendment immunity, see Quernn v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 341 (1979), and California has not waived its immunity generally for section 1983 claims. See Atascadero State Hosp. v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 241 (1985). Insofar as Plaintiff seeks relief directly from CARB-a state agency-his claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. See Will v. Michigan Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66 (1989).[4] Similarly, insofar as Plaintiff seeks monetary relief from the state official defendants in their official capacities his claims are against the officials’ offices and no different than a suit against the state; his claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Will, 491 U.S. at 71 (citing Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-166 (1985)).

         Next, Plaintiff’s first cause of action appears, at least in part, to seek injunctive relief. See Compl. at ¶ 27 (requesting that this Court stay and/or enjoin the CARB enforcement action now pending before the Fresno County Superior Court and enjoin each of the defendants from “disseminating false information” regarding Plaintiff). Defendants suggest that by naming the state official defendants, Plaintiff “is improperly attempting to evade the state’s Eleventh Amendment immunity.” Doc. 17 at 11. More specifically, they contend that the named state officers do not have any connection with the challenged action-CARB filing an enforcement action against Plaintiff.

         As a foundational matter, claims for prospective relief against the state officials in their official capacities based on violations of federal law are generally not barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908); Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 667-668 (1974). However, Defendants are correct that the state officer sued “must have some connection with the enforcement of the [allegedly unconstitutional] act” in order to be appropriately named. See Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. at 157. Such a “connection must be fairly direct; a generalized duty to enforce state law or general supervisory power over the persons responsible for enforcing the challenged provision will not subject an official to suit.” Los Angeles County Bar Ass’n v. Eu, 979 F.2d 697, 704 (9th Cir. 1992) (citation omitted). In sum, where a named defendant has no authority to enforce the challenge action, he or she is not an appropriate defendant.

         From Plaintiff’s complaint, it is unclear what role Defendants Gill, Ho, and Oliver had with regard to this action.[5] It is equally unclear what protected right or federal law Plaintiff alleges to have been violated by Defendants (or how they were violated) in his first cause of action. The Court cannot determine what connection any of those defendants may have with the prosecution of the Underlying Action or with any alleged “disseminat[ion] [of] false information” about Plaintiff. See Compl. at ¶ 26. As a result of Plaintiff’s pleading deficiency the Court cannot determine whether it would be permitted to exercise jurisdiction over the ...

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