United States District Court, N.D. California, San Francisco Division
ORDER GRANTING THE DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS
AND DENYING THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
RE: ECF NO. 6, 15, 39, 41
BEELER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
case arises from Sonoma County Superior Court divorce and
child-custody proceedings.Those proceedings began in May 2010,
when Gary Price Thomas petitioned for divorce from Monica
Thomas, his former wife, and for full custody of M.N. Thomas,
his daughter. Mr. Thomas now challenges the results of
those cases - and officials' decisions and conduct during
them - by asserting constitutional and state-law claims
against several Sonoma County and court-affiliated
defendants. The defendants move to dismiss the case (and for
summary judgment) because, among other things, Mr.
Thomas's claims are barred by the doctrines of
Rooker-Feldman and issue preclusion, the statute of
limitations, and immunity.
court can decide the matters without oral argument and so it
vacated the May 25, 2017 hearing. The court grants the
defendants' motions because Rooker-Feldman
precludes federal subject-matter jurisdiction over Mr.
Thomas's claims. The court therefore dismisses the case.
State Court Proceedings
Mr. Thomas petitioned for divorce and child custody, but
before his first court hearing, he met with Family Court
Services mediator Beth Wanamaker. He alleges that Ms.
Wanamaker discriminated against him, attacked his character
and his relationship with M.N., and falsely reported that he
had seen M.N. only twice since she was born in
2009. (Mr. Thomas asserts that he “spent
months at Kaiser Hospital with [M.N.] and support[ed] her
from the day she was born.”)
Thomas's first court hearing was on July 21,
2010. During that hearing, he “was handed
a restraining order that was granted by James G.
Bertoli.” It listed Monica Thomas (his wife) as the
“protected person, ” along with two additional
family members (including M.N.). He did not get notice of the
restraining-order hearing. He also alleges that, at the
July 21 hearing, he “received a court order dated June
28, 2010[, ] and authored by Beth Wannamaker [sic] (a
mediator not a judge) ordering [him] to destroy his parental
rights for his child M.N.” He also alleges - and
appears to take issue with - the defendants' varying use
of the words “Defendant, ” “Petitioner,
” and “Father” to refer to him at the
Shaffer issued an order after the hearing. In that
order, Judge Shaffer granted temporary sole legal and
physical custody to Monica Thomas, M.N.'s mother, and
concluded that Mr. Thomas “shall have no visits,
pending next court date and completion of anger
Thomas was also ordered to pay child support. The Superior
Court's minute entries (which Mr. Thomas attaches to his
complaint) reflect that, on July 13, 2010, the parties (Mr.
and Ms. Thomas) agreed that he would pay $622 in monthly
child support. Those records reflect several additional
entries, including a March 2013 hearing (leaving child
support at $622 per month) and a September 2015 hearing
(increasing child support to $924 per month). Mr. Thomas
apparently challenges the 2015 increase, which he says was
“based on the fact that [he] does not have a
relationship with his kidnapped child in the conditions of
fraud on the court.” He appears to allege that such
payments constitute extortion.
Thomas also takes issue with several other procedural steps
related to the state-court proceedings. For example, he
appears to contest a clerk's filing of his dissolution
petition (and related filing fees) as an answer in the
County's case against him, and a clerk's August 2011
letter returning certain of his filings. Mr. Thomas
also asserts that he had a court date set for January 10,
2013, but that it was cancelled by Louise Bayles-Fightmaster
(because a judgment had been entered in his
case). He challenges the decision to drop the
hearing (which was done under Sonoma County Local Rule 9.4)
as a due process violation under the First, Fifth, and
Federal District Court Proceedings
2012, Mr. Thomas filed a complaint in the Northern District
of California. In that case, he asserted two claims
against Sonoma County, Beth Wanamaker, Veronica Pineda,
Daniel Chester, and Judge Shaffer: (1) “deprivation of
rights by government employees” under 42 U.S.C. §
1983; and (2) deprivation of rights and racial bias under
Cal. Civ. Code § 52. There, Judge Illston dismissed
the claims asserted against the County as barred by the
statute of limitations and the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine. Judge Illston dismissed the claims
against the individual defendants because Mr. Thomas did not
three years later, Mr. Thomas filed this case. This time he
sued Jennifer Obergfell, Sonoma County, and Sonoma County
Department of Child Support Services (the “County
Defendants”), and Louise Bayles-Fightmaster, James
Bertoli, Judge Shaffer, Jose Guillen, Beth Wanamaker,
“Clerk of the Superior Court, ” and Sonoma County
Family Services (the “Judicial Defendants”). He
asserts five claims against all defendants: (1) deprivation
of rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth
Amendments, 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) “[b]reach of
[f]iduciary [d]uties by conditions of discrimination,
extortion[, ] and kidnapping”; (3) conspiracy; (4)
“[f]raud upon the court”; and (5) “[m]odern
day slavery based on race and sex of Plaintiffs as outlawed
by 18 U.S.C. Section 245(b)(2)(B) as well as Title 111 of the
1964 Civil Rights Act.”
County Defendants move to dismiss the complaint under Rule
12(b)(6) and for summary judgment under Rule
56. The Judicial Defendants move to dismiss
the complaint, too, under Rules 12(b)(1) and
12(b)(6). Mr. Thomas opposed the
motions and filed two of his own
Rule 12(b)(1) Standard
complaint must contain a short and plain statement of the
ground for the court's jurisdiction (unless the court
already has jurisdiction and the claim needs no new
jurisdictional support). Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(1). The plaintiff
has the burden of establishing jurisdiction. See Kokkonen
v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377
(1994); Farmers Ins. Exchange v. Portage La Prairie Mut.
Ins. Co., 907 F.2d 911, 912 (9th Cir. 1990). A
defendant's Rule 12(b)(1) jurisdictional attack can be
either facial or factual. White v. Lee, 227 F.3d
1214, 1242 (9th Cir. 2000). “A ‘facial'
attack asserts that a complaint's allegations are
themselves insufficient to invoke jurisdiction, while a
‘factual' attack asserts that the complaint's
allegations, though adequate on their face to invoke
jurisdiction, are untrue.” Courthouse News Serv. v.
Planet, 750 F.3d 776, 780 n.3 (9th Cir. 2014). Under a
facial attack, the court “accept[s] all allegations of
fact in the complaint as true and construe[s] them in the
light most favorable to the plaintiffs.” Warren v.
Fox Family Worldwide, Inc., 328 F.3d 1136, 1139 (9th
Cir. 2003). In a factual attack, the court “need not
presume the truthfulness of the plaintiff's
allegations” and “may review evidence beyond the
complaint without converting the motion to dismiss into a
motion for summary judgment.” Safe Air for Everyone
v. Meyer, 373 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2004).
Rule 12(b)(6) Standard
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a claim may be
dismissed because of a “failure to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted.” A dismissal under Rule
12(b)(6) may be based on the lack of a cognizable legal
theory or on the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a
cognizable legal theory. Johnson v. Riverside Healthcare
Sys., 534 F.3d 1116, 1121 (9th Cir. 2008); Navarro
v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001).
complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of
the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief” to give the defendant “fair notice”
of what the claims are and the grounds upon which they rest.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2); Bell Atlantic Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A complaint does
not need detailed factual allegations, but “a
plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds'
of his ‘entitlement 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 claim for relief above
the speculative level . . . .” Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555 (internal citations omitted).
survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain
sufficient factual allegations, accepted as true,
“‘to state a claim to relief that is plausible on
its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
“A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff
pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Id. “The
plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability
requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer
possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.”
Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
“Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely
consistent with' a defendant's liability, it
‘stops short of the line between possibility and
plausibility of ‘entitlement to
relief.''” Id. (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).
Leave to Amend
court dismisses a complaint, it should give leave to amend
unless the “the pleading could not possibly be cured by
the allegation of other facts.” Cook, Perkiss and
Liehe, Inc. v. Northern ...