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Herships v. Cantil-Sakauye

United States District Court, N.D. California

May 26, 2017

Howard Herships, Plaintiff,
Tani Cantil-Sakauye, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff brings this action against defendants Tani Cantil-Sakauye in her capacity as the Director of the California Judicial Council and Jean Shiomoto in her capacity as the Director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles, alleging the violation of his civil rights in connection with the suspension of his driver's license. (Dkt. No. 17, “FAC.”) Plaintiff appears to bring the following claims against defendant Cantil-Sakauye only: (i) violation of due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and (ii) violation of the excessive fines clause of the Eighth Amendment. With regard to defendant Shiomoto only, plaintiff alleges that her suspension of his driver's license for failure to pay his fines is in clear violation of clearly established federal law.

         Now before the Court are defendants' motions to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and 12(b)(6) for failure to state claim. Specifically with regard to defendants' Rule 12(b)(1) motion, defendants argue that the Court lacks jurisdiction for the following reasons: (i) the Rooker-Feldman doctrine; (ii) Younger abstention; and (iii) the Eleventh Amendment. Additionally, defendant Cantil-Sakauye claims that she has absolute immunity, and defendant Shiomoto claims the California litigation privilege bars the instant action.

         Having carefully considered the pleadings and the papers submitted, and for the reasons set forth more fully below, the Court Grants defendants' motion and Dismisses with Prejudice plaintiff's action. Because the Court finds that dismissal is appropriate under Rule 12(b)(1), the Court does not address below defendants' motions pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim.

         I. Requests for Judicial Notice

         The parties have filed the following requests for judicial notice:

         Defendant Cantil-Sakauye seeks judicial notice of the following documents (Dkt. No. 25, “DRJN”): (i) Ex. A, September 10, 2013 and September 13, 2013 traffic citations; (ii) Ex. B, December 16, 2013 Minute Order by Commissioner Philip Stanger; (iii) Ex. C, January 30, 2014 Minute Order by Judge Lloyd Connelly; (iv) Ex. D, February 20, 2014 Minute Order by Judge Peter S. Helfer; (v) Ex. E, February 21, 2014 Notice of Appeal; (vi) Ex. F, July 8, 2015 Minute Order by Judge Jennifer K. Rockwell; (vii) Ex. G, Notice of Decision by Judge Connelly, issued on February 8, 2017; (viii) Ex. H, Notice of Decision by Judge Connelly, issued on March 14, 2017.[1] Plaintiff objects to DRJN based on his claim that these underlying court proceedings were conducted in violation of his constitutional rights. Despite plaintiff's objection, the Court finds that such documents are subject to judicial notice as documents representing proceedings in other courts. See United States ex rel Robinson Rancheria Citizens Council v. Borneo, Inc., 971 F.2d 244, 248 (9th Cir. 1992); see also Fed. R. Evid. 201(b)(1), (2) (documents whose accuracy is not subject to reasonable dispute and can be readily verified). Accordingly, the Court Grants defendants' request for judicial notice.

         Plaintiff seeks judicial notice of the following documents (Dkt. Nos. 33, 34, “PRJN”):[2] (i) Ex. 1, Excerpt of Reporter's Transcript in plaintiff's traffic court case; (ii) Ex. 2, U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division “Dear Colleague Letter, ” dated March 14, 2016; (iii) Ex. 3, California Judges Bench Guide 83; (iv) Ex. 4, State of California Manual of State Funds; (v) Ex. 5, California Judicial Council 2012-2013 Total Revenues; (vi) Ex. 6, Conference of State Court Administrators 2011-2012 Policy Paper; (vii) Ex. 7, California Rule of Court 4.335; (viii) Ex. 8, Plaintiff's Ex Parte Application for Modification of Sentence Based on Ability to Pay, dated February 7, 2017; (ix) Ex. 9, February 8, 2017 Order on Plaintiff's Ex Parte Application; (x) Ex. 10, February 8, 2017 letter from defense counsel; (xi) Ex. 11, January 10, 2017 Judicial Council of California Memorandum; (xii); Ex. 12, California Senate Bill 185, dated March 20, 2017; (xiii) Ex. 13, Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing Hearing, dated April 4, 2017; (xiv) Ex. 14, July 8, 2015 Minute Order by Commissioner Brody; (xv) Ex. 15, United States Statement of Interest, Stinnie v. Holcomb, No. 16-CV-00044 (W.D. Va.); (xvi) and Ex. 16, Article, Bill Advances Gov. Brown's Plan to Stop Suspending Licenses for Traffic Debt (Jan. 25, 2017).[3] The Court finds that Exhibits 1-9 and 11-15 are proper subjects for judicial notice. See Fed. R. Evid. 201(b)(1). Accordingly, the Court Grants plaintiff's request for judicial notice of those documents only.


         The case at bar relates to two traffic citations received by plaintiff, which subsequently led to the suspension of his driver's license and the imposition of civil penalties. Specifically:

         Plaintiff received two traffic citations, one on September 10, 2013 and another on September 13, 2013. (DRJN Ex. A.) Plaintiff pled not guilty to both citations and proceeded to trial, which was held on February 20, 2014. (Id. Exs. B, C, D.) Plaintiff was found guilty and ordered to pay a fine for both citations. (Id. Ex. D.) Plaintiff appealed this judgment to the Appellate Division of the California Superior Court. (Id. Ex. E.) Subsequently, plaintiff also filed a petition for certiorari to the California Supreme Court, and then to the United States Supreme Court, both of which were denied. See Docket, Herships v. Sup. Ct. of Calif., No. 13-9198 (2014). After the denial of his appeals, on July 8, 2015, the Superior Court found plaintiff to be in violation of California Penal Code section 1214.1(a) for failing to pay his traffic fines, and imposed civil sanctions and penalties including the suspension of plaintiff's driver's license. (DRJN Ex. F.)

         Plaintiff then filed this action on January 30, 2017, alleging that the Superior Court imposed fines and then ordered the suspension of his driver's license in violation of his constitutional rights. Plaintiff alleges that the state's budget allocation scheme for the courts creates a structural conflict of interest that deprived him of his right to a fair and impartial trier of fact. Specifically, plaintiff challenges California Government Codes 68085 and 77003, which provide thus: “There is hereby established the Trial Court Trust Fund, the proceeds of which shall be apportioned for the purposes authorized in this section, including apportionment to the trial courts to fund trial court operations, as defined in Section 77003.” Cal. Gov. Code § 68086. Section 77003, in turn, defines trial court operations as, among others, “[s]alaries benefits, and public agency retirement contributions for superior court judges and for subordinate judicial officers.” On such bases, plaintiff alleges that trial court judges are motivated to find defendants guilty because such fees are used to fund the trial court itself. (FAC ¶ 22.) Plaintiff further alleges that such fines and penalties were imposed without providing plaintiff with an ability to pay hearing.

         In connection with the filing of his original complaint, plaintiff also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order asking that the Court order defendants to reinstate plaintiff's driver's license. The Court initially abstained from ruling on plaintiff's motion, requiring the parties to meet and confer and instructing defendants to assist plaintiff in filing a request for modification of his sentence based on his claim that he is unable to pay the fines. (Dkt. No. 9.) On February 7, 2017, plaintiff filed with the Superior Court an Ex Parte Application for Modification of Sentence Based on Ability to Pay. (PRJN Ex. 8.) The Superior Court provided the following order on February 8, 2017 in response to plaintiff's submission:

The Court has received and filed your application for Modification of Sentence based on Ability to Pay. The Court is, however, unable to process and evaluate the application because it is not complete. Specifically, you do not provide medical verification from a medical provider regarding your physical limitation and inability to do community service. This proof, for example, could be in the form of copies of key documents from your medical records or an opinion from a treating or evaluating physician or nurse. The Court in evaluating a fine reduction, fine elimination or reduced payments will consider whether any portion of the fine obligation can or should be satisfied by completing community service. The Court has available a variety of benign/chair easy community service options available through roughly 100 different reputable non-profit charitable organizations in Sacramento. When the application is complete with the information regarding your inability to do community service, the Court will quickly rule ...

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