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Sharma v. City of Redding

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 11, 2017

NARENDA SHARMA, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF REDDING, Defendant.

          AMENDED ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

          ALLISON CLAIRE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff's motion captioned “Motion to Set Aside State Court's Order Appointing Receiver as Void Order, ” ECF No. 28, came on for hearing on June 14, 2017. Plaintiff Narenda Sharma appeared in pro se. Counsel John M. Fujii appeared for defendant City of Redding, and Ivo Keller specially appeared on behalf of the Receiver.

         This Amended Order and Findings and Recommendations replaces the Order and Findings and Recommendations issued on June 16, 2017 (ECF No. 38), which is withdrawn. The only change is to certain background facts regarding the status of the subject property. See infra, p. 2:13-14 & fn. 1. Because the court's analysis and recommendations are unchanged, no new objection period is required and the previously filed objections will be deemed objections to the findings and recommendations set forth below.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, purportedly as assignee for Shree Shiva, LLC, the former owner of the Americana Lodge in Redding. ECF No. 1. The complaint alleges numerous constitutional violations in the City's pursuit of nuisance abatement proceedings against the motel property.

         The City filed a Complaint for Nuisance Abatement and Receivership in Shasta County Superior Court, pursuant to the California Health and Safety Code, on October 27, 2015. The complaint was based on a city inspection of the property which had identified 532 code violations and other nuisance conditions. Shree Shiva, LLC, through counsel, subsequently stipulated to the appointment of a Receiver, and the court issued a Receivership Order on January 22, 2016. The court-appointed Receiver took possession and control over the property, and determined that rehabilitation would require a cost-prohibitive degree of re-building and re-construction. Demolition of the building was also determined to be cost-prohibitive due to the presence of asbestos. The Receiver obtained court approval to sell the property “as-is” to a buyer willing and able to rehabilitate it. The receiver entered into a contract to sell the property on December 16, 2016. The court entered an order approving the sale on April 10, 2017.[1] The Receiver continues to report to the court; the case remains open.[2]

         The complaint alleges that the City's actions (1) constitute a taking of property without just compensation, (2) violated procedural due process, (3) constituted a conspiracy with the Receiver, (4) violated the property access rights of the owners, and (5) violated the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. ECF No. 1 at 17-20. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and declaratory and injunctive relief. Id. at 20.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff has not identified a basis for his motion, in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or otherwise.[3] He seeks a court order invalidating the Receivership Order of the Shasta County Superior Court. This request cannot be construed as a motion for a preliminary injunction, because the requested order would neither maintain the status quo nor direct a party to the lawsuit to take action. See Arizona Dream Act Coalition v. Brewer, 757 F.3d 1053, 1060-61 (9th Cir. 2014) (distinguishing between prohibitory injunctions and mandatory injunctions); see also Nken v. Holder, 556 U.S. 418, 428 (2009) (injunction is “means by which a court tells someone what to do or not to do”). On the contrary, the motion seeks to upend the status quo and to do so by direct federal court fiat. The familiar standards for preliminary injunctive relief do not apply to such a request.[4]

         It is axiomatic that the moving party must present a legal basis for extraordinary relief. Plaintiff has identified no authority for the proposition that a federal district court may “set aside” or otherwise vacate or invalidate an order of a state court in this context.[5] Accordingly, plaintiff's motion is subject to summary dismissal as inadequately supported.

         Moreover, it is clear that this court has no authority to grant the requested relief. The federal district court has no power to review the actions of the Shasta County Superior Court or to set aside its orders. Our Constitution contemplates a dual system of federal and state courts, which cannot function if federal courts intervene in state judicial proceedings. The state courts are constitutionally entitled to independence. Accordingly, state proceedings must normally continue unimpaired by intervention from the lower federal courts. Relief from state court error comes through the state appellate courts and ultimately, in some circumstances, from the U.S. Supreme Court. See Chick Kam Soo v. Exxon Corp., 486 U.S. 140, 146 (1988). Absent a specific constitutional or statutory grant of authority, which is absent here, this court simply has no authority to invalidate state court orders. The motion should be denied on this ground as well.

         Finally, the requested relief is barred by the abstention doctrine first announced in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 45 (1971), which held that federal courts should not ordinarily enjoin pending criminal proceedings in state courts. The Younger abstention doctrine is based on considerations of equity, comity, and federalism. Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 10-11 (1987). It has been extended to a limited class of civil proceedings, specifically those which are “akin to criminal prosecutions, ” or which “implicate a State's interest in enforcing the orders and judgments of its courts.” Sprint Communications, Inc. v. Jacobs, 134 S.Ct. 584, 588 (2013) (citations omitted). The Supreme Court has laid out a three-part test for determining when to apply Younger to a civil proceeding. Abstention is required if the state proceedings: (1) are ongoing; (2) implicate “important state interests”; and (3) provide an adequate opportunity to raise federal questions. Middlesex County Ethics Committee v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982). The Ninth Circuit has articulated an implied fourth requirement that (4) the federal court action would “enjoin the proceeding, or have the practical effect of doing so.” Gilbertson v. Albright, 381 F.3d 965, 978 (9th Cir. 2004) (en banc).

         It is well established that the circumstances warranting Younger abstention include civil enforcement proceedings. New Orleans Public Service, Inc. v. Council of New Orleans, 491 U.S. 350, 367-68 (1989). When a state or local government entity is in an enforcement posture, exercising its executive authority to regulate or remedy socially harmful conduct, the “important state interest requirement” is easily met. Potrero Hills Landfill, Inc. v. County of Solano, 657 F.3d 876, 883-84 (9th Cir.2011). Accordingly, federal actions challenging the enforcement of public nuisance laws are barred by Younger. Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., 420 U.S. 592 (1975); see also Woodfeathers, Inc. v. Washington County, Oregon, 180 F.3d 1017, 1021 (9th Cir. 1999) (“Civil actions brought by a government entity to enforce nuisance laws have been held to justify Younger abstention.”).

         Here, all the requirements for Younger abstention are present. First, the Shasta County nuisance abatement proceeding is ongoing. Second, that proceeding by its nature implicates important state regulatory and enforcement interests in nuisance abatement. Third, the Shasta County Superior Court is a venue in which federal questions can be raised, and plaintiff has in fact presented his concerns there (albeit unsuccessfully). Finally, the action plaintiff seeks - an order ...


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