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Luna v. Caracas

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 12, 2017

OSCAR LUNA, Plaintiff,
v.
CHARMAE CARACAS, Defendant.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS RECOMMENDING DISMISSING COMPLAINT WITHOUT LEAVE TO AMEND FOR FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM (ECF NO. 8)

         Plaintiff Oscar Luna, appearing pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Currently before the Court is Plaintiff's first amended complaint, filed June 22, 2017.

         I.

         SCREENING REQUIREMENT

         Notwithstanding any filing fee, the court shall dismiss a case if at any time the Court determines that the complaint “(i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2); see Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1129 (9th Cir. 2000) (section 1915(e) applies to all in forma pauperis complaints, not just those filed by prisoners); Calhoun v. Stahl, 254 F.3d 845 (9th Cir. 2001) (dismissal required of in forma pauperis proceedings which seek monetary relief from immune defendants); Cato v. United States, 70 F.3d 1103, 1106 (9th Cir. 1995) (district court has discretion to dismiss in forma pauperis complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)); Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d 1193 (9th Cir. 1998) (affirming sua sponte dismissal for failure to state a claim). The Court exercises its discretion to screen the plaintiff's complaint in this action to determine if it “i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

         In determining whether a complaint fails to state a claim, the Court uses the same pleading standard used under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief. . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

         In reviewing the pro se complaint, the Court is to liberally construe the pleadings and accept as true all factual allegations contained in the complaint. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Although a court must accept as true all factual allegations contained in a complaint, a court need not accept a plaintiff's legal conclusions as true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “[A] complaint [that] pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability . . . ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Therefore the complaint must contain sufficient factual content for the court to draw the reasonable conclusion that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         Similarly, the court may dismiss a claim as factually frivolous when the facts alleged lack an arguable basis in law or in fact or embraces fanciful factual allegations. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Further, a claim can be dismissed where a complete defense is obvious on the face of the complaint. Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1228 (9th Cir. 1984).

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff brings this action against Charmae Caracas who is the Clerk Supervisor of the Fresno County Superior Court. (First Am. Coml. (“FAC”) 2, ECF No. 8.) On April 16, 2016, Defendant Caracas dismissed Plaintiff's state law case. (FAC 2.) On April 21, 2017, Defendant Caracas told Plaintiff that as Fresno County Superior Court Clerk supervisor the action was “hers, proper, and final.” (FAC 2.) Plaintiff alleges that the dismissal of the action without cause, notice, or opportunity to be heard violated his rights to access to the Court and due process. (FAC 3.) Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief ordering Defendant Caracas to correct the dismissal order and monetary relief. (FAC 3, 4.)

         A. Quasi-Judicial Immunity from Damages

         “Court clerks have absolute quasi-judicial immunity from damages for civil rights violations when they perform tasks that are an integral part of the judicial process.” Mullis v. U.S. Bankr. Court for Dist. of Nevada, 828 F.2d 1385, 1390 (9th Cir. 1987); Fixel v. United States, 737 F.Supp. 593, 597 (D. Nev. 1990), aff'd sub nom. Fixel v. U.S. Dist. Court of Nevada, 930 F.2d 27 (9th Cir. 1991). Clerk action that is “a mistake or an act in excess of jurisdiction does not abrogate judicial immunity, even if it results in ‘grave procedural errors.' ” Mullis, 828 F.2d at 1390 (quoting Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 359 (1978)). In Mullis, a bankruptcy debtor filed an action against the bankruptcy court clerks. Mullis, 828 F.2d at 1390. The plaintiff alleged denial to access of the court after the court clerks refused to accept and file an amended petition in his bankruptcy action. Mullis, 828 F.2d at 1390. The court found that the clerk of court and deputy clerks are the court officials through whom filing in cases is done. Id. “Consequently, the clerks qualify for quasi-judicial immunity unless these acts were done in the clear absence of all jurisdiction.” Id.

         Here, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Caracas dismissed his action without judicial authority. In reviewing a pro se complaint, the Court is to liberally construe the pleadings and accept as true all factual allegations contained in the complaint. Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94. The Court is not, however, required to accept as true allegations that contradict exhibits attached to the complaint or matters properly subject to judicial notice, or allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences. Daniels-Hall v. National Educ. Ass'n, 629 F.3d 992, 998 (9th Cir. 2010). As the Court previously took judicial notice, review of the Superior Court docket shows that, on April 28, 2016, Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan ordered that the entire action be dismissed without prejudice after Plaintiff failed to appear for a scheduled order to show cause hearing.[1] Oscar Luna v. Estate of J.M. Irigoyen, No. 14CECG02921 (Sup. Ct. April 28, 2016).[2] While Plaintiff alleges that the action was dismissed sua sponte by a non-judge, as Plaintiff alleged in his prior complaint, the order to dismiss was issued by Judge Kapetan.

         Defendant Caracas's actions in processing the orders of the judge are integral to the judicial process. Since Defendant Caracas was performing tasks integral to the judicial process, she is entitled to quasi-judicial immunity from damages for her actions in dismissing Plaintiff's case. Coulter v. Roddy, 463 F. App'x 610, 611 (9th Cir. 2011);[3] In re Harris, No. C 94-0212 VRW, 1995 WL 390625, at *3 (N.D. Cal. June 19, 1995); Sermeno v. Lewis, No. 116CV01582LJOBAMPC, 2017 WL 117879, at *3 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 11, 2017). As Plaintiff was previously advised, he cannot pursue claims for damages against Defendant Caracas or any other court employee who was performing tasks that were an integral part of the judicial process.

         B. Right of ...


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