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Lak v. California Department of Child Support Services

United States District Court, C.D. California

November 3, 2017





         Plaintiff Daniel Kristof Lak (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a Complaint alleging violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as various federal and state laws. As discussed below, the Court dismisses the Complaint with leave to amend.


         On September 5, 2017, Plaintiff filed the Complaint against defendants California Department of Child Support Services (“DCSS”), DCSS County of Orange (“DCSS Orange”), Steven Eldred in his individual and official capacities (collectively, “Defendants”), and Does 1 through 20.[1] ECF Docket No. (“Dkt.”) 1, Compl. at 1. The Complaint sets forth fourteen causes of action. Id. at 1-2.

         Plaintiff alleges two “Civil Rights” claims for violation of due process pursuant 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”) for not providing prior notice and opportunity to respond, and racial discrimination pursuant 42 U.S.C. § 2000d (Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) based on denial of benefits. I9d. at 1, 25-30.

         Plaintiff alleges three claims under Title IV-Part D of the Social Security Act that enforces child support payments for violations of 42 U.S.C. § 629a(a)(2)(B), 42 U.S.C. § 666(a)(7), and 42 U.S.C. § 666(a)(10).[2] Id. at 1, 30-37.

         Plaintiff alleges two federal criminal claims for “Mail Fraud” under 18 U.S.C. § 1341, and “Violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961-1968” based on placing “fraudulent correspondence” in the mail. Id. at 1, 39-41.

         Plaintiff alleges the following seven state claims: “Fraud” under Section 3294 of the California Civil Code; “Defamation” under Section 44(a) of the California Civil Code; intentional infliction of emotional distress; malicious prosecution; intentional interference with contractual relations; negligent interference with prospective economic relations; and negligence. Id. at 1-2, 37-39, 41-49.



         Plaintiff alleges that beginning in May 2010 Defendants continuously and intentionally enforced incorrect child and spousal support orders, despite court orders modifying his amount of support. Id. ¶¶ 16, 39, 52, 64, 100. Plaintiff claims Defendants falsely levied Plaintiff's personal checking accounts, and wrongfully took amounts from his Social Security Disability Income on multiple occasions. Id. ¶¶ 29-30, 47, 98-99. Plaintiff alleges DCSS denied him benefits on the basis of his status as a Caucasian male. Id. ¶¶ 26-27, 140.

         Plaintiff alleges Defendants “continually and arbitrarily suspended” Plaintiff's driver's license and California State Bar (“State Bar”) licenses based on incorrect support orders and false information without prior notice or opportunity to be heard. Id. ¶¶ 27-28, 49, 75, 127. Plaintiff alleges each time the Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) or State Bar notified him of his licenses' suspensions, Defendants “force[d] Plaintiff to sign an increased support amount in order to get his licenses back.” Id. ¶ 128. Plaintiff claims his State Bar license was “suspended over 20 times for non-payment of child support” through Defendants' “false[] notif[ications] . . . that Plaintiff [wa]s delinquent on his child support obligations.” Id. ¶¶ 135-37.

         Plaintiff alleges as a result of Defendants' wrongful actions, Plaintiff lost his home, car, driver's license, and State Bar license, thereby “preventing him from earning a living” and “result[ing] in Plaintiff becoming homeless, living in the streets, suffering from severe depression, anxiety, and [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder] PTSD.” Id. ¶¶ 10-11, 13-15, 78, 87, 125-26, 139, 153, 175.

         As a result of these claims, Plaintiff seeks actual and compensatory damages, punitive damages, and a protective order preventing Defendant from “further harassing Plaintiff with unjustified collection activity, making any defamatory statements” including, statements of Plaintiff's “alleged support delinquency status” to the DMV, State Bar, various credit reporting agencies, and Plaintiff's future employers “without a finding of substantial justification” before an appointed Special Master. Id. ¶¶ 261-64. Plaintiff also seeks an order “directing Defendant to immediately retract and correct any previously made defamatory statements” regarding Plaintiff including, statements made to the DMV, the State Bar, and various credit reporting agencies. Id. ¶ 265. Plaintiff further seeks an order for a “full and comprehensive audit, by a tribunal of competent jurisdiction (i.e., the Department of Justice), of Defendant's policies, procedures, and practices” within the past ten years. Id. ¶ 266.



         As Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court must screen the Complaint and is required to dismiss the case at any time if it concludes the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); see Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d 1193, 1194 (9th Cir. 1998).

         In determining whether a complaint fails to state a claim for screening purposes, the Court applies the same pleading standard from Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“Rule 8”) as it would when evaluating a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Watison v. Carter, 668 F.3d 1108, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012). Under Rule 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).

         A complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim “where there is no cognizable legal theory or an absence of sufficient facts alleged to support a cognizable legal theory.” Zamani v. Carnes, 491 F.3d 990, 996 (9th Cir. 2007). In considering whether a complaint states a claim, a court must accept as true all of the material factual allegations in it. Hamilton v. Brown, 630 F.3d 889, 892-93 (9th Cir. 2011). However, the court need not accept as true “allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences.” In re Gilead Scis. Sec. Litig., 536 F.3d 1049, 1055 (9th Cir. 2008). Although a complaint need not include detailed factual allegations, it “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Cook v. Brewer, 637 F.3d 1002, 1004 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)). A claim is facially plausible when it “allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The complaint “must contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively.” Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011).

         “A document filed pro se is ‘to be liberally construed, ' and a ‘pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'” Woods v. Carey, 525 F.3d 886, 889-90 (9th Cir. 2008). However, liberal construction should only be afforded to “a plaintiff's factual allegations, ” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 330 n.9, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 104 L.Ed.2d 339 (1989), and the Court need not accept as true “unreasonable inferences or assume the truth of legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations, ” Ileto v. Glock Inc., 349 F.3d 1191, 1200 (9th Cir. 2003).

         If the court finds the complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a claim, the court has discretion to dismiss with or without leave to amend. Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-30 (9th Cir. 2000). Leave to amend should be granted if it appears possible the defects in the complaint could be corrected, especially if the plaintiff is pro se. Id. at 1130-31; see also Cato v. United States, 70 F.3d 1103, 1106 (9th Cir. 1995). However, if, after careful consideration, it is clear a complaint cannot be cured by amendment, the court may dismiss without leave to amend. Cato, 70 F.3d at 1107-11; see also Moss v. U.S. Secret Serv., 572 F.3d 962, 972 (9th Cir. 2009).




         (1) Applicable Law

         “The Eleventh Amendment prohibits federal courts from hearing suits brought against an unconsenting state.” Brooks v. Sulphur Springs Valley Elec. Coop., 951 F.2d 1050, 1053 (9th Cir. 1991) (citing Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100, 104 S.Ct. 900, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984)). “[A]n entity with Eleventh Amendment immunity is not a ‘person' within the meaning of § 1983.” Howlett By & Through Howlett v. Rose, 496 U.S. 356, 365, 110 S.Ct. 2430, 110 L.Ed.2d 332 (1990). This jurisdictional bar includes “suits naming state agencies and departments as defendants, ” and it applies whether plaintiffs “seek damages or injunctive relief.” Id.; Pennhurst State Sch., 465 U.S. at 102. Under the Eleventh Amendment, private parties may not sue state officials in their official capacities in federal court on the basis of state law. Pennhurst State Sch., 465 U.S. at 106 (“[I]t is difficult to think of a greater intrusion on state sovereignty than when a federal court instructs state officials on how to conform their conduct to state law.”). As to state claims, for sovereign immunity purposes, it is irrelevant whether plaintiff's state law claims to relief are “prospective or retroactive.” Id.

         (2) Analysis

         Here, Plaintiff attempts to sue DCSS. However, DCSS is an agency of the State of California entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. See Allison v. Cal. Adult Auth., 419 F.2d 822, 822-23 (9th Cir. 1969); see also Greenlaw v. Cty. of Santa Clara, 125 Fed App'x 809, 810 (9th Cir. 2005)[3] (“[T]he California Department of Child Support Services . . . [is] a state agency entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment.” (citing In re Pegasus Gold Corp., 394 F.3d 1189, 1191 (9th Cir. 2005))). Thus, Plaintiff is barred from bringing any claims against defendant DCSS.


         (1) Applicable Law

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 (“Rule 8”), a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief, ” and “[e]ach allegation must be simple, concise, and direct.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a), (d). “[T]he ‘short and plain statement' must provide the defendant with ‘fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Dura Pharms., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 346, 125 S.Ct. 1627, 161 L.Ed.2d 577 (2005). “Experience teaches that, unless cases are pled clearly and precisely, issues are not joined, discovery is not controlled, the trial court's docket becomes unmanageable, the litigants suffer, and society loses confidence in the court's ability to administer justice.” Bautista v. Los Angeles Cty., 216 F.3d 837, 841 (9th Cir. 2000).

         A complaint may be dismissed for violating Rule 8 even if “a few possible claims” can be identified and the complaint is not “wholly without merit.” McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1179 (9th Cir. 1996) (stating Rule 8's requirements apply “to good claims as well as bad”); see also Cafasso v. Gen. Dynamics C4 Sys., Inc., 637 F.3d 1047, 1059 (9th Cir. 2011) (discussing cases Ninth Circuit affirmed Rule 8 dismissals); Hearns v. San Bernardino Police Dep't, 530 F.3d 1124, 1130-31 (9th Cir. 2008) (same).

         As the Supreme Court has held, Rule 8(a) “requires a ‘showing, ' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief.” See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 n.3, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Plaintiff's complaint must contain enough facts to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” allowing “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         (2) Analysis

         Here, Plaintiff sues DCSS Orange as a “governmental agen[cy] charged with the enforcement of child support obligations, ” and sues defendant Eldred for “acting under color of law as [d]efendant [Eldred] is employed by, and is Director of, the governmental agency charged with the enforcement of child support obligations in the State of California and is organized under the laws of the State of California.” Compl., ¶¶ 5-6, 8. However, Plaintiff refers ...

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