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Monica v. Becerra

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Francisco Division

November 16, 2017

XAVIER BECERRA, et al., Defendants.




         Martin Monica filed a quo warranto application for the removal of Laurie Smith, the Sheriff of Santa Clara County.[1] He claims that Sheriff Smith unlawfully took office and continues to serve as Sheriff despite residing outside of Santa Clara County.[2] When the Attorney General of California refused to pursue quo warranto proceedings to oust Sheriff Smith at Mr. Monica's behest, Mr. Monica sued the Attorney General and the State of California.[3] They move to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(6).[4] The court holds that Mr. Monica does not state plausible claims where relief can be granted because his claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment and the applicable statutes of limitations. The court grants the motion to dismiss the complaint without leave to amend.


         Mr. Monica alleges Sheriff Smith unlawfully holds public office because she is not domiciled in Santa Clara County.[5] Mr. Monica wanted to pursue quo warranto proceedings to challenge Sheriff Smith's unlawful holding of public office.[6]

         In a cover letter dated January 11, 2014, Mr. Monica purported to enclose for the Attorney General his application for consent to pursue a quo warranto action, including a proposed complaint, verified statement of facts, memorandum of points and authorities, and notice to the proposed defendant.[7] He attaches the documents he submitted to his present complaint.[8] These documents include a complaint with an unsigned verification, [9] a statement of facts without verification or signature, [10] a memorandum of points and authorities, [11] and an unsigned declaration[12] to which he attached various public records, online directory search results, police reports, news articles, real estate records, and election filings that he believes show that Sheriff Smith resides in South Lake Tahoe and not in Santa Clara County.[13]

         The Office of the Attorney General sent Mr. Monica a letter stating that it received his materials “[o]n or about February 3, 2014, ” identifying deficiencies in the documents he submitted, suggesting that he seek the assistance of an attorney, and stating that it “will reconsider the matter if these deficiencies are corrected, and [the application] is resubmitted over the signature of an attorney.”[14] The letter stated that Mr. Monica's application was deficient because his complaint sought to change venue to San Francisco County without good cause and asked to appoint him as Sheriff in Sheriff Smith's place. His complaint also contained irrelevant allegations about wrongdoing by Sheriff Smith, her spouse, and her daughter, including allegations relating to improper tax exemptions and misconduct in office that were beyond the scope of Sheriff Smith's domicile and residence.[15]

         Mr. Monica does not allege he submitted a revised application, but he claims the defendants wrongfully rejected his request to pursue a quo warranto action because his evidence shows that Sheriff Smith unlawfully holds public office despite residing in South Lake Tahoe and not Santa Clara County.[16]

         Mr. Monica asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of his Fourteenth Amendment rights (claims one and two), 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (claim three), the Supremacy Clause (claim four), and the Fifteenth Amendment (claim five).[17]


         A 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 Atl. 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 . . . .” Id. (internal citations omitted).

         To 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 557). “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).

         If a 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 & Liehe, Inc. v. N. Cal. Collection Serv. Inc., 911 F.2d 242, 247 (9th Cir. 1990).


         The defendants advance three arguments in support of their motion to dismiss. First, they argue that Eleventh Amendment immunity precludes Mr. Monica's claims against the State of California.[18] Second, they argue that Mr. Monica fails to plead plausible claims.[19] Finally, they argue that the applicable statutes of limitations bar Mr. Monica's claims.[20]

         1. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

         The first issue is whether the Eleventh Amendment bars Mr. Monica's claims against the State of California. It does. The defendants point out that the Eleventh Amendment bars a lawsuit against a state or its instrumentalities absent the state's consent or abrogation of immunity by Congress.[21] Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 276-77 (1986). “This bar exists whether the relief sought is legal or equitable.” Id. Section 1983 did not abrogate a state's Eleventh Amendment immunity. Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 345 (1979). California has not waived its immunity generally for Section 1983 claims like the ones here. Atascadero State Hosp. v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 241 (1985).

         Although the defendants do not specifically address Mr. Monica's claim under Section 1981, the Ninth Circuit has held that states are immune from suit (absent waiver) and that, in fact, “§ 1981 does not contain a cause of action against states.” Pittman v. Oregon Emp't Dep't, 509 F.3d 1065, 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007); accord Binum v. Warner, 314 F. App'x 914, 914-15 (9th Cir. 2008) (plaintiff could not sue state agency or its official under Section 1981). Mr. Monica cannot assert a Section 1981 claim against the State of California.

         As for the Attorney General in his official capacity, Ex parte Young allows some lawsuits for prospective declaratory and injunctive relief against state officers sued in their official capacities to enjoin an ongoing violation of federal law. See 209 U.S. 123, 156-57 (1908). While it is not obvious that the injunctive relief Mr. Monica seeks is prospective, Mr. Monica raises the Ex parte Young exception as grounds to sue Attorney General Xavier Becerra.[22] The Ex parte Young exception removes official capacity from a state official so they can face the “consequences of [their] individual conduct.” See 209 U.S. at 160. But Mr. Becerra's individual conduct has no relation to the quo warranto application filed by Mr. Monica because the decision to not pursue the proceedings was made well before Mr. Becerra was elected to office. Furthermore, Mr. Monica has not identified any behavior of Mr. Becerra that would qualify for this exception.

         The Eleventh Amendment bars Mr. Monica's Section 1983 claims against the State of California.

         2. Plausibility of Claims

         2.1 Section 1983 Claims

         The second issue is whether Mr. Monica states plausible Section 1983 claims. He does not. To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). The focus of the defendants' motion, and thus the analysis here, is whether Mr. Monica alleges a plausible violation of his constitutional rights or federal law.

         2.1.1 Fourteenth Amendment

         Mr. Monica's first two claims for relief are for violations of his right to equal protection and procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment, [23] which states in Section 1 that:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
 Equal Protection

         The issue here is whether Mr. Monica plausibly claims a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. He does not. “The equal protection clause forbids the establishment of laws which arbitrarily and unreasonably create dissimilar classifications of individuals when, looking to the purpose of those laws, such individuals are similarly situated.” Williams v. Field, 416 F.2d 483, 486 (9th Cir. 1969). Mr. Monica does not claim the statute governing quo warranto proceedings is discriminatory on its face. See Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 803.

         “[The equal protection clause] also forbids unequal enforcement of valid laws, where such unequal enforcement is the product of improper motive.” Williams, 416 F.2d at 486. “To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment a plaintiff must show that the defendants acted with an intent or purpose to discriminate against the plaintiff based upon membership in a protected class.” Lee v. City of L.A., 250 F.3d 668, 686 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d 1193, 1194 (9th Cir. 1998)); accord Thornton v. City of St. Helens, 425 F.3d 1158, 1166 (9th Cir. 2005). A plaintiff “must plead intentional unlawful discrimination or allege facts that are at least susceptible of an inference of discriminatory intent.” Monteiro v. Tempe Union High Sch. Dist., 158 F.3d 1022, 1026 (9th Cir. 1998); accord, e.g., Caddell v. Helena Elder Hous., Inc., 494 F. App'x 809, 810 (9th Cir. 2012) (mem.) (“The district court properly dismissed . . . equal protection claims . . . because [the plaintiff] failed to allege facts demonstrating a discriminatory intent.”); see also Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S. 562, 564-65 (2000) (per curiam) (holding that, even as a “class of one, ” the plaintiff must allege intentional, disparate treatment). “[B]are assertions” and “conclusory allegations” of discrimination will not suffice. See Moss v. U.S. Secret Serv., 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009) (discussing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680-81); accord Rogers v. Cnty. of Riverside, 139 F.3d 907 (9th Cir. 1998) (mem.) (district court properly dismissed equal-protection claim when the plaintiff failed to plead facts showing discriminatory intent).

         Here, Mr. Monica pleads only bare assertions and conclusory allegations that he was denied equal protection.[24] He does not allege facts to support those allegations. For example, Mr. Monica does not allege that the defendants intentionally treated him differently when he requested that the Attorney General pursue a quo warranto action or that he was treated differently at all. The complaint is also silent as to any discriminatory intent. Consequently, ...

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