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Barnett v. Becerra

United States District Court, N.D. California

February 26, 2018

MELISSA BARNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
XAVIER BECERRA, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IFP APPLICATION, DISMISSING AMENDED COMPLAINT, AND DENYING MOTIONS FOR APPOINTMENT OF COUNSEL RE: DKT. NOS. 6, 8, 11, 12

          SUSAN ILLSTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Melissa Barnett is representing herself pro se. The Court previously denied plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP) as incomplete, denied the motion for appointment of counsel, and dismissed the complaint with leave to amend. Dkt. No. 5. Plaintiff has now filed an amended application to proceed IFP, two amended motions for appointment of counsel, and an Amended Complaint. Dkt. Nos. 6, 8, 11, 12.

         Having reviewed plaintiff's amended IFP application, the Court determines that plaintiff has met the standard for proceeding IFP and GRANTS the application. See Dkt. No. 6. However, the Court further finds that the Amended Complaint fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted. For the reasons stated below, the Court DISMISSES the Amended Complaint without leave to amend and DENIES plaintiff's motions to appoint counsel.

         BACKGROUND

         For purposes of reviewing the sufficiency of plaintiff's Amended Complaint, the Court treats all of the allegations in the Amended Complaint as true. The events that led to this lawsuit largely arise from plaintiff's dissolution proceedings against her ex-husband, John Heflebower, and the discrimination plaintiff alleged she experienced in the court proceedings that followed.[1]Heflebower was emotionally, financially, sexually, and physically abusive to plaintiff. Dkt. No. 12, Amended Complaint (“AC”) at 25.[2] Heflebower was also emotionally abusive to plaintiff's children.[3] Id.

         Barnett filed for dissolution in 2005. Id. Judge Francisca Tisher of Napa County Superior Court awarded partial custody to Heflebower.[4] Id. In 2006, plaintiff filed for a restraining order, which Judge Michael Williams denied. Id. Not long after, “stay away orders which applied to both parties” were issued. Id. at 25-26. In 2006, the divorce was finalized, but Heflebower “continue[d] to use the court to harm Barnett . . ., filing frivolous and fraudulent claims, each time gaining more time with [their] child, getting contempt charges[, ] etc.” Id. at 26. Plaintiff had at least three different attorneys through these proceedings: James Jones, Anne Holland, and Kathleen Smith. See Id. at 26-27. In or around 2009, Judge Mark Boesnecker awarded Heflebower full custody, after a hearing in which plaintiff was not allowed to cross-examine minor's counsel Ann Laning. Id. at 27. Plaintiff had visitation rights every other weekend. Id. She filed for reconsideration and Judge Diane Price refused her request. Id. In April 2010, plaintiff was put on supervised visitation until the next court hearing in October 2010. Id. at 27-28. At some point after October 2010 the Family Court ordered no contact between plaintiff and the child. Id. at 28. “[T]his order has continued through 2017.” Id. Plaintiff has “tried returning to court several times with the same outcome.” Id.

         Despite the no-contact order, Heflebower was still “allowing” contact between plaintiff and the child. Id. In 2014, “S” accidentally ate a marijuana candy bar from the father's freezer. Id. Plaintiff took “S” to the emergency room for treatment. The doctor called Child Protective Services “and spoke with mother in a disparaging way both in[]front of the child and staff.” Id. Following this incident, the father “‘allowed' minor plaintiff to return to mother[']s home.” Id. The following week, he filed a kidnapping report. When plaintiff voluntarily went to the St. Helena Police Department to speak with them, she “was detained and assaulted by Police officer Biden and Police Chief Ruben.” Id. The District Attorney's office “pressed charges against both Heflebower and Barnett, offering a plea deal to Heflebower that included filing a Domestic Violence Restraining Order.” Id. When plaintiff, unaware of the filing, violated the order, she was charged with five counts. Id. The Public Defender's office “was disparaging and failed to protect her rights[, ] acting both unethically and unprofessionally.” Id.

         On September 22, 2017, plaintiff filed this lawsuit against twenty-four defendants, seeking relief under (1) Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and (2) Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Dkt. No. 1. Reviewing the complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e), the Court dismissed the complaint with leave to amend and instructed plaintiff to “describe[e] what events plaintiff is challenging as unlawful, when the events occurred, and which defendants are alleged to have committed the acts.” Dkt. No. 5 at 5. The Court also cautioned that some of the defendants may be immune from liability. Id. at 3. The Court denied plaintiff's motion for appointment of counsel without prejudice. Id. at 4.

         Plaintiff filed a partial amended complaint on October 23, 2017, and requested an extension of time to complete her amendment. The Court granted plaintiff's motion for an extension of time and plaintiff filed the Amended Complaint, which is now the operative complaint in this case, on November 27, 2017. Dkt. Nos. 10, 11. The sixty page Amended Complaint adds a third claim for relief for “Sex Discrimination Violations of State Constitution.” AC at 50. Plaintiff seeks damages in excess of $17 million each for her and for “S, ” civil penalties, declaratory and injunctive relief. Id. at 58-59. Plaintiff sues thirty-one defendants:

         California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court Tani Cantil-Sakauye, six judges or commissioners of Napa County Superior Court, the Napa County District Attorney, the Napa County Public Defender, the Napa County Department of Health and Human Services, St. Helena Hospital, the St. Helena Police Department, the St. Helena Unified School District, the Napa County Bar Association, Napa Emergency Women's Services, Cope Family Services, independent mental health provider Doris Pick, six attorneys, Woodland Star Charter School, Merrill Lynch, Napa Legal Aid Services, Family Court Services, Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), AFCC California Chapter, and Senator Kamala Harris. AC at 1-2, 10-19.

         Plaintiff has also filed an amended IFP application and two amended motions to appoint counsel. Dkt. Nos. 6, 8, 12.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The statute that authorizes courts to allow lawsuits to proceed without prepayment of the filing fees also requires the Court to “dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that - . . . the action or appeal - (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)(B). For purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915, a frivolous claim is one that lacks an arguable basis in either law or fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). To state a claim for relief, the complaint must contain “a short and plain statement showing that the pleader is entitled to relief[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).[5]

         In the Ninth Circuit, courts “construe pro se filings liberally when evaluating them under Iqbal. While the standard is higher, our ‘obligation' remains, ‘where the petition is pro se, particularly in civil rights cases, to construe the pleadings liberally and to afford the petitioner the benefit of any doubt.'” Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Bretz v. Kelman, 773, F.2d 1026, 1027 n. 1 (9th Cir. 1985) (en banc)). However, a court will not “supply essential elements of the claim that were not initially pled.” Ivey v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. of Alaska, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982). The district court must provide the pro se plaintiff notice of the deficiencies of his or her complaint prior to ...


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