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Ramirez v. County of El Dorado

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 4, 2018

WILLIAM RAMIREZ, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
COUNTY OF EL DORADO, et al., Defendants.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS; ORDER

          GREGORY G. HOLLOWS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Introduction and Summary

         Plaintiffs William and Stacey Ramirez appear pro se in this civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. sections 1983, 1985(3), 1986, and supplementary claims under California Civil Code sections 52 and 52.1 and Article 1 of the California Constitution. ECF No. 1.

         Plaintiffs also seek to permission to proceed in forma pauperis. This court has reviewed their affidavits and finds that each of them lacks sufficient funds to pay the fees and costs of pursuing this action. Each of their applications will, therefore, be granted. The inquiry does not, however, stop with the in forma pauperis determination. Under 28 U.S.C. section 1915(d)(2)(B) the court may dismiss such an action if at any time it determines that it is (i) frivolous or malicious; or (ii) it fails to state a claim.

         The undersigned recommends dismissal of the complaint without leave to amend with respect to defendant Hoffman. The “Injunctive Relief” claim naming only defendant Hoffman is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, and in any event, defendant Hoffman is absolutely immune from suit. The complaint will otherwise be served as to the remaining defendants.

         Discussion

         A. THE COMPLAINT

         The complaint in this case names several public entities: County of El Dorado, El Dorado County Sheriff's Department, El Dorado County Animal Services, and the El Dorado Superior Court and a Superior Court Commissioner, Douglas R. Hoffman. In addition it names several County officials in both their individual and their official capacities. All defendants are sued pursuant to 42 U.S.C. sections 1983, 1985 and 1986 for violation of plaintiff's rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Jurisdiction is predicated on federal question, 28 U.S.C. section 1331 and the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. sections 2201(a) and 2202. State claims are also raised under the court's supplemental jurisdiction . 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

         Factually the complaint alleges that plaintiffs were illegally evicted from their home in South Lake Tahoe, California, after a state court trial granted their landlord, Ms. Mangiaracina a judgment in unlawful detainer. ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 10, 11. The El Dorado Sheriff's Department and its officers then executed writs of execution of a money judgment and dispossession of the real property. Id. at ¶ 10a. Plaintiffs attempted to vacate the judgment, but after corrections were made by the Superior Court, new writs were issued, id. at ¶ 10c, and Sheriff's Department personnel forced them to vacate the property, leaving their animals behind. Id. at ¶ 10g. Defendant Animal Services defendants then took control of the animals. Id. A second effort to invalidate the writs involved was rejected by Commissioner Hoffman. Id. at 10m. In addition, plaintiffs were required to pay to recover their animals from the County and their personal possessions from their landlord who assessed storage fees.[1] All of the actions by County and County officials are alleged to have violated plaintiffs' rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the federal Constitution. Id. at ¶ 12.

         B. THE ROOKER-FELDMAN DOCTRINE

         The Rooker Feldman doctrine applies to “cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005).

In Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 44 S.Ct. 149, 68 L.Ed. 362, the parties defeated in state court turned to a Federal District Court for relief. Alleging that the federal court to declare it “null and void.” Id., at 414-415, 44 S.Ct. 149. This Court noted preliminarily that the state court had acted within its jurisdiction. Id., at 415, 44 S.Ct. 149. If the state-court decision was wrong, the Court explained, “that did not make the judgment void, but merely left it open to reversal or modification in an appropriate and timely appellate proceeding.” Ibid. Federal district courts, the Rooker Court recognized, lacked the requisite appellate authority, for their jurisdiction was “strictly original.” Id., at 416, 44 S.Ct. 149. Among federal courts, the Rooker Court clarified, Congress had empowered only this Court to exercise appellate authority “to reverse or modify” a state-court judgment. Ibid. Accordingly, the Court affirmed a decree dismissing the suit for lack of jurisdiction. Id., at 415, 417, 44 S.Ct. 149.

Id. at 287.

         As in Rooker, plaintiffs here, with respect to the Injunctive Relief claim against Commissioner Hoffman, seek to have this district court, in essence, overrule the rulings and judgment of the El Dorado Superior Court and to award them damages for the injury the purported improper judgment inflicted upon them. This the court cannot do. As the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held, “A party disappointed by a decision of the highest state court in which a decision may be had may seek reversal of that decision by appealing to the United States Supreme Court. In neither case may the disappointed party appeal to a federal district court, even if a federal question is present or if there is diversity of citizenship between the parties. Rooker-Feldman becomes difficult--and, in practical reality, only comes into play as a contested issue--when a disappointed party seeks to take not a formal direct appeal, but rather its de facto equivalent, to a federal district court.” Noel v. Hall, 341 F.3d 1148, 1155 (9th ...


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