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Christopher Fearon v. O'Neal

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 8, 2018

G. O'NEAL, et al., Defendants.



         On February 26, 2018, plaintiff, who presently is detained at the Central Detention Center in San Bernardino, California, filed a Complaint (ECF No. 1) in this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff subsequently was granted leave to proceed without prepayment of the filing fees. (ECF No. 4.) The Complaint names as defendants Detective G. O'Neal, identified as a “police officer”; Michael A. Ramos, identified as “District Attorney”; the San Bernardino Police Department; and the County of San Bernardino. (ECF No. 1 at 3-4.) Plaintiff names each defendant only in his or her official capacity. (Id. at 3-5.)

         Plaintiff's claims arise from plaintiff's arrest on January 15, 2014, and his subsequent detention. (Id. at 3-5.) The Complaint purports to raise one claim for “discrimination, ” “false arrest, ” “false imprisonment, ” and state law theories. (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff seeks monetary damages. (Id. at 6.)

         The Court has screened the Complaint prior to ordering service for purposes of determining whether the action is frivolous or malicious; or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A(b); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1). The Court's screening of the pleading under the foregoing statutes is governed by the following standards. A complaint may be dismissed as a matter of law for failure to state a claim for two reasons: (1) lack of a cognizable legal theory; or (2) insufficient facts under a cognizable legal theory. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990); see also Rosati v. Igbinoso, 791 F.3d 1037, 1039 (9th Cir. 2015) (when determining whether a complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the court applies the same standard as applied in a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)). In determining whether the pleading states a claim on which relief may be granted, its allegations of material fact must be taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to plaintiff. See Love v. United States, 915 F.2d 1242, 1245 (9th Cir. 1989). However, the “tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Nor is the Court “bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Wood v. Moss, 134 S.Ct. 2056, 2065 n.5 (2014) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Rather, a court first “discounts conclusory statements, which are not entitled to the presumption of truth, before determining whether a claim is plausible.” Salameh v. Tarsadia Hotel, 726 F.3d 1124, 1129 (9th Cir. 2013). Then, “dismissal is appropriate where the plaintiff failed to allege enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Yagman v. Garcetti, 852 F.3d 859, 863 (9th Cir. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted, emphasis added).

         Further, since plaintiff is appearing pro se, the Court must construe the allegations of the pleading liberally and must afford plaintiff the benefit of any doubt. See Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010); see also Alvarez v. Hill, 518 F.3d 1152, 1158 (9th Cir. 2008) (because plaintiff was proceeding pro se, “the district court was required to ‘afford [him] the benefit of any doubt' in ascertaining what claims he ‘raised in his complaint'”) (alteration in original). However, the Supreme Court has held that “a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] 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 right to relief above the speculative level . . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted, alteration in original); see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (To avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' . . . 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.” (internal citation omitted)).

         In addition, Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a) states:

A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain: (1) a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction . . .; (2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief; and (3) a demand for the relief sought, which may include relief in the alternative or different types of relief.

(Emphasis added). Further, Rule 8(d)(1) provides: “Each allegation must be simple, concise, and direct. No technical form is required.” Although the Court must construe a pro se plaintiff's pleadings liberally, a plaintiff nonetheless must allege a minimum factual and legal basis for each claim that is sufficient to give each defendant fair notice of what plaintiff's claims are and the grounds upon which they rest. See, e.g., Brazil v. United States Dep't of the Navy, 66 F.3d 193, 199 (9th Cir. 1995); McKeever v. Block, 932 F.2d 795, 798 (9th Cir. 1991) (a complaint must give defendants fair notice of the claims against them). If a plaintiff fails to clearly and concisely set forth factual allegations sufficient to provide defendants with notice of which defendant is being sued on which theory and what relief is being sought against them, the pleading fails to comply with Rule 8. See, e.g., McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1177-79 (9th Cir. 1996); Nevijel v. Northcoast Life Ins. Co., 651 F.2d 671, 674 (9th Cir. 1981). A claim has “substantive plausibility” if a plaintiff alleges “simply, concisely, and directly [the] events” that entitle him to damages. Johnson v. City of Shelby, 135 S.Ct. 346, 347 (2014). Failure to comply with Rule 8 constitutes an independent basis for dismissal of a pleading that applies even if the claims are not found to be wholly without merit. See McHenry, 84 F.3d at 1179; Nevijel, 651 F.2d at 673.

         Following careful review, the Court finds that the Complaint fails to comply with Rule 8 because it fails to state a short and plain statement of each claim that is sufficient to give each defendant fair notice of what plaintiff's claims are and the grounds upon which they rest. In addition, plaintiff's allegations appear insufficient to state any claim upon which relief may be granted. Accordingly, the Complaint is dismissed with leave to amend. See Rosati, 791 F.3d at 1039 (“A district court should not dismiss a pro se complaint without leave to amend unless it is absolutely clear that the deficiencies of the complaint could not be cured by amendment.”) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         If plaintiff desires to pursue this action, he is ORDERED to file a First Amended Complaint no later than thirty (30) days after the date of this Order, remedying the deficiencies discussed below. Further, plaintiff is admonished that, if he fails to timely file a First Amended Complaint, or fails to remedy the deficiencies of this pleading as discussed herein, then the Court will recommend that this action be dismissed without leave to amend and with prejudice.[1]

         A. Claims challenging a conviction

         The Complaint seeks only damages, and plaintiff alleges that he was falsely arrested, falsely imprisoned, and prosecuted for a crime that he “did not commit.” (ECF No. 1 at 3, 5-6.) Plaintiff also alleges that he has been in custody “ever since” his arrest on January 15, 2014. (Id. at 5.) However, it is not clear from the Complaint whether or not plaintiff has been convicted of any charges that resulted from his arrest on January 15, 2014, or the reason for plaintiff's continued detention.

         To the extent that plaintiff is alleging that he is being detained on criminal charges for which he has been convicted (or for which conviction may be pending), a petition for habeas corpus is a prisoner's sole judicial remedy when attacking “the validity of the fact or length of . . . confinement.” Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 489-90 (1973); Young v. Kenny, 907 F.2d 874, 875 (9th Cir. 1990). Thus, plaintiff may not use a civil rights action to challenge the validity or duration of a conviction or incarceration. Such relief only is available in a habeas corpus action. In addition, to the extent that plaintiff is attempting to use a civil rights action to seek monetary damages for an allegedly unlawful conviction where success would necessarily implicate the fact or duration of his conviction, his claims are not cognizable under § 1983 unless and until plaintiff can show that “the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus.” Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994). Under Heck, if a judgment in favor of a plaintiff on a civil rights action necessarily will imply the invalidity of his or her conviction or sentence, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence already has been invalidated. Id.; see also Skinner v. Switzer, 562 U.S. 521, 525 (2011) (“Where the prisoner's claim would not ‘necessarily spell speedier release, ' however, suit may be brought under § 1983.”). Accordingly, “Heck prohibits the use of § 1983 to attack the validity of a conviction, because a recovery in the damages action would necessarily imply that the conviction was wrongfully obtained.” Furnace v. Giurbino, 838 F.3d 1019, 1027 (9th Cir. 2016).

         Here, it is not clear from the Complaint whether plaintiff is alleging that he was wrongfully convicted of any crime, or whether any conviction arose from the arrest alleged in the Complaint. To the extent that plaintiff's civil rights claims will necessarily imply that his conviction or sentence is invalid, plaintiff ...

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