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Gustard v. Harris

United States District Court, E.D. California

October 28, 2019

CHRISTOPHER GUSTARD, Plaintiff,
v.
KAMALA HARRIS, et al., Defendants.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

          EDMUND F. BRENNAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff is a federal inmate proceeding without counsel in this action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Following screening, the filing of an amended complaint, and a substitution, claims against four defendants remain in the action: Morazzini, McKinney, Zuniga, and McCauley. ECF No. 34. Morazzini, McKinney, and McCauley move to dismiss the claims against them. ECF Nos. 51, 52. For the reasons that follow, Morazzini's motion should be granted. The motion filed by McKinney and McCauley should be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Plaintiff's Allegations

         Plaintiff had a license to practice as a landscape architect in California. ECF No. 30 at 14. During the process of renewing the license, he informed the California Architects Board's Landscape Architecture Technical Committee (“the Board” or “the LATC”) that he had recently pleaded guilty to a federal felony charge of distribution of images of children engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Id. at 30. This notification was required by California law. Id. Following the Board's filing of an accusation against plaintiff and a subsequent administrative hearing, the Board found that the conviction called for the revocation of plaintiff's license pursuant to California Business and Professions Code § 490(a) and California Code of Regulations, Title 16, § 2655.[1] Id. at 60-67. It also imposed a bill of over $7, 000 in costs of enforcement on plaintiff, under California Business and Professions Code § 125.3. Id. At the time, defendant McCauley was the Executive Officer of the LATC. Id. at 8. McKinney was the LATC's “Enforcement Officer” or “Enforcement Analyst.” Id. at 9. Morazzini was the Director of California's Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”), which performs administrative hearings for state agencies. Id. at 10. McCauley has since left the agency and been replaced with Zuniga. ECF No. 70.

         Plaintiff believes that his license should not have been revoked because he disagrees with the Board's decision that his crime had a sufficient nexus with his profession to justify revocation. Id. at 13. He challenges that decision, and a number of other aspects of the administrative proceeding, as violative of due process. He also challenges the statutes on which the decision rested. Plaintiff's unnecessarily long and convoluted amended complaint (over 50 pages, exclusive of exhibits), alleges eleven “counts”; i.e., claims for relief. These claims fall into two categories: (1) claims that plaintiff's procedural due process rights were violated in various ways during the administrative process that ended in revocation of his license and (2) claims that the statutes through which his license was revoked are unconstitutionally void, overbroad, or vague as applied to him.

         a. Procedural Due Process Claims

         Plaintiff claims that the following actions deprived him of his procedural due process rights:

(1) McCauley (in his official capacity) and the Board wrongfully used the requirement that plaintiff register as a sex offender to determine that his crime was substantially related to the practice of landscape architecture because such use was not authorized by § 490(a) or § 2655 (Count 1);
(2) McKinney (in his individual capacity), McCauley (in his official capacity), and the Board deprived plaintiff of adequate notice of its intent to impose costs of enforcement on him, failed to provide plaintiff with an adequate opportunity to present evidence that he could not afford to pay costs, and did not provide a reasoned determination that plaintiff could pay (Counts 5, 6);
(3) McKinney (in his individual capacity), McCauley (in his official capacity), and the Board failed to provide plaintiff with notice of the time for seeking court review of the Board's decision via administrative writ petition (Count 6);
(4) McKinney (in his individual capacity) wrongly determined that plaintiff filed his motion for reconsideration too late, and McCauley (in his individual and official capacities) did not correct the error (Count 7);
(5) The Board failed to provide him with a revocation hearing within statutory deadlines (Counts 8, 9);
(6) McCauley and McKinney (in their individual capacities) and the Board imposed a renewal fee on plaintiff (prior to deciding to revoke his license) without giving notice to plaintiff and providing him with an opportunity to present evidence of his inability to pay the renewal fee (Counts 8, 9);
(7) McKinney (in his individual capacity), McCauley (in his official capacity), and/or the Board did not serve the accusation on plaintiff properly, did not provide a reasoned decision in denying his motion to dismiss the accusation for improper service, and did not consider his motion for reconsideration on the service issue because it was never delivered to them (Counts 9, 10);
(8) The Board provided plaintiff with its exhibits less than 24 hours prior to the hearing (Count 9);
(9) Morazzini failed to respond to plaintiff's letter informing him that plaintiff believed that his mail to the Office of Administrative Hearings was being tampered with or obstructed (Counts 10, 11).

         b. Void-for-Vagueness Claims

         Plaintiff challenges the following statutes as applied to him:

(1) §§ 490(a), 2655, and 2656(b)(1)[2] for failing to define sexual conduct that is substantially related to the practice of landscape architecture, for failing to define “loitering, ” for failing to provide notice to the plaintiff the that Board may consider sex offender registration in making its revocation decision, and for allowing the Board to consider the egregious nature of his crime rather than his efforts at rehabilitation in determining whether the crime was substantially related (Counts 1, 2, 4);
(2) California Business and Professions Code § 5615[3] for failing to define or otherwise give adequate notice of places where a landscape architect typically works (Counts 1, 3);
(3) California Business and Professions Code § 125.3 for providing no notice requirement and no process by which the Board should make a reasoned determination that a licensee has the ability to pay according to the standard set forth by the California Supreme Court[4] (Count 5);

         Plaintiff seeks a number of declaratory orders and injunctions, as well as money damages.

         II. Procedural Background

         In a detailed order screening plaintiff's original complaint, the court made several rulings that remain relevant. First, the court found that plaintiff's claims were barred by the Eleventh Amendment, because plaintiff sought retrospective relief against state officials in their official capacities (e.g., a declaration that defendants' past conduct was unconstitutional). ECF No. 17 at 13-14, adopted by ECF No. 23.

         Second, the court found that plaintiff's allegations did not show a denial of the process required by the U.S. Constitution, because his complaint and its attachments showed that he had ample notice of the hearing and an opportunity to defend himself, plaintiff had not alleged sufficiently that the incomplete accusation failed to provide adequate notice of the charges against him, the Constitution does not require that state officials provide notice of state-law remedies (here, the time period for seeking state court review), and the allegations did not show how any mailing irregularities deprived plaintiff of a meaningful opportunity to respond to the accusation. Id. at 19-21.

         Lastly, the court rejected plaintiff's as-applied vagueness challenges to § 490(a), § 2655, and § 2656(b). Id. at 28-33. The court analyzed the statutes and found that plaintiff had not sufficiently alleged that they ...


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