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Cormier v. Comey

United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division

November 19, 2019

JAMES COMEY., et al., Defendants.



         On June 28, 2019, plaintiff filed a Complaint in this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1.) The Complaint was signed by plaintiff on June 2, 2019. (Id. at 7, 14.) Plaintiff paid the filing fee on September 25, 2019. (ECF No. 18.) The Complaint arises from incidents that occurred while plaintiff was detained on criminal charges in San Diego County and in Riverside County, California. (ECF No. 1 at 1.) Plaintiff names as defendants more than ten individuals who are identified as attorneys, two Superior Court judges, one District Attorney, one deputy sheriff, and several individuals identified as doctors. (Id. at 2, 8, 15-17.) The Complaint lists incident dates of 1985, 1986, 2013, and October 24, 2018. (Id. at 1, 3-5, 8.) Plaintiff seeks monetary damages. (Id. at 7, 14.)

         In accordance with the terms of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”), the Court has screened the Complaint prior to ordering service for purpose 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. § 1915A; 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1).[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 alleged under a cognizable legal theory.” See, e.g., Kwan v. SanMedica Int'l, 854 F.3d 1088, 1093 (9th Cir. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted); 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 the PLRA, 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, e.g., Soltysik v. Padilla, 910 F.3d 438, 444 (9th Cir. 2018). 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). 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); see also Chavez v. United States, 683 F.3d 1102, 1108 (9th Cir. 2012). Nor is the Court “bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation or an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Keates v. Koile, 883 F.3d 1228, 1243 (9th Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         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). Nevertheless, 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) (“Rule 8”) 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. North Coast 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, 574 U.S. 10, 12 (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.

         Following careful review of the Complaint, the Court finds that many of the claims appear to be barred by the statute of limitations, and the factual allegations appear insufficient to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Further, the pleading 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. 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, the Court will recommend that this action be dismissed without further leave to amend and with prejudice.[2]

         A. Statute of Limitations

         The Complaint references incident dates in 1985, 1986, and 2013 (ECF No. 1 at 1, 3-4, 8.) It appears to the Court that plaintiff's “Count 1” arises from events that took place in 1985 or 1986 (id. at 3, 10, 21), and that plaintiff's “Count 2” arises from events that took place in 2013 (id. at 4, 11). Plaintiff signed his Complaint on June 2, 2019. (Id. at 7, 14.)

         Federal civil rights claims brought pursuant to § 1983 are subject to the forum state's statute of limitations applicable to personal injury claims. See, e.g., Bird v. Dep't of Human Servs., 935 F.3d 738, 743 (9th Cir. 2019) (citing Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 276 (1985)). Federal civil rights claims arising in California after 2003 are subject to the two-year limitations period set forth in Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 335.1. See, e.g., Maldonado v. Harris, 370 F.3d 945, 954-55 (9th Cir. 2004). Federal law, however, determines when a civil rights claim accrues. See McDonough v. Smith, 139 S.Ct. 2149, 2155 (2019) (“the time at which a § 1983 claim accrues is a question of federal law” (internal quotation marks omitted)). A cause of action typically accrues under federal law as soon as a potential “plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury which is the basis of the action.” See Bird, 935 F.3d at 743.

         In addition, a federal court must give effect to a state's tolling provisions. See Hardin v. Straub, 490 U.S. 536, 539 (1989). Under California law, the continuous incarceration of a plaintiff is a disability that tolls the statute of limitations for a maximum of two years. See Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 352.1; see, e.g., Jones v. Blanas, 393 F.3d 918, 927 (9th Cir. 2004) (California provides for statutory tolling for a period of up to two years based on the disability of imprisonment); Elliott v. City of Union City, 25 F.3d 800, 802 (9th Cir. 1994). Such tolling is applicable only if a plaintiff was imprisoned “at the time the claim accrued.” Elliott, 25 F.3d at ...

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