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Feng v. County of Santa Clara

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Francisco Division

December 26, 2019

KARENA A. FENG, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF SANTA CLARA, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTIONS TO DISMISS RE: ECF NOS. 11, 14, 18, 21

          LAUREL BEELER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         Pro se plaintiff Karena A. Feng has been diagnosed with a mental disorder, and at one point (when she was in a maternity recovery ward), a psychiatrist evaluated her and hospitalized her involuntarily under California and Welfare Institutions Code § 5150. Ms. Feng claims that this placement occurred so that the Department of Family and Child Services (“DFCS”) could put her children up for adoption or sex trafficking. Ms. Feng sued defendants the County of Santa Clara, the City and County of San Francisco, psychiatrist Anna Piotrowski, M.D., Santa Clara social workers Mayra Alvarez and Brian Hawkinson, San Francisco social worker Amy Yim, California Superior Court Judge Amber Rosen, and Ms. Feng's court-appointed attorney Arthur Gee-Yeh Tan, alleging that the defendants are collectively engaging in a conspiracy against her and are liable to her for at least $650 million in damages.

         Judge Rosen, Dr. Piotrowski, Mr. Tan, Ms. Yim, and the City and County of San Francisco move to dismiss Ms. Feng's complaint. (The Santa Clara defendants - the County, Ms. Alvarez, and Mr. Hawkinson - have not yet appeared in this case or moved to dismiss.[1]) The court can decide the defendants' motions without oral argument. N.D. Cal. Civ. L.R. 7-1(b). The court grants the pending motions to dismiss. The court dismisses Ms. Feng's claims against Judge Rosen with prejudice and dismisses Ms. Feng's claims against Dr. Piotrowski, Mr. Tan, Ms. Yim, and the City and County of San Francisco without prejudice, meaning that the court gives Ms. Feng an opportunity to file an amended complaint. Ms. Feng must file an amended complaint that addresses the deficiencies the court identified in this order within 21 days (i.e., by January 16, 2020). If she does not do so, the court will dismiss her claims against Dr. Piotrowski, Mr. Tan, Ms. Yim, and the City and County with prejudice, meaning that she will not be able to replead her claims against them.

         STATEMENT [2]

         Construing her complaint liberally, Ms. Feng alleges the following.

         Ms. Feng gave birth to a baby (her fourth child) in November 2018.[3] On November 26, Dr. Piotrowski entered Ms. Feng's maternity ward and said that “she just had another patient with postpartum depression or psychosis, and she doesn't want to bump into another one, ” or words to that effect.[4] Ms. Feng responded that she had nothing to do with another patient, that she had been delayed for discharge, and that she wanted to bring her newborn baby home to show the rest of her family.[5] Ms. Feng alleges that Dr. Piotrowski demanded that she take some type of psychedelic drug and said, “If Plaintiff does not take it, then [Dr. Piotrowski] would call CPS [Child Protective Services] to take the children away, throw me into the ward, do not disclose the address so no one can save me and that I cannot see another day's light, I will lose my children forever, ” or words to that effect.[6] Ms. Feng asked for a second opinion, to which Dr. Piotrowski replied, “NO!”[7] Ms. Feng alleges that Dr. Piotrowski yelled that “she IS the law, ” or words to that effect.[8] Ms. Feng alleges that Dr. Piotrowski wrote in Ms. Feng's medical chart that all staff must follow Dr. Piotrowski in her capacity as the “boss” and the “law.”[9]

         At some point between November 26 and November 28, 2018, a medical provider involuntarily placed Ms. Feng in a psychiatric ward at the Crestview Psychiatric Facility in Santa Clara.[10] The facility discharged Ms. Feng on November 28, 2018.[11] Syed Munir, MD, signed Ms. Feng's discharge papers.[12] The typed notes on the discharge papers say that Ms. Feng was diagnosed with an “unspecified mental disorder.”[13] Handwritten notes on the discharge papers cross out Ms. Feng's diagnosis of “mental disorder” and instead say “psychosis disorder.”[14]

         On November 26, Dr. Piotrowski called Mayra Alvarez, a DFCS social worker, to remove Ms. Feng's children LF, KF, MF, and RSF from her home.[15] The police arrived at Ms. Feng's home and found Ms. Feng's children there with another couple, the Shiangs.[16] Ms. Feng alleges that Ms. Alvarez lied and reported that the children were at Ms. Feng's home by themselves (instead of with the Shiangs) and “deliberately arranged the conditions, so when [sic] such conditions looked worse than they really were.”[17] Ms. Feng alleges that Ms. Alvarez “removed her prizes - an Asian baby in high demand for adoption and a 13-year-old girl ideal to medicate in preparation for sex trafficking.”[18]

         On November 28, 2018, Santa Clara DFCS social worker Brian Hawkinson filed an unspecified petition against Ms. Feng.[19] In December 2018, Mr. Hawkinson filed a second petition.[20] Mr. Hawkinson claimed, among other things, that “the mother [Ms. Feng] was hallucinating and paranoid.”[21] Ms. Feng alleges that Mr. Hawkinson “doctored” his petitions and claims that Mr. Hawkinson was the one who crossed out “mental disorder” and wrote “psychosis disorder” on her discharge papers.[22]

         Ms. Feng does not clearly allege where Mr. Hawkinson filed his petition, but construing her complaint liberally, it appears that Mr. Hawkinson may have filed his petition before California Superior Court Judge Amber Rosen.[23] The court appointed Arthur Gee-Yeh Tan as Ms. Feng's attorney.[24] Ms. Feng alleges that Mr. Tan told her, “I will handle this the right way, ” instructed her, “do not say a thing” in court or “you won't get your kids back, ” and demanded that she receive therapy.[25] Mr. Tan told the court that Ms. Feng submitted to everything Mr. Hawkinson wrote in his petition.[26]

         The petition and court proceeding appear to have resulted in Santa Clara County's placing Ms. Feng's children LF, KF, MF, and RSF initially in foster homes.[27] Ms. Feng alleges that the foster homes were “inhumane” and “abusive.”[28] Ms. Feng alleges that Mr. Hawkinson demanded that Ms. Feng consent to LF's, KF's, MF's, and RSF's adoption.[29] Ms. Feng alleges that Mr. Hawkinson “mistreated and tortured” LF, KF, MF, and RSF and “manipulated the situation” to have LF, KF, MF, and RSF categorized with mental issues, when in fact they do not have any mental issues.[30] Ms. Feng alleges that Mr. Hawkinson did not allow her to telephone or video chat with her children and that in-person visitation times were “contaminated” as, on multiple occasions, she would wait to meet with her children but her children were not brought to the visitation location.[31]

         In March 2019, Mr. Hawkinson approved LF, KF, MF, and RSF to stay with the Shiangs at the Shiangs' home in San Francisco.[32] Because Ms. Feng's case was not in San Francisco, the Shiangs had to travel to Ms. Feng's residence or to another location that Mr. Hawkinson would specify in order for Ms. Feng to have “visitation” (presumably with her children).[33] Mr. Hawkinson told Ms. Feng that she had to live in San Francisco in order to have her file transferred to San Francisco.[34]

         Ms. Feng planned to move to a “shared” living space in San Francisco.[35] Amy Yim, a San Francisco DFCS worker, did not approve of Ms. Feng's shared location and insisted that she live by herself.[36] Ms. Feng alleges that Ms. Yim has been telling Ms. Feng's children, friends, and lawyer, and teachers and police officers, that Ms. Feng is schizophrenic.[37]

         Ms. Feng alleges that Ms. Yim concocted an “entrapment scheme” against her.[38] On August 23, 2019, Ms. Feng's children LF, KF, MF, and RSF had an appointment for immunization shots.[39] Ms. Feng alleges that her children were not allowed to go to their appointment because Ms. Yim said so.[40] Ms. Feng alleges that her children therefore had to schedule a nighttime appointment and that Ms. Yim then called the police to place her under arrest for not having her children home earlier.[41] On September 24, 2019, Ms. Yim filed a juvenile-dependency-court petition.[42]

         Ms. Feng alleges that Mr. Hawkinson is a DFCS “fixer” and that Ms. Yim is the DFCS “master fixer” conspiring against her.[43]

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief” to give the defendant “fair notice” of what the claims are and the grounds upon which they rest. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A complaint does not need detailed factual allegations, but “a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitlement 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 claim for relief above the speculative level[.]” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations omitted).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations, which when accepted as true, “‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “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.” Id. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). “Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of ‘entitlement to relief.'” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         “A pro se complaint must be ‘liberally construed,' since ‘a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'” Entler v. Gregoire, 872 F.3d 1031, 1038 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)).

         If a court dismisses a complaint, it should give leave to amend unless the “pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts.” United States v. United Healthcare Ins. Co., 848 F.3d 1161, 1182 (9th Cir. 2016) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). But “leave to amend may be denied when a plaintiff has demonstrated a ‘repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed.'” Id. at 1183 (quoting Eminence Capital, LLC v. Aspeon, Inc., 316 F.3d 1048, 1052 (9th Cir. 2003)). “It is not an abuse of discretion to deny leave to amend when any proposed amendment would be futile.” Reddy v. Litton Indus., Inc., 912 F.2d 291, 296 (9th Cir. 1990) (citing Klamath-Lake Pharm. Ass'n v. Klamath Med. Serv. Bureau, 701 F.2d 1276, 1292-93 (9th Cir. 1983)).

         ANALYSIS

         Ms. Feng brings three claims: (1) a claim against the County Santa Clara, the City and County of San Francisco, Mr. Hawkinson, Ms. Alvarez, and Judge Rosen for violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (2) a claim against the County of Santa Clara, the City and County of San Francisco, Dr. Piotrowski, Mr. Hawkinson, Ms. Alvarez, Ms. Yim, Judge Rosen, and Mr. Tan for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, (3) a claim against the County of Santa Clara, the City and County of San Francisco, Dr. Piotrowski, Mr. Hawkinson, Ms. Alvarez, Ms. Yim, Judge Rosen, and Mr. Tan for violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (“RICO”) Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1961 et seq.[44]

         1. Ms. Feng's Claims Against Judge Rosen Are Barred by the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine and Judicial Immunity

         1.1 The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

         “The Rooker-Feldman doctrine instructs that federal district courts are without jurisdiction to hear direct appeals from the judgments of state courts.” Cooper v. Ramos, 704 F.3d 772, 777 (9th Cir. 2012). “The doctrine bars a district court from exercising jurisdiction not only over an action explicitly styled as a direct appeal, but also over the ‘de facto equivalent' of such an appeal.” Id. (citing Noel v. Hall, 341 F.3d 1148, 1155 (9th Cir. 2003)). “‘It is a forbidden de facto appeal under Rooker-Feldman when the plaintiff in federal district court complains of a legal wrong allegedly committed by the state court, and seeks relief from the judgment of that court.'” Id. at 778 (quoting Noel, 341 F.3d at 1163). “A federal district court dealing with a suit that is, in part, a forbidden de facto appeal from a judicial decision of a state court must refuse to hear the forbidden appeal.” Noel, 341 F.3d at 1158. “As part of that refusal, it must also refuse to decide any issue raised in the suit that is ‘inextricably intertwined' with an issue resolved by the state court in its judicial decision.” Id. “[A] federal claim is inextricably intertwined with the state-court judgment if the federal claim succeeds only to the extent that the state court wrongly decided the issues before it.” Cooper, 704 F.3d at 779 (quoting Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc., 481 U.S., 1, 25 (1987) (Marshall, J., concurring)).

         Ms. Feng's claims against Judge Rosen are, at most, that Judge Rosen applied incorrect evidentiary standards in a state-court proceeding and thereby deprived her of due process.[45] To evaluate Ms. Feng's claims, the court would need to review Judge Rosen's state-court legal determinations, which it may not do under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

         Ms. Feng argues that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply because she is seeking money damages against Judge Rosen.[46] Not so. Ms. Feng's claims for damages against Judge Rosen for her state-court rulings are “inextricably intertwined” with a review of the rulings themselves. Cf. Cooper, 704 F.3d at 782 (“[Plaintiff]'s prayer for relief in the form of monetary and punitive damages . . . [that] is contingent upon a finding that the state court decision was in error. . . . is precisely th[e] sort of horizontal review of state court decisions that the Rooker- Feldman doctrine bars.”). The Rooker-Feldman doctrine therefore applies and bars Ms. Feng's claims against Judge Rosen.

         1.2 Judicial Immunity

         “It is well established that state judges are entitled to absolute immunity for their judicial acts.” Swift v. California, 384 F.3d 1184, 1188 (9th Cir. 2004) (citing Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 553-54 (1967)). Absolute judicial immunity extends to suits against a judge with respect to judicial acts even when a plaintiff purports to name the judge as a defendant in her personal or individual (as opposed to official) capacity. Cf. Romano v. Bible, 169 F.3d 1182, 1185-86 (9th Cir. 1999) (holding that quasi-judicial defendants named “in their personal capacities” nonetheless were entitled to absolute judicial immunity because “[t]he Supreme Court has adopted a ‘functional approach' to determine whether an officer is entitled to absolute immunity. This approach looks to the nature of the function performed . . . .”) (emphasis in original). Ms. Feng's claims that Judge Rosen applied incorrect evidentiary standards and deprived her of due process are claims against Judge Rosen for judicial acts and thus are barred by absolute judicial immunity.

         Ms. Feng argues that Judge Rosen “had no jurisdiction at all” and thus judicial immunity does not apply.[47] Not so. Ms. Feng's claim that Judge Rosen purportedly applied the wrong evidentiary standard does not plead that Judge Rosen acted in the clear absence of jurisdiction. Cf., e.g., Thompson v. Santa Cruz Cty. Human Servs. Dep't, No. 12-CV-03894-LHK, 2013 WL 1750960, at *2, *10 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 23, 2013) (allegations that state-court judge “committed various errors in the courts of the Juvenile Court proceedings” do not plead that judge acted in the clear absence of jurisdiction). Absolute judicial immunity therefore applies and bars Ms. Feng's claims against Judge Rosen.

         The court dismisses Ms. Feng's claims against Judge Rosen as barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and judicial immunity. Because these issues cannot be cured through additional pleading, this dismissal is with prejudice. Cf. Cooper, 704 F.3d at 785 (affirming ...


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