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Purnell v. Mora

United States District Court, E.D. California

January 10, 2020

GEORGETTE G. PURNELL, Plaintiff,
v.
R.T. MORA, et al., Defendants.

          SCREENING ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF LEAVE TO FILE AN AMENDED COMPLAINT (DOC. NO. 1)

          BARBARA A. MCAULIFFE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Georgette G. Purnell (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this action against Fresno County Police Officers R.T. Mora, Hodge, N. Cruz, and B. Phelps (“Defendants”), alleging violation of her civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. Nos. 1, 5-6.) Plaintiff's complaint is currently before the Court for screening.

         I. Screening Requirement and Standard

         The Court screens complaints brought by litigants proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Plaintiff's complaint, or any portion thereof, is subject to dismissal if it is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b).

         A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). While a plaintiff's allegations are taken as true, courts “are not required to indulge unwarranted inferences.” Doe I v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 572 F.3d 677, 681 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         To survive screening, Plaintiff's claims must be facially plausible, which requires sufficient factual detail to allow the Court to reasonably infer that each named defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quotation marks omitted); Moss v. U.S. Secret Serv., 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009). The sheer possibility that a defendant acted unlawfully is not sufficient, and mere consistency with liability falls short of satisfying the plausibility standard. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quotation marks omitted); Moss, 572 F.3d at 969.

         II. Plaintiff's Allegations

         Plaintiff's complaint alleges that she was stopped by Officer R.T. Mora while driving her car in Fresno, California on August 30, 2018. During the stop, Officer Mora questioned Plaintiff regarding her license plate. In response, Plaintiff attempted to produce documents from her vehicle purportedly showing that another officer had recently informed her that she had six months to take care of her registration and/or license plate. Officer Mora “viciously” knocked her documents from her hands and used a racial slur, indicating that he did not want to see Plaintiff's documents. Plaintiff alleges that Officer Mora then grabbed her arm and “viciously twisted it to the point of . . . excruciating pain[]” and Plaintiff cried out. Officers Cruz, Phelps, and Hodge, as well as non-defendant Officer Ruiz, were allegedly present during these events and did nothing to stop Officer Mora. Paramedics were called and Plaintiff was treated on the scene for a sprained arm. Plaintiff alleges that she continues to feel pain in her arm and has also experienced sleepless nights and loss of appetite since the incident. The exhibits to the complaint indicate that, at the time of the underlying incident, Officer Cruz issued notices to appear to Plaintiff for driving with an expired registration in violation of California Vehicle Code § 4000(a)(1) and resisting arrest in violation of California Penal Code § 148.

         Plaintiff's complaint sets forth claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of her “right to be free from excessive force by law enforcement, ” her “right to be free from racial insults, ” and “4th Amendment United States Constitution Prohibition.” Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages in the amount of one million dollars from each Defendant, punitive damages in the amount of one million dollars from each Defendant, as well as the imposition of “necessary measures such as training to ensure these illegal acts does not ever occur again.”

         III. Discussion

         Plaintiff's complaint fails to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 and fails to state a cognizable claim. As Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, she will be granted leave to amend her complaint to cure the identified deficiencies to the extent she can do so in good faith. To assist Plaintiff, the Court provides the pleading and legal standards that appear relevant to her allegations.

         A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8

         Pursuant to Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the complaint or amended complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Although the Federal Rules adopt a flexible pleading policy, a complaint must give fair notice and state the elements of the claim plainly and succinctly. Jones v. Community Redev. Agency, 733 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir.1984). While detailed allegations are not required, a plaintiff must set forth “the grounds of his entitlement to relief[, ]” which “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action....” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         Plaintiff's complaint is short but it is unclear which claim is asserted against which Defendant. The complaint does not set forth the factual basis for each of the asserted claims with respect to each Defendant. Moreover, the nature of the claims Plaintiff intends to pursue are unclear. For example, in example, addition to her claim for violation of “the right to be free from excessive force by law enforcement[, ]” Plaintiff also alleges a violation of her rights under “4th Amendment United States Constitution Prohibition.” (Doc. No. 1 at 3.) It is not clear if these claims are duplicative of each other or if Plaintiff claims other unidentified Fourth Amendment rights were violated beyond her right to be free from ...


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