United States District Court, N.D. California, San Francisco Division
KARENA A. FENG, Plaintiff,
COUNTY OF SANTA CLARA, et al., Defendants.
ORDER GRANTING MOTIONS TO DISMISS RE: ECF NOS. 11,
14, 18, 21
BEELER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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.
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.) 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.
her complaint liberally, Ms. Feng alleges the following.
Feng gave birth to a baby (her fourth child) in November
2018. 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. 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. 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. Ms. Feng asked for a second
opinion, to which Dr. Piotrowski replied,
“NO!” Ms. Feng alleges that Dr. Piotrowski
yelled that “she IS the law, ” or words to that
effect. 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
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. The facility discharged Ms. Feng on
November 28, 2018. Syed Munir, MD, signed Ms. Feng's
discharge papers. The typed notes on the discharge papers
say that Ms. Feng was diagnosed with an “unspecified
mental disorder.” Handwritten notes on the discharge
papers cross out Ms. Feng's diagnosis of “mental
disorder” and instead say “psychosis
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. The police arrived at Ms. Feng's
home and found Ms. Feng's children there with another
couple, the Shiangs. 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.” 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.”
November 28, 2018, Santa Clara DFCS social worker Brian
Hawkinson filed an unspecified petition against Ms.
Feng. In December 2018, Mr. Hawkinson filed a
second petition. Mr. Hawkinson claimed, among other
things, that “the mother [Ms. Feng] was hallucinating
and paranoid.” 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.
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. The court
appointed Arthur Gee-Yeh Tan as Ms. Feng's
attorney. 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. Mr. Tan told the court that Ms. Feng
submitted to everything Mr. Hawkinson wrote in his
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. Ms. Feng
alleges that the foster homes were “inhumane” and
“abusive.” Ms. Feng alleges that Mr. Hawkinson
demanded that Ms. Feng consent to LF's, KF's,
MF's, and RSF's adoption. 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. 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
March 2019, Mr. Hawkinson approved LF, KF, MF, and RSF to
stay with the Shiangs at the Shiangs' home in San
Francisco. 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). Mr. Hawkinson told Ms. Feng that she had
to live in San Francisco in order to have her file
transferred to San Francisco.
Feng planned to move to a “shared” living space
in San Francisco. Amy Yim, a San Francisco DFCS worker,
did not approve of Ms. Feng's shared location and
insisted that she live by herself. 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
Feng alleges that Ms. Yim concocted an “entrapment
scheme” against her. On August 23, 2019, Ms.
Feng's children LF, KF, MF, and RSF had an appointment
for immunization shots. Ms. Feng alleges that her children
were not allowed to go to their appointment because Ms. Yim
said so. 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. On September
24, 2019, Ms. Yim filed a juvenile-dependency-court
Feng alleges that Mr. Hawkinson is a DFCS “fixer”
and that Ms. Yim is the DFCS “master fixer”
conspiring against her.
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).
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).
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)).
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)).
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.
Ms. Feng's Claims Against Judge Rosen Are Barred by the
Rooker-Feldman Doctrine and Judicial
The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine
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.,
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. 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
Feng argues that the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine does not apply because she is seeking money damages
against Judge Rosen. 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
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.
Feng argues that Judge Rosen “had no jurisdiction at
all” and thus judicial immunity does not
apply. 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.
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