Logan v. Superior Court of California, County of Napa et al

Northern District of California, cand-4:2015-cv-01573

ORDER by Judge Kandis A. Westmore granting the Superior Court's {{7}} Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction without leave to amend. (kawlc1, COURT STAFF) (Additional attachment(s) added on 6/26/2015: # {{1}} Certificate/Proof of Service)

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1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 DARRELL P. LOGAN, 7 Case No. 15-cv-01573-KAW Plaintiff, 8 ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT v. SUPERIOR COURT OF CALIFORNIA, 9 COUNTY OF NAPA'S MOTION TO SUPERIOR COURT OF CALIFORNIA, DISMISS WITHOUT LEAVE TO 10 COUNTY OF NAPA, et al., AMEND 11 Defendants. Re: Dkt. No. 7 12 Northern District of California United States District Court 13 On May 1, 2015, Defendant Superior Court of California, County of Napa ("Superior 14 Court") filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff Darrell P. Logan Jr.'s complaint on the grounds that the 15 district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, such that 16 the action must be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Additionally, 17 Defendant seeks dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) on the grounds that the state court's judicial 18 immunity precludes relief. 19 Upon review of the parties' papers, the Court finds this matter suitable for resolution 20 without oral argument pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7-1(b), and, for the reasons set forth below, 21 GRANTS Defendant's motion to dismiss without leave to amend, because any amendment would 22 be futile. 23 I. BACKGROUND 24 Plaintiff Darrell Logan Jr. owned a Kawasaki Ninja Motorcycle. (Def.'s Mot., Dkt. No. 10 25 at 1.) On September 4, 2013, the motorcycle, driven by Plaintiff's brother, was involved in an 26 accident with a driver insured by Liberty Mutual Insurance Company ("Liberty Mutual"). 27 (Compl., Dkt. No. 1 at 8.) Plaintiff's brother was deemed at fault, but Plaintiff's motorcycle was 28 not covered by a valid insurance policy, so Liberty Mutual paid a claim for property damage to its 1 insured in the amount of $10,015.77. (Compl. at 11; Dkt. No. 1-2 at 65.) 2 On September 20, 2013, Liberty Mutual hired Defendant Jeffrey W. Parks ("Parks") as 3 counsel to recover the monies paid to its insured. (Def.'s Mot. at 2.) On April 16, 2014, Liberty 4 Mutual filed a complaint in the Superior Court of California, County of Napa against Plaintiff, as 5 the legal owner (according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles), and his brother. 6 (Dkt. No. 1-2 at 2.) Thereafter, Parks' office building experienced an electrical fire, and his law 7 practice moved to a temporary location. (Compl. at 4.) Parks claims to have made arrangements 8 with the United States Postal Service to pick up his mail from the post office so that his mail 9 service was not interrupted. (Def.'s Mot. at 3.) 10 On February 9, 2015, Superior Court Judge Rodney Stone presided over a bench trial, 11 where Liberty Mutual prevailed, and entered judgment against Plaintiff1, as the legal owner, in the 12 amount of $10,015.77, plus court costs of $1,305.34, for a total judgment of $11,321.11. (Compl. Northern District of California United States District Court 13 at 11; 2/9/15 Minute Order, Dkt. No. 1-2 at 68.) The Court ordered Parks to prepare the judgment. 14 (Compl. at 11; 2/9/15 Minute Order at 68.) 15 On March 9, 2015, Plaintiff filed an appeal in the Napa County Court Appellate Division. 16 (Compl. at 6.) On April 13, 2015, before it could be heard, Plaintiff filed an abandonment of 17 appeal. (Pl.'s Opp'n, Dkt. No. 14 at 2.) 18 On April 7, 2015, Plaintiff Darrell P. Logan Jr. filed a complaint against the Superior Court 19 and Jeffrey W. Parks alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 5 U.S.C. § 554, and 18 U.S.C. §§ 20 201, 242, 1341, 1342, and 1510. (Compl. at 2.) Plaintiff attached filings from the state court case 21 as exhibits to his complaint, as well as his account of what transpired during the state court trial. 22 (Compl. at 8-13.) 23 On May 1, 2015, the Superior Court filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil 24 Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). (Def.'s Mot., Dkt. No. 7.) On May 19, 2015, Plaintiff filed an 25 opposition. (Pl.'s Opp'n, Dkt. No. 16.) On May 22, 2015, the Superior Court filed its reply. 26 (Def.'s Reply, Dkt. No. 19.) 27 1 28 Plaintiff's brother was dismissed as a defendant at the conclusion of trial, because he was not properly served with the complaint and summons. (2/9/15 Minute Order, Dkt. No. 1-2 at 68.) 2 1 On May 30, 2015, Plaintiff filed a document titled "Plaintiff's Reply to Defendant(s) 2 Opposition of Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Down Defendant(s) Motion to Dismiss," in which 3 Plaintiff claimed that he was not seeking to vacate a ruling, but was "asking this court to examine 4 the Crimes committed by the Defendant(s) against the U.S. Postal Services and The Constitution 5 of the Unites States of America...." (Pl.'s Surreply, Dkt. No. 24 at 2.) The Court will construe this 6 as a surreply. While Plaintiff did not seek leave of court to file the surreply, the Court will take it 7 under submission. 8 II. LEGAL STANDARD 9 A. Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) 10 A defendant may move to dismiss an action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant 11 to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). A Rule 12(b)(1) motion tests whether a complaint 12 alleges grounds for federal subject matter jurisdiction. A motion to dismiss for lack of subject Northern District of California United States District Court 13 matter jurisdiction will be granted if the complaint on its face fails to allege facts sufficient to 14 establish subject matter jurisdiction. See Savage v. Glendale Union High Sch., 343 F.3d 1036, 15 1039 n. 2 (9th Cir. 2003). In considering a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the Court "is not restricted to the 16 face of the pleadings, but may review any evidence, such as affidavits and testimony, to resolve 17 factual disputes concerning the existence of jurisdiction." McCarthy v. United States, 850 F.2d 18 558, 560 (9th Cir. 1988). Once a party has moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction 19 under Rule 12(b)(1), the opposing party bears the burden of establishing the court's jurisdiction. 20 See Chandler v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 598 F.3d 1115, 1122 (9th Cir. 2010). 21 B. Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) 22 Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a party may file a motion to dismiss based 23 on the failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. A motion to dismiss under Rule 24 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the claims asserted in the complaint. Navarro v. Block, 250 25 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). 26 In considering such a motion, a court must "accept as true all of the factual allegations 27 contained in the complaint," Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam) (citation 28 omitted), and may dismiss the case or a claim "only where there is no cognizable legal theory" or 3 1 there is an absence of "sufficient factual matter to state a facially plausible claim to relief." 2 Shroyer v. New Cingular Wireless Servs., Inc., 622 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing 3 Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009); Navarro, 250 F.3d at 732) (internal quotation 4 marks omitted). 5 A claim is plausible on its face when a plaintiff "pleads factual content that allows the court 6 to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 7 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted). In other words, the facts alleged must demonstrate "more than 8 labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." 9 Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). 10 "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action" and "conclusory statements" are 11 inadequate. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; see also Epstein v. Wash. Energy Co., 83 F.3d 1136, 1140 (9th 12 Cir. 1996) ("[C]onclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences are insufficient to defeat Northern District of California United States District Court 13 a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim."). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 14 probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted 15 unlawfully. . . When a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's 16 liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief." 17 Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (internal citations omitted). 18 Generally, if the court grants a motion to dismiss, it should grant leave to amend even if no 19 request to amend is made "unless it determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by 20 the allegation of other facts." Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127 (9th Cir. 2000) (citations 21 omitted). 22 III. DISCUSSION 23 Defendant argues that Plaintiff's case is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the 24 Eleventh Amendment, and the fact that Plaintiff does not have standing to bring claims against the 25 Superior Court. (Def.'s Mot. at 2.) The Court will address each argument below. 26 /// 27 /// 28 /// 4 1 A. The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine bars the instant case. 2 Defendant argues that the Rooker-Feldman2 doctrine serves as a complete bar to Plaintiff's 3 federal lawsuit, because it is a de facto appeal of the state court judgment such that the district 4 court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. (Def.'s Mot. at 2.) Plaintiff contends that the allegations 5 against Defendant are not barred by Rooker-Feldman, because his complaint is about "[e]vidence 6 and finding out the [t]ruth." (Pl.'s Opp'n at 2.) 7 The Rooker-Feldman doctrine deprives the federal courts of jurisdiction to hear direct 8 appeals from the judgments of state courts. Cooper v. Ramos, 704 F.3d 772, 777 (9th Cir. 2012). 9 The purpose of the doctrine is to "protect state judgments from collateral federal attack." Doe & 10 Assoc. Law Offices v. Napolitano, 252 F.3d 1026, 1030 (9th Cir. 2001). 11 The Rooker-Feldman doctrine "bars a district court from exercising jurisdiction not only 12 over an action explicitly styled as a direct appeal," but also "the de facto equivalent of such an Northern District of California United States District Court 13 appeal." Noel v. Hall, 341 F.3d 1148, 1155 (9th Cir. 2003). To determine whether an action 14 functions as a de facto appeal, we "pay close attention to the relief sought by the federal court 15 plaintiff." Bianchi v. Rylaarsdam, 334 F.3d 895, 900 (9th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks and 16 citation omitted). An action functions as a forbidden de facto appeal when the plaintiff is: "[1] 17 assert[ing] as his injury legal errors by the state court and [2] see[king] as his remedy relief from 18 the state court judgment." Kougasian v. TMSL, Inc., 359 F.3d 1136, 1140 (9th Cir. 2004) (citing 19 Noel, 341 F.3d at 1163). Here, Plaintiff seeks to vacate the state court judgment due to the state 20 court's alleged "errors in the administration of Administrative Justice...." (Compl. at 3, 7.) Since 21 Plaintiff alleges as his legal injury an erroneous decision by the state court, and seeks as his 22 remedy relief from that judgment, this is a de facto appeal. 23 In addition, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's federal claims are inextricably intertwined 24 with the state court judgment. (Def.'s Mot. at 5.) In Feldman, the Supreme Court held that "[i]f 25 the constitutional claims presented to a United States district court are inextricably intertwined 26 27 2 The Rooker-Feldman doctrine derives its name from two United States Supreme Court cases: 28 District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983), and Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Company, 263 U.S. 413 (1923). 5 1 with the state court's denial in a judicial proceeding of a particular plaintiff's application for 2 admission to the state bar, then the district court is in essence being called upon to review the state 3 court decision." 460 U.S. at 483-84 n. 16. In opposition, Plaintiff's claims that Defendant Parks 4 and Judge Stone engaged in various forms of misconduct and criminal acts during the state court 5 trial, including conspiracy and racketeering. (Pl.'s Opp'n at 3, 5.) Even if Plaintiff had standing 6 and a private right of action to enable him to bring these causes of action, the district court would 7 be required to review the state court decision, which it is unable to do. See Worldwide Church of 8 God v. McNair, 805 F.2d 888, 892-93 (9th Cir. 1986). Indeed, Plaintiff's only available avenue 9 was to maintain an appeal with the California Court of Appeal, which he appears to have 10 abandoned. (Pl's Opp'n at 2.) 11 Accordingly, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine divests the district court of subject matter 12 jurisdiction. Northern District of California United States District Court 13 B. Governmental immunity under the Eleventh Amendment 14 Even if the lawsuit was not barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, Defendant contends 15 that the Eleventh Amendment bars suit, because it is a state entity for the purposes of Eleventh 16 Amendment immunity and, therefore, no relief may be granted under Rule 12(b)(6). (Def.'s Mot. 17 at 7, 11.) "[A] suit in federal court by private parties seeking to impose a liability which must be 18 paid from public funds in the state treasury is barred by the Eleventh Amendment." Quern v. 19 Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 337, 99 S. Ct. 1139, 1143 (1979). State courts are state entities for the 20 purposes of Eleventh Amendment immunity. Greater Los Angeles Council on Deafness, Inc. v. 21 Zolin, 812 F.2d 1103, 1110 (9th Cir. 1987). 22 The only way this action could be sustained against the Superior Court would be if it 23 waived its sovereign immunity. Waiver of a state's eleventh amendment immunity can be found 24 only when evidenced "'by the most express language or by such overwhelming implications from 25 the text as [will] leave no room for any other reasonable construction.'" Edelman v. Jordan, 415 26 U.S. 651, 673 (quoting Murray v. Wilson Distilling Co., 213 U.S. 151, 171 (1909)). Here, there is 27 no allegation that Defendant waived its sovereign immunity. Thus, absent waiver, the instant 28 6 1 lawsuit against the Superior Court is barred by the Eleventh Amendment.3 2 C. Plaintiff lacks standing to bring his claims. 3 Defendant also argues that Plaintiff does not have standing to bring any claims, because 4 there is no legal controversy between Plaintiff and the Superior Court. (Def.'s Mot. at 8.) 5 Generally, a plaintiff must have standing under Article III of the United States Constitution to 6 pursue relief in federal court. Article III standing requires the demonstration of three elements: (1) 7 the plaintiff suffered an "injury in fact" that is concrete and particularized and actual or imminent, 8 not conjectural or hypothetical; (2) the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action of the 9 defendant; and (3) it is likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed 10 by a favorable decision. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992). If these 11 requirements are not satisfied, the action must be dismissed. See Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better 12 Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 109-10 (1998). In light of the immunity enjoyed by the Superior Court and Northern District of California United States District Court 13 Judge Stone, Plaintiff's alleged injury cannot be redressed, because his suit is barred, so the third 14 element is not met. 15 Accordingly, Plaintiff lacks standing to pursue his claims because the Superior Court is 16 immune from suit. 17 /// 18 /// 19 /// 20 /// 21 /// 22 /// 23 /// 24 25 3 Any lawsuit against Judge Stone would also be barred, because judicial officers are entitled to 26 unqualified immunity from civil suits arising out of the exercise of their judicial functions. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991). Furthermore, "judicial immunity is not overcome by allegations of 27 bad faith or malice, the existence of which ordinarily cannot be resolved without engaging in discovery and eventual trial." Id. Therefore, even though Judge Stone is accused of engaging in 28 misconduct, he enjoys judicial immunity, and Plaintiff cannot obtain any relief from him in this instance. 7 IV. CONCLUSION 1 In light of the foregoing, the Superior Court's motion to dismiss is granted without leave to 2 amend, because the district court does not have subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to the Rooker- 3 Feldman doctrine, and the Superior Court enjoys immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. 4 These defects cannot be cured by amendment. 5 The Clerk shall close the case. 6 IT IS SO ORDERED. 7 Dated: June 25, 2015 8 __________________________________ KANDIS A. WESTMORE 9 United States Magistrate Judge 10 11 12 Northern District of California United States District Court 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 8