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Anderson v. Valenzuela

United States District Court, D. Nevada

October 2, 2017

ARNOLD ANDERSON, Plaintiff(s),
GILBERTO VALENZUELA, et al., Defendant(s).



         On September 6, 2017, the Court ordered Plaintiff to pay a partial filing fee. Docket No. 5. Having now received that partial filing fee, Docket No. 6, the Court will screen Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. For the reasons discussed more fully below, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that this case be STAYED as to Plaintiff's damages claim for unlawful search and false arrest pending completion of his criminal case in state court, and that the unrelated claims regarding prison conditions and ineffective assistance of counsel be DISMISSED without prejudice.


         Upon granting an application to proceed in forma pauperis, courts additionally screen the complaint pursuant to § 1915(e). Federal courts are given the authority to dismiss a case if the action is legally “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(e)(2). When a court dismisses a complaint under § 1915, the plaintiff should be given leave to amend the complaint with directions as to curing its deficiencies, unless it is clear from the face of the complaint that the deficiencies could not be cured by amendment. See Cato v. United States, 70 F.3d 1103, 1106 (9th Cir. 1995).

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Review under Rule 12(b)(6) is essentially a ruling on a question of law. See Chappel v. Lab. Corp. of Am., 232 F.3d 719, 723 (9th Cir. 2000). A properly pled complaint must provide a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Although Rule 8 does not require detailed factual allegations, it demands “more than labels and conclusions” or a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). The court must accept as true all well-pled factual allegations contained in the complaint, but the same requirement does not apply to legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Mere recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported only by conclusory allegations, do not suffice. Id. at 678. Secondly, where the claims in the complaint have not crossed the line from conceivable to plausible, the complaint should be dismissed. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Allegations of a pro se complaint are held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 & n.7 (9th Cir. 2010) (finding that liberal construction of pro se pleadings is required after Twombly and Iqbal).

         A. Search and Arrest

         Plaintiff's initial complaint alleged that four police officers unlawfully searched and arrested him in connection with an attempted murder, leading to the filing of charges against him. Docket No. 1-1 at 3-7. Plaintiff is in custody awaiting trial. Id. at 5 (“To date Arnold Anderson in custody”). Plaintiff's initial complaint sought monetary damages, as well as injunctive relief in the form of the criminal charges against him being dismissed and his release from custody. See Id. at 10. Plaintiff's amended complaint continues to make similar allegations that Plaintiff was unlawfully searched and arrested without probable cause. See Docket No. 4 at 5-7. Plaintiff's amended complaint continues to seek monetary damages arising out of that arrest, but it no longer seeks injunctive relief. See Id. at 11.

         The United States Supreme Court has long made clear that absent extraordinary circumstances, federal courts must not interfere with pending state criminal prosecutions even when they raise issues of federal rights or interests. See, e.g., Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 44 (1971). Under this abstention doctrine, federal courts may not stay or enjoying pending state criminal court proceedings, nor grant monetary damages for constitutional violations arising from them. Mann v. Jett, 781 F.2d 1448, 1449 (9th Cir. 1986) (per curiam). A federal court must abstain under Younger if four requirements are met:

(1) a state-initiated proceeding is ongoing; (2) the proceeding implicates important state interests; (3) the federal plaintiff is not barred from litigating federal constitutional issues in the state proceeding; and (4) the federal court action would enjoin the proceeding or have the practical effect of doing so, i.e., would interfere with the state proceeding in a way that Younger disapproves.

San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce Political Action Comm. v. City of San Jose, 546 F.3d 1087, 1092 (9th Cir. 2008). Each of these requirements is met here.[1]

         Having determined that abstention is proper, the undersigned turns to the appropriate remedy. While courts dismiss claims for injunctive relief when Younger abstention applies, courts stay matters in which monetary damages are sought until after the state court proceedings are no longer pending. See, e.g., Gilbertson v. Albright, 381 F.3d 965, 981 (9th Cir. 2004) (en banc). More specifically, the Supreme Court has indicated that, “[i]f a plaintiff files a false-arrest claim before he has been convicted . . ., it is within the power of the district court, and in accord with common practice, to stay the civil action until the criminal case . . . is ended.” Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 393-94 (2007). Once the state proceeding has run its course, the Court can decide whether the damages action should proceed. “If the plaintiff is ultimately convicted, and if the stayed civil suit would impugn that conviction, Heck [v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994)] will require dismissal; otherwise, the civil action will proceed, absent some other bar to suit.” Wallace, 549 U.S. at 394. In this case, the amended complaint only seeks relief in the form of damages. It is appropriate to stay Plaintiff's claim arising out of his allegations that he was unlawfully searched and falsely arrested, pending resolution of his state court criminal case.

         B. Additional Allegations

         In addition to the claim that Plaintiff was unlawfully searched and arrested on September 5, 2016, the first amended complaint includes unrelated claims that: (1) Plaintiff's state court attorney (Kenneth Frizzell) has provided ineffective assistance, Docket No. 4 at 5-6; (2) Plaintiff was subjected to an improper body cavity search by prison staff (L. Murray and J. Dillon) on February 6, 2017, id. at 7; and (3) Plaintiff was subjected to deliberate indifference to his medical needs by prison staff (Richard Wolf and “unknown officer”) on January 11, 2017, and January 26, 2017, id. at 8. These defendants and causes of action are untethered from the unlawful search and false arrest claims brought against the police officer defendants.

         Under Rule 20 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, multiple defendants may be joined in a single suit if (1) the claims against each defendant arise out of the same transaction or occurrence, and (2) any question of fact or law is common to all parties. Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a). Courts have broad discretion in applying Rule 20. Armstead v. City of Los Angeles, 66 F.Supp.3d 1254, 1262 (C.D. Cal. 2014). A finding by the Court that joinder is not proper is not grounds to dismiss a case in its entirety, but the Court may exercise its discretion to “add or drop” parties. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 21. “Where parties have been inappropriately joined, it is accepted practice under Rule 21 to dismiss all defendants except for the first named in the complaint; this operates as a dismissal of plaintiffs' claims against other defendants without prejudice.” Arms ...

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