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Johnson v. Brady

United States District Court, D. Arizona

January 28, 2015

Derrick Johnson, Plaintiff,
Robert Brady, et al., Defendants.


DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.

On August 22, 2014, Plaintiff Derrick Johnson filed a pro se complaint on behalf of himself and his two children and against various government employees and two municipalities. Doc. 1. Plaintiff's state and federal law claims relate to his allegedly improper arrest and prosecution for crimes involving misconduct with firearms. Id. Defendants have filed three motions to dismiss. Docs. 11, 20, 22. Plaintiff has responded to only one of the motions. Doc. 16.

On November 18, 2014, Plaintiff failed to appear at a Case Management Conference. Doc. 24. As a result, the Court entered an order requiring Plaintiff to show cause why the case should not be dismissed. Doc. 25. The Court also ordered Plaintiff to file a response to each motion to dismiss and a clean copy of his complaint. Id. On December 1, Plaintiff filed a motion to stay proceedings. Doc. 28. He notified the Court that he had been arrested in California and had been denied release. Id. He requested a "stay in the proceedings and any other relief that this Court may deem proper." Id. at 3. Plaintiff failed to file responses or a clean copy of his complaint.

Although the Court may dismiss a case for failure to comply with court orders, see Link v. Wabash R.R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 629-31 (1962), the Court finds that dismissal is not yet appropriate. Plaintiff's arrest in California shows cause for why he was not able to appear at the Case Management Conference. His motion for a temporary address change (Doc. 32) also suggested that Plaintiff may not have received the Court's previous order.

The Court will deny Plaintiff's request to stay this case. Although prosecuting a case from a jail cell may be difficult, many plaintiffs have successfully pursued cases from prison. See Rhodes v. Robinson, 408 F.3d 559, 567 (9th Cir. 2005) (recognizing inmates' First Amendment right to "pursue civil litigation in the courts"). Also, indefinitely holding this case in abeyance would be unfair to Defendants. In his motion to stay, Plaintiff points to his inability to use the electronic case filing system. But the Court already denied Plaintiff's request to use that system. Doc. 8.

The Court will consider Defendants' motions to dismiss and whether Plaintiff's complaint has failed to state a claim. Although Plaintiff has not responded to two of the motions, the Court may independently determine whether the complaint states a claim since Plaintiff has proceeded in forma pauperis ("IFP"). Doc. 8. In IFP proceedings, a district court "shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that... the action... fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted[.]" 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). "Section 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii)... allows a district court to dismiss[] sua sponte... a complaint that fails to state a claim[.]" Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000).

I. Legal Standards.

A. Pleading Requirements.

A pleading 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). While Rule 8 does not demand detailed factual allegations, "it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id.

"[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible "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. As the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has instructed, however, courts must "continue to construe pro se filings liberally." Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010). A pro se complaint "must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Id. (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam)). If the Court determines that a pleading could be cured by the allegation of other facts, a pro se litigant is entitled to an opportunity to amend before dismissal of the action. See Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1127-29.

B. Section 1983 Claims.

Plaintiff has brought claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all Defendants. Doc. 1. To prevail on a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must show that (1) acts by the defendants (2) under color of state law (3) deprived him of federal rights, privileges, or immunities and (4) caused him damage. Thornton v. City of St. Helens, 425 F.3d 1158, 1163-64 (9th Cir. 2005)). In addition, a plaintiff must allege that he suffered a specific injury as a result of the conduct of a particular defendant, and must allege an affirmative link between the injury and the conduct of that defendant. Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 371-72, 377 (1976). Although pro se pleadings are liberally construed, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972), conclusory and vague allegations will not support a cause of action. Ivey v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. of Alaska, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982). Further, a liberal interpretation of a civil rights complaint may not supply essential elements of the claim that were not initially pled. Id. Case 2:14-cv-01875-DGC Document 37 Filed 01/28/15 Page 4 of 17

II. Analysis.

Plaintiff's claims arise out of an allegedly unreasonable arrest and prosecution. Doc. 1. Plaintiff has named Officer Robert Brady, Officer Jesse Newton, and the Town of Quartzsite. The two officers work in the Town of Quartzsite and participated in Plaintiff's arrest. Plaintiff has also sued County Attorney Tony Rogers, Public Defender Robin Puchek, and Judge Samuel Vederman, all of whom were involved in Plaintiff's criminal case. Plaintiff has also sued La Paz County and the La Paz County Board of Supervisors ("La Paz County Defendants").[1]

A. State Law Claims.

Under Arizona law, persons with "claims against a public entity or a public employee shall file claims with the person or persons authorized to accept service for the public entity or public employee... within one hundred eighty days after the cause of action accrues." A.R.S. § 12-821.01. "[T]he person must give notice of the claim to both the employee individually and to his employer.'" Harris v. Cochise Health Sys., 160 P.3d 223, 230 (Ariz.Ct.App. 2007) (quoting Crum v. Superior Court, 922 P.2d 316, 317 (Ariz.Ct.App. 1996)) (emphasis in original). "Compliance with the notice [requirement] is a mandatory' and essential' prerequisite to such an action and a plaintiff's failure to comply bars any claim.'" Salerno v. Espinoza, 115 P.3d 626, 628 (Ariz.Ct.App. 2005) (citations omitted) (emphasis in original).

Defendants Rogers, Puchek, Brady, Newton, and the Town of Quartzsite have filed affidavits stating that they did not receive a notice of Plaintiff's claim. See Docs. 11-1 at 5-13, 20 at 11-15. Plaintiff does not argue that he served a notice of claim on these Defendants.[2] Rather, he argues that "there is not a requirement for the claim to be served on both the employee and the entity." Doc. 16 at 4. This is plainly incorrect, see Harris, 160 P.3d at 230, and Plaintiff's state law claims against these Defendants will therefore be dismissed.

B. Claims Against Defendant Samuel Vederman.

Plaintiff has brought state law and § 1983 claims against Defendant Samuel Vederman. Doc. 1. Vederman is a Superior Court Judge for La Paz County. Id., ¶ 10. Judges acting in their judicial capacity are protected from civil lawsuits by absolute immunity under both federal and Arizona law. See Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991); Acevedo v. Pima Cnty. Adult Prob. Dep't, 690 P.2d 38, 40 (Ariz. 1984). "[Judicial] immunity is overcome in only two sets of circumstances. First, a judge is not immune from liability for nonjudicial actions, i.e., actions not taken in the judge's judicial capacity." Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11. "[T]he factors determining whether an act by a judge is a judicial' one relate to the nature of the act itself, i.e., whether it is a function normally performed by a judge, and to the expectations of the parties, i.e., whether they dealt with the judge in his judicial capacity." Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 362 (1978). "Second, a judge is not immune for actions, though judicial in nature, taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction." Mireles, 502 U.S. at 12. "[J]udicial immunity is not overcome by allegations of bad faith or malice, the existence of which ordinarily cannot be resolved without engaging in discovery and eventual trial." Id. at 11 (citing Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554 (1967)).

Plaintiff alleges that Judge Vederman improperly dealt with Plaintiff's motion to remand and conspired with other Defendants to prosecute him. Doc. 1, ¶¶ 23-27, 49-51. By ruling on a motion to remand in a criminal case filed in his court, Judge Vederman was acting in his judicial capacity and with jurisdiction. Although Plaintiff claims that Judge Vederman conspired with other Defendants and acted "in the clear absence of jurisdiction" ( id., ¶ 25), Plaintiff has failed to allege facts to support these claims. Legal conclusions couched as factual ...

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