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Bishop v. City of Bullhead City

United States District Court, D. Arizona

August 26, 2016

Ernest Bishop, Plaintiff,
City of Bullhead City, et al., Defendants.



         At issue is pro se Plaintiff Ernest Bishop's Application to Proceed in District Court Without Prepaying Fees or Costs (Doc. 2). The Court finds that Plaintiff does not have sufficient means to pay the Court's fees and will grant the Application. However, as set forth below, upon screening Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. 1) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court finds that Plaintiff has not satisfied the pleading requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and fails to state a cause of action. The Court therefore dismisses the Complaint (Doc. 1) without prejudice and grants Plaintiff leave to file a First Amended Complaint consistent with the findings of the Court set forth herein.


         A. Statutory Screening of In Forma Pauperis Complaint Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)

         The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if a plaintiff has raised claims that are legally frivolous or malicious, that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1)-(2). 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) (emphasis added). 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. “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] . . . a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 679. Thus, although a plaintiff's specific factual allegations may be consistent with a constitutional claim, a court must assess whether there are other “more likely explanations” for a defendant's conduct. Id. at 681.

         But as the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has instructed, courts must “continue to construe pro se filings liberally.” Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010). A “complaint [filed by a pro se litigant] ‘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 a complaint before dismissal of the action. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127-29 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). “It is also clear that section 1915(e) not only permits but requires a district court to dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint that fails to state a claim.” Id. at 1127.

         B. Subject Matter Jurisdiction and Pleading in Federal Court

         Unlike state courts, federal courts only have jurisdiction over a limited number of cases, and those cases typically involve either a controversy between citizens of different states (“diversity jurisdiction”) or a question of federal law (“federal question jurisdiction”). See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332. The United States Supreme Court has stated that a federal court must not disregard or evade the limits on its subject matter jurisdiction. Owen Equip. & Erections Co. v. Kroger, 437 U.S. 365, 374 (1978). Thus, a federal court is obligated to inquire into its subject matter jurisdiction in each case and to dismiss a case when subject matter jurisdiction is lacking. See Valdez v. Allstate Ins. Co., 372 F.3d 1115, 1116 (9th Cir. 2004); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3).

         II. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff's Complaint form names Bullhead City as a Defendant. Plaintiff attaches to the form a series of sworn letters. Plaintiff alleges in the first letter (Doc. 1 at 2-5) that he has been paying rent for seven years on a “dead man house” in Bullhead City and wants his money back. Plaintiff alleges that he is being threatened by family, has HIV, and wants money from this lawsuit to go to his children. Plaintiff alleges that Bullhead City has “close the college on me where I can't use computer today closes pain clinic where I can't get my pain pills for my H.I.V. and neck and back pain, shout [sic] down computer at Southwest Behavior where I can't seem [sic] out Email to any F.B.I., D.E.A. home Land sercuity [sic] or put in any other complaints against Bullhead City AZ.” In the second sworn letter attached to the Complaint form (Doc. 1 at 6-9), Plaintiff alleges that Bridget Wicks, a Nurse Practitioner at the Guidance Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, conducted an STD test on Plaintiff's blood despite his statement that he did not want to be tested. He alleges that Ms. Wicks violated his civil rights in doing so. Plaintiff further alleges that people are harassing him by saying he has HIV. In the third sworn letter (Doc. 1 at 9), Plaintiff requests the appointment of counsel. In the fourth unsworn letter (Doc. 1 at 10), Plaintiff alleges that an order of protection has been issued against Plaintiff at his address that indicates Plaintiff is a threat. Plaintiff asserts that the order means he can be killed by the police, and Plaintiff has notified the CIA, FBI, state and local authorities of the civil violation and crimes perpetrated against him. In the fifth unsworn document dated June 3, 2016 attached to the Complaint form (Doc. 1 at 11-12), Plaintiff states that an order of protection was served against him at his home in Bullhead City. The police required him to pack his belongings and leave. Finally, Plaintiff has attached multiple documents from Sonora Quest Laboratories, a letter from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a letter from the Arizona Department of Health Services, and copies of court papers from the Bullhead City Municipal Court in different case numbers (Doc. 1 at 13-22).

         Liberally construing the disjointed information presented to the Court, the Court assumes that Plaintiff attempts to bring a claim against Bullhead City under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a violation of Plaintiff's civil rights. To prevail in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must show that (1) acts by the defendant (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) (quoting Shoshone-Bannock Tribes v. Idaho Fish & Game Comm'n, 42 F.3d 1278, 1284 (9th Cir. 1994)). In addition, a plaintiff must allege that he suffered a specific injury as a result of the conduct of a particular defendant, and he 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). Determining whether an entity is subject to suit under § 1983 is the “same question posed in cases arising under the Fourteenth Amendment: is the alleged infringement of federal rights fairly attributable to the [government]?” Sutton v. Providence St. Joseph Med. Ctr., 192 F.3d 826, 835 (9th Cir. 1999) (citing Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830, 838 (1982)). For a court to answer this question in the affirmative, a plaintiff must show that two requirements are met: (1) the deprivation to the plaintiff by the entity “must result from a governmental policy, ” and (2) “the party charged with the deprivation must be a person who may fairly be said to be a [governmental] actor.” Id. Municipalities and other local governmental entities may be sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the acts of their officials only if a plaintiff can prove that the constitutional deprivation was the result of a custom or policy of the governmental entity. Monell v. Dept. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-691 (1978). A local government cannot be held liable for the acts of its employees under the theory of respondeat superior. Bd. Of County Comm'rs of Bryan County Okla. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997). Simply because a municipality employs a wrong-doing official does not create liability on behalf of the municipality.

         Here, the allegations in the Complaint do not meet the requirements of § 1983. The Complaint contains no allegations that the procedures used by Ms. Wicks are part of a governmental policy. Nor is sufficient information alleged for the Court to conclude that Ms. Wicks is a governmental actor. Finally, Plaintiff does not indicate what policy or custom Bullhead City has adopted and in what way Bullhead City has deprived Plaintiff of his civil rights. Accordingly, Plaintiff fails to allege a state action sufficient to raise a § 1983 claim. See Sutton, 192 F.3d at 836-43.

         The Court cannot discern any other federal claim based on Plaintiff's Complaint. The Court also does not find that the Complaint alleges any state law claim relying on diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiff has not alleged that his claim involves a controversy between citizens of different states. ...

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