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Salmons v. State

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Medford Division

August 8, 2017

JOHN SALMONS, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
THE STATE OF OREGON; DHS CHILD WELFARE DIVISION, MEDFORD BRANCH; STATE OF OREGON ATTORNEYS GENERALS OFFICE; THE CITY OF KLAMATH FALLS, OREGON; CARTER JONI COLLECTION AGENCY, LLC, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          MICHAEL MCSHANE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff John Salmons, Sr. seeks leave to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”) in this action. ECF No. 2. The State of Oregon, the Oregon Department of Human Services, and the Oregon Department of Justice (collectively “the State Defendants, ”) have filed a motion to dismiss. ECF No. 4. The Court notes the State Defendants' motion, but for purposes of procedural clarity the Court has opted to resolve Salmons's IFP petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         For the reasons set forth below, the Complaint, ECF No. 1, is DISMISSED with prejudice as to all claims against the State Defendants brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Complaint is DISMISSED with leave to amend as to Salmons's other claims.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Generally, all parties instituting any civil action in United States District Court must pay a statutory filing fee. 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a). However, the federal IFP statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1), provides indigent litigants an opportunity for meaningful access to federal courts despite their inability to pay the costs and fees associated with that access. To authorize a litigant to proceed IFP, a court must make two determinations. First, a court must determine whether the litigant is unable to pay the costs of commencing the action. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). Second, it must assess whether the action is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune to such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         In regard to the second of these determinations, district courts have the power under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) to screen complaints even before service of the complaint on the defendants, and must dismiss a complaint if it fails to state a claim. Courts apply the same standard under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) as when addressing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Watison v. Carter, 668 F.3d 1108, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012). To survive a motion to dismiss under the federal pleading standards, the complaint must include a short and plain statement of the claim and “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “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. The plausibility standard . . . asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. The court is not required to accept legal conclusions, unsupported by alleged facts, as true. Id.

         Pro se pleadings are held to less stringent standards than pleadings by attorneys. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972). That is, the court should construe pleadings by pro se plaintiffs liberally and afford the plaintiffs the benefit of any doubt. Karim-Panahi v. Los Angeles Police Dep't, 839 F.2d 621, 623 (9th Cir. 1988). Additionally, a pro se litigant is entitled to notice of the deficiencies in the complaint and the opportunity to amend, unless the complaint's deficiencies cannot be cured by amendment. Id.

         DISCUSSION

         The Complaint in this case is disjointed and difficult to read. It appears to assert claims against the State of Oregon, the Oregon Department of Human Services (“DHS”) and “State of Oregon Attorneys Generals Office, ” which the Court interprets as a claim against the Oregon Department of Justice (“DOJ”), for actions taken with regard to a state court juvenile dependency proceeding involving Salmons's children. Some, if not all, of these claims appear to assert claims for constitutional violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         The Complaint also brings claims against the City of Klamath Falls and the Carter Jones Collection Agency.[1] These claims relate to disputes over the payment of fines for municipal code violations and traffic tickets. The claims against the City of Klamath Falls and the Carter Jones Collection Agency do not appear to have any connection to the claims against the State Defendants.

         I. The State Defendants

         Salmons appears to bring his claims against the State Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 “provides a federal cause of action against any person who, acting under color of state law, deprives another of his federal rights.” Conn v. Gabbert, 526 U.S. 286, 290 (1999). To maintain a claim under § 1983, “a plaintiff must both (1) allege the deprivation of a right secured by the federal Constitution or statutory law, and (2) allege that the deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” Anderson v. Warner, 451 F.3d 1063, 1067 (9th Cir. 2006).

         A. Sovereign Immunity

         The Eleventh Amendment provides that a state is immune from suit in federal court unless Congress has abrogated the state's immunity by appropriate federal legislation or the state itself has waived it. Va. Office for Prot. & Advocacy v. Stewart, 563 U.S. 247, 253-54 (2011). It is similarly well settled that a state agency is entitled to sovereign immunity from suit. P. R. Aqueduct & Sewer Auth. v. Metcalf, 506 U.S. 139, 144 (1993). Congress has not abrogated state sovereign immunity in 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Braunstein v. Ariz. Dep't of Transp., 683 F.3d 1177, 1188 (9th Cir. 2012).

         To the extent that Salmons's claims against the State Defendants arise under § 1983, those claims are barred by sovereign immunity. This jurisdictional deficiency cannot be remedied by amendment and those claims are therefore dismissed with prejudice. The Court is mindful of the fact that pro se plaintiffs should be given the benefit of the doubt and so the Court will proceed to identify the other deficiencies in Salmons's Complaint. Salmons will also be given leave to restate his claims on some other basis, if he is able to do so.

         B. Standing

         “[S]tanding is an essential and unchanging part of the case-or-controversy requirement of Article III [of the United States Constitution].” Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992). “Standing addresses whether the plaintiff is the proper party to bring the matter to the court for adjudication.” Chandler v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 598 F.3d 1115, 1122 (9th Cir. 2010). At an “irreducible constitutional minimum, ” Article III standing “requires the party asserting the existence of federal court jurisdiction to establish three elements: (1) an injury in fact that is (a) concrete and particularize and (b) actual or imminent; (2) causation; and (3) a likelihood that a favorable decision will redress the injury.” Wolfson v. Brammer, 616 F.3d 1045, 1056 (9th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         In addition to these constitutional limitations on federal court jurisdiction, there are also prudential limitations on its exercise. Fleck & Assocs., Inc. v. City of Phoenix, 471 F.3d 1100, 1103-04 (9th Cir. 2006). The doctrine of prudential standing “restrict[s] the grounds a plaintiff may put forward in seeking to vindicate his personal stake.” Id. at 1104. Courts must consider, among other things, “whether the alleged injury is more than a mere generalized grievance, whether the plaintiff is asserting her own rights or the rights of third parties, and whether the claim in question falls within the zone of interests to be protected or regulated by the constitutional guarantee in question.” Wolfson, 616 F.3d at 1056 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “As a prudential matter, even ...


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