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Young v. Grensky

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Medford Division

October 30, 2017

RONALD D. GRENSKY, et al, Defendants.



         Plaintiff Ernie Young seeks to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP") in this action. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiffs Amended Complaint (#5) is dismissed without prejudice and with leave to refile a Second Amended Complaint within thirty days of this ruling. Plaintiffs IFP application (#2) is held in abeyance and will be considered when the amended complaint is filed.


         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 the 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 from 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 the 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, 520-521 (1972). That is, the court should construe pleadings by pro se plaintiffs liberally and afford the plaintiffs the benefits of any doubt. Karim-Panahi v. Los Angeles Police Dept, 839 F.2d 621, 623 (9th Cir. 1988) (citation omitted). 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.


         On October 16, 2017, Plaintiff Ernie Young filed a Complaint against six defendants, including a Jackson County Circuit Court judge, Hon. Ronald Grensky, a Jackson County Deputy District Attorney, Ben Lull, and three law enforcement officers from the Eagle Point Police Department, and one caseworker from Child Protective Services. There are plenty of factual allegations contained in the complaint, and all of them appear to arise out of a series of events and incidents involving domestic disputes with Plaintiffs ex-girlfriend or ex-wife ("Ex"), their children, and various law enforcement and court personnel. Many of Plaintiff s allegations involve violence or other actions taken by Plaintiffs "Ex" against him. Plaintiffs "Ex" is not a party to the case, however, and even if she were a party, it is unclear whether Plaintiff makes any cognizable legal claim against her. Many of the allegations Plaintiff asserts against law enforcement personnel seem to stem from Plaintiffs Ex - either her actions or her statements, which Plaintiff claims are false. For the reasons below, Plaintiffs case is dismissed without prejudice. Plaintiff may file a second amended complaint that complies with the federal pleading requirements, as long as that amended complaint cures the deficiencies identified below. Failure to do so could result in the dismissal of the case with prejudice.

         I. Judge Grensky is entitled to absolute judicial immunity.

         Judges and those performing judge-like functions are absolutely free from liability for damages for acts performed in their official capacities. Ashelman v. Pope, 793 F.2d 1072, 1075 (9th Cir. 1986) (en banc). Judicial immunity from claims for damages generally can be overcome only in two sets of circumstances. First, a judge is not immune from liability for non-judicial actions, i.e., actions not taken in the judge's judicial capacity. See Hyland v. Wonder, 117 F.3d 405, 413 n. 1 (9th Cir.1997) (holding that judge may lose protection of judicial immunity when performing administrative act). Second, a judge is not immune for actions, though judicial in nature, taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991). As long as the judge has jurisdiction to perform the "general act" in question, he or she is immune however erroneous the act may have been, however injurious the consequences of the act may have been, and irrespective of the judge's claimed motivation. Harvey v. Waldron, 210 F.3d 1008, 1012 (9th Cir.2000) (citing Cleavinger v. Saxner, 474 U.S. 193, 199-200 (1985)).

         In this case, Plaintiff does not allege that Judge Grensky took any actions outside of his judicial capacity. Indeed his main complaints against the judge include decisions made regarding a "fabricated restraining order" and other decisions regarding Plaintiffs disputes with his Ex, including child custody, conflicting testimony, and a denial of his own restraining order. None of these allegations meet the requirements to allow Plaintiff to bring a claim for damages against a judge. Therefore the claims against this defendant are dismissed.

         II. DDA Ben Lull is entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity.

         A prosecutor is absolutely immune when acting as an advocate for the state by engaging in conduct that is "intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process." Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430-31 (1976); see also Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, 555 U.S. 335 (2009). This means that "acts undertaken by a prosecutor in preparing for the initiation of judicial proceedings or for trial, and which occur in the course of his role as an advocate for the State, are entitled to the protection of absolute immunity." Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 273(1993).

         Prosecutors are not absolutely immune from liability for administrative actions or investigative functions not closely related to either trial preparation or the trial process. See, e.g., Hart v. Hodges,587 F.3d 1288 (11th Cir. 2009) cert, denied 130 S.Ct. 3389 (2010). Investigative functions include authorizing a warrantless wiretap in the interest of national security, Mitchell v. Forsyth, Ml U.S. 511, 520 (1985), and giving legal advice to police officers. Burns v. Reed,500 U.S. 478, 496 (1991). In such a capacity, a prosecutor would only be entitled to qualified immunity. By contrast, prosecutors have been held absolutely immune to carry out such advocacy actions as: deciding whether to prosecute; engaging in pretrial litigation activities concerning applications for arrest and search warrants, bail applications, and suppression motions, Simon v. City of N.Y.,727 F.3d 167, 171-74 (2d Cir. 2013); preparing for trial, including interviewing witnesses and evaluating evidence, Giraldo v. Kessler,694 F.3d 161, 167 (2d Cir. 2012); failing to turn over exculpatory material to defense, Warney v. Monroe Cnty.,587 F.3d 113, 120-26 (2d Cir. 2009), cert, denied,131 S.Ct. 82 (2010); plea bargaining; entering into release-dismissal agreement, Cady ...

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