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Hutchison v. State

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Medford Division

November 15, 2017

STATE OF OREGON, et al, Defendants.



         Plaintiff Nancy Hutchison seeks to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP") in this action. She has also filed a motion for pro bono counsel (#3). For the reasons stated below, Plaintiffs Complaint (#1) is dismissed without prejudice and with leave to refile an Amended Complaint within thirty days of this ruling. Plaintiffs motion for pro bono counsel (#3) is denied. 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 10, 2017, Plaintiff Nancy Hutchison filed a Complaint against ten defendants, including the State of Oregon, Curry County, a judge with the Oregon Circuit Court for Curry County, Hon. Cynthia Beaman, the Curry County Consortium of public defenders, and various others including Curry County Circuit Court personnel. There are plenty of factual allegations contained in the complaint; all of them appear to arise out of a series of events and incidents involving a noise complaint against Plaintiff that resulted in charges for disorderly conduct.

         Particularly, Plaintiff claims that the proceedings in state court regarding the charges against her violated her due process rights, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, and other constitutional rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The proceedings arose out of a citation for disorderly conduct issued by a Curry County Sheriffs Deputy. Plaintiff asserts that the citation misstated her name as "Nancy Lazaryan Hutchison, " and that the citation was improperly given to her because the equipment that created the complained-of noise did not belong to her, but to her employer, Life Ray. However, Plaintiff claims that she was not given the proper opportunity to present her defense to the charges because her attorney failed to adequately represent her, and the Court failed to adequately accommodate her respiratory disability. Plaintiff also asserts allegations regarding Judge Beaman's withdrawal and reissuance of a warrant altering the name of the defendant to Plaintiffs correct name and birthdate, which were misstated on a previous version of the warrant. She also claims that the warrant was improperly issued in the first place for failure to appear because she in fact did appear by telephone. Thus she claims she "stands in immediate peril of arrest for failing to appear." She claims that "a situation of extreme emergency is presented warranting the issuance of immediate injunctive relief." She has not, however, filed a motion for a preliminary injunction.

         The alleged facts and corresponding legal claims in this case are confusing and intertwined in a complicated fashion. It is clear to the Court, however, that most of them are not properly brought in federal court at this time. While the Court must leniently construe pro se pleadings, Plaintiff must still meet the federal pleading standards and cannot bring claims that are frivolous or facially barred. In order to properly inform Plaintiff of the deficiencies of her complaint, such that she may attempt to re-plead any claims that are not barred, the Court will address the claims as specifically as possible below.

         I. Judge Beaman 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 Beaman took any actions outside of her judicial capacity. Indeed her allegations against the judge include decisions made regarding the charges, a bench warrant for failure to appear, and scheduling decisions for courtroom proceedings. 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. Claims against all defendants arising out of substantive state courtproceedings are barred by the ...

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