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Laird v. United States

United States District Court, D. Oregon

December 6, 2017

DAVID LAIRD, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES, Defendant.

          ORDER

          JOLIE A. RUSSO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pro se plaintiff, David Laird, initiated this action in small claims court in Douglas County, Oregon, against defendant, the United States. The government removed to this court on June 30, 2017.[1] Plaintiff appears to allege two claims for relief arising out of his interaction with Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) concerning his mining claim in Douglas County. The first claim concerns an alleged “unintentional trespass” by a BLM Law Enforcement Officer, and the second claim is for an alleged theft of property by BLM Law Enforcement Officer Gregory Filer. The government moves to dismiss on several grounds.

         The threadbare allegations of the complaint fail to state a claim. Due to the complaint's deficiencies, the Court cannot adequately determine at this point if a claim exists for any alleged “unintentional trespass” or theft.[2] Accordingly, plaintiff shall have 30 days to file an amended complaint to cure the deficiencies noted below.

         I. STANDARDS

         A complaint must comply with the pleading requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) requires a complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief.” However,

[w]hile a complaint . . . does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the “grounds” of his “entitle[ment] to relief” requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do, see Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 268, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986) (on a motion to dismiss, courts “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation”). Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . .

Bell Atlantic Corp, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted). Moreover, the Supreme Court has emphasized that, when assessing the sufficiency of any civil complaint, a court must distinguish factual contentions-which allege behavior on the part of the defendant that, if true, would satisfy one or more elements of the claim asserted-and “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements.” Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678. In short, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Id.

         In determining the sufficiency of a pro se complaint, the court must be mindful to construe it liberally in favor of the plaintiff. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); see also Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007) (in assessing whether a complaint fails to plead a claim, the court must accept all factual allegations as true); Cahhill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 337-38 (9th Cir. 1996) (allegations of material fact are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to plaintiff).

         Where a complaint can be remedied by an amendment, a district court may not dismiss the complaint with prejudice, but must permit the amendment. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 34 (1992).

         II. DISCUSSION

         It is important to note, “[a]bsent a waiver of sovereign immunity, the United States and its agencies are immune from suit.” Beltran v. United States, 2015 WL 7722414, *2 (D. Or. Nov. 30, 2015) (citing F.D.I.C. v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994); Loeffler v. Frank, 486 U.S. 549, 554 (1988)). However, limited waivers of sovereign immunity exist, such as in a Bivens or a Federal Torts Claim Act (“FTCA”) action. See Carlson v. Green, 446 U.S. 14, 18 (1980) (“Bivens established that the victims of a constitutional violation by a federal agent have a right to recover damages against the official in federal court despite the absence of any statute conferring such a right”); 28 U.S.C. 1346(b)(1). Plaintiff has not pleaded a specific cause of action in his complaint, thus dismissal is required and waiver of sovereign immunity cannot be assessed. However, an amendment to allege a Bivens or FTCA claim may remedy this deficiency.

         A. Bivens Action

         Plaintiff cannot allege a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim here - as “[f]ederal officers acting under federal authority, are immune from suit under section 1983.” See Gibson v. United States, 781 F.2d 1334, 1343 (9th Cir.1986). However, a Bivens action may seek to hold federal officers individually liable for constitutional violations. Mendia v. Garcia, 165 F.Supp.3d 861, 880 (N.D. Cal. 2016). Although it is “more limited in some respects, ” a Bivens action is the “federal analog” to a section 1983 action against state or local officials. Hartman v. Moore, 547 U.S. 250, 254 n.2 (2006). “Bivens does not provide a means of cutting through the sovereign immunity of the United States itself;” rather, it “is a remedy recoverable against individuals.” Beltran, 2015 WL 7722414 at *3 (citing Carlson v. Green, 446 U.S. at 21) (internal quotes omitted).

“To establish liability under Bivens, a plaintiff must show: (1) . . . a person acting under color of law committed the conduct at issue; and (2) . . . the conduct deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity protected by the ...

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