United States District Court, D. Oregon, Medford Division
OPINION & ORDER
AIKEN, United States District Judge
Chad Johnson seeks leave to proceed in forma
pauperis ("IFP") in this action. ECF No. 2.
For the reasons set forth below, this case is DISMISSED with
leave to amend. The Court shall defer ruling on Plaintiffs
IFP petition pending submission of an amended complaint.
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).
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 Ml
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
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
Complaint in this action is somewhat disjointed and lacks
sufficient factual allegations for the Court to form a clear
understanding of Johnson's claims. It appears that the
Oregon Department of Human Services ("DHS")
initiated some sort proceeding concerning the custody of
Johnson's son, presumably a juvenile dependency action,
but the proceeding was subsequently terminated. Compl. 5.
brings his claims against DHS pursuant to 42 U.S, C. §
1983, alleging violations of his Fourth, Fifth, and Twelfth
Amendment rights, apparently for actions taken by DHS during
the juvenile dependency proceeding. Johnson also invokes the
Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"), 42
U.S.C. § 2000bb et seq, as a basis for federal
question jurisdiction, but the Complaint contains no further
references to RFRA or any allegation that DHS burdened
Johnson's religious practice. Furthermore, the Supreme
Court has invalidated RFRA, holding that it was an
unconstitutional exercise of congressional power pursuant to
Section Five of the Fourteenth Amendment because of a
"lack of proportionality or congruence between the means
adopted and the legitimate end to be achieved." City
of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507, 532-36 (1997). In
light of City of Boerne, and in the absence of any
clear supporting factual allegations, the Court dismisses
Johnson's RFRA claim and confines its discussion to
Johnson's claims under §1983.
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).
this early stage, the Court notes two major issues with the
Complaint: (1) as a state agency, DHS is not a
"person" within the meaning of § 1983 and is
entitled to sovereign immunity; and (2) the Complaint lack
sufficient factual allegations for the Court to understand
the basis for Johnson's claims.
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),
. Congress has not abrogated state sovereign immunity in 42
U.S.C. § 1983. See Braunstein v. Ariz. Dep't of
Tramp., 683 F.3d 1177, 1188 (9th Cir. 2012). It is
similarly well settled that a state agency is entitled to
sovereign immunity from suit. P. R. Aqueduct & Sewer
Aitth. v. Metcalf, 506 U.S. 139, 144 (1993).
§ 1983 allows suits against state and local officials
who have violated federal law, but does not allow claims
against states or state agencies because they are not
"persons" within the meaning of § 1983.
Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S.
58, 71 (1989) (holding that "neither a State nor its
officials acting in their official capacity are
'persons' under § 1983."); Maldonado v.
Harris,370 F.3d 945, 951 (9th Cir. 2004) ("State
agencies . . . are not ...