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Edwards v. Vial Fortheringham, LLP

United States District Court, D. Oregon

April 17, 2018



          Michael H. Simon United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Stephen Edwards (“Plaintiff”) filed pro se claims against Defendant Vial Fortheringham, LLP (“Vial” or “Defendant”). The Court dismissed Plaintiff's first complaint sua sponte for failing to state a claim. Plaintiff filed an amended complaint. Plaintiff asserts claims for legal malpractice, fraud, and violations of the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations (“RICO”) Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1962.[1] Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff's claims, arguing that Plaintiff again fails to state a claim. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion is granted.


         A complaint fails to state a claim when there is no cognizable legal theory or the factual allegations are insufficient to support a claim for relief. Shroyer v. New Cingular Wireless Servs., Inc., 622 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2010). In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint's factual allegations, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded material facts alleged in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Wilson v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 668 F.3d 1136, 1140 (9th Cir. 2012); Daniels-Hall v. Nat'l Educ. Ass'n, 629 F.3d 992, 998 (9th Cir. 2010). But to be entitled to a presumption of truth, the complaint must do more than simply allege legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). The plaintiff “may not simply recite the elements of a cause of action, but must [provide] sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively.” Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011). The underlying factual allegations must “plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.” Baca, 652 F.3d at 1216 (emphasis added). “A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)).

         Pro se plaintiffs receive special dispensation. A court must liberally construe the filings of a pro se plaintiff and afford the plaintiff the benefit of any reasonable doubt. Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010). “A pro se litigant must be given leave to amend his or of Napa, 2015 WL 3919826, at *6 (N.D. Cal. June 25, 2015) (“Generally, private citizens do not have standing to initiate a federal criminal prosecution.”); Glassey v. Amano Corp., 2006 WL 889519, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 31, 2006), aff'd, 285 Fed.Appx. 426 (9th Cir. 2008) (“Private parties generally lack standing to enforce federal criminal statutes. Title 18 of the United States Code covers ‘Crimes and Criminal Procedure;' violations of provisions of specific sections of title 18 are typically prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's offices.”). It appears, however, that these statutes may be referenced as predicate crimes for Plaintiff's RICO claim, which is discussed below. her complaint unless it is absolutely clear that the deficiencies of the complaint could not be cured by amendment.” Karim-Panahi v. Los Angeles Police Dep't, 839 F.2d 621, 623 (9th Cir. 1988) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). But even a pro se plaintiff must offer more than “‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).


         Plaintiff's amended complaint is not particularly clear. It appears that Plaintiff had a dispute with a homeowner's association, The Lakewood Homeowner's Association (“Lakewood HOA”), of which Plaintiff is currently is or previously was a member. Plaintiff alleges that Lakewood HOA engaged in fraudulent conduct with respect to Plaintiff for more than two years and that Defendant was the law firm that represented Lakewood HOA. Plaintiff further alleges that there was some legal proceeding in the state of Arizona.

         Plaintiff alleges that an attorney practicing in the Arizona office of Vial, Mr. Quinten T. Cupps, “lied” to the courts in Arizona and asserts that Mr. Cupps should be disbarred. Plaintiff also alleges that his former attorney was “chased away” after being threatened by another attorney at Vial, and that the Arizona State Bar has not properly dealt with the various attorneys who work at Vial. Plaintiff further alleges that Vial worked for the Lakewood HOA Board of Directors (“Board”) and enabled the Board to “maintain a stance of dishonesty to homeowners” and to violate homeowners' rights by improperly passing rules and regulations. Plaintiff alleges that Vial's representation of Lakewood HOA was overzealous and not in the HOA's best interest. Plaintiff alleges that Vial corrupted the Board and Lakewood HOA's management company. Plaintiff further alleges that Vial can perpetuate its “conspiratorial scheme” on a national basis because it has offices in several states.

         Plaintiff alleges that Lakewood HOA charges unreasonable fees, that using a management company has resulted in increased fees, that the management company performs “sham services” at highly inflated fees, that Lakewood HOA refers disputes to the management company, that the management company then assesses more fees and fines on the homeowner, and that everything is turned over to Vial for legal enforcement, in a vicious circle. Plaintiff further alleges that there is a lien on his property, placed through “nefarious” circumstances, although he does not allege who placed the lien. It appears that it was Lakewood HOA.

         Plaintiff alleges that “Arizona, ” the Arizona state bar, FedEx, and the City of Phoenix are all co-conspirators with Vial. Plaintiff also alleges that his complaint “relates directly to the Mormon Way of Life and their unorthodox, bizarre and morally questionable values, customs and practices.”


         A. Legal Malpractice

         To state a claim for legal malpractice, a Plaintiff must allege the following basic elements: duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages. See Glaze v. Larsen, 207 Ariz. 26, 29, 83 P.3d 26, 29 (2004) (citing Phillips v. Clancy, 152 Ariz. 415, 418 (Ct. App. 1986)); see also Cecala v. Newman, 532 F.Supp.2d 1118, 134 (D. Ariz. 2007). Therefore, one alleging legal malpractice must allege “the existence of an attorney-client relationship which imposes a duty on the attorney to exercise that degree of skill, care, and knowledge commonly exercised by members of the profession.” Philips, 152 Ariz. at 418.

         The Court previously dismissed Plaintiff's legal malpractice claim because he failed to allege facts demonstrating an attorney-client relationship between Vial and himself. His allegations show an attorney-client relationship between Vial and Lakewood HOA or the Board, but not between Vial and ...

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