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Johnson v. Brown

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Medford Division

May 15, 2018

CHAD JOHNSON, Plaintiff,

          OPINION & ORDER


         Plaintiff Chad Johnson seeks leave to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP") in this action. ECF No. 2. For the reasons set forth below, the Complaint, ECF No. 1, is DISMISSED with leave to amend. The Court shall defer ruling on Plaintiffs IFP petition pending submission of an amended complaint.


         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 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).

         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 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 Aft. 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, 520-21 (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.


         The Complaint in this case is disjointed and unclear. It appears that Plaintiff Chad Johnson was the subject of an investigation by the Oregon Department of Human Services ("DHS") and that some sort of state court proceeding was initiated against him, both of which related to custody of his son. It appears that one or both cases were ultimately dropped, dismissed, or otherwise terminated. See Compl. 6 ("I was also told this was a Circuit court case but that case was dismissed..." and "My lawyer said . ., that the case [was] dismissed because my wife complied with all orders."). Johnson appears to be complaining generally about the fact that DHS has not provided him with explicit instructions concerning custody of his son, although Johnson also alleges that his "lawyer said I must take a psycho sexual in order for DHS to be out of my life[.]" Compl. 6.

         The Complaint alleges violation of Johnson's Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as violations of Johnson's religious rights under 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-1.

         Title 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).

         I. Insufficient Factual Allegations

         The most serious problem with Johnson's Complaint is that it lacks sufficient facts for the Court to understand what has happened, other than in the most general terms. The Court is left to guess and infer what Johnson means by many of his allegations. For example, the Complaint does not describe the circumstances which led to DHS becoming involved in Johnson's family, nor does it clearly state the current status of that investigation. It is not clear whether Johnson's complaints stem from ongoing state proceedings, either judicial or administrative, a fact which might have important implications for this Court's ability to exercise jurisdiction over his case. [1]

         Johnson invokes his Fourth Amendment rights, but the section of the Complaint devoted to that issue does not clearly explain how Defendants transgressed those rights and instead complains more generally about the existence of DHS as a state agency. Johnson also invokes his Eighth Amendment rights, apparently for issues related to custody of his son, but it is not clear if Johnson has been convicted, charged with a crime, incarcerated, subjected to any sort of custodial detention. [2] Likewise, Johnson invokes his Fifth Amendment rights concerning the apparent requirement that he submit to a "psycho sexual, " but he does not explain what he means by that allegation, nor does it appear that any incriminating statements have been used to initiate or maintain a criminal proceeding against him. See Stoot v. City of Everett, 582 F.3d 910, 924-27 (9th Cir. 2009) (finding that a Fifth Amendment claim had "ripened" when a coerced confession was used to initiate and maintain a criminal case against the plaintiff); Farmer v. Youhas, 525 Fed.Appx. 547, 548 (9th Cir. 2013) (finding no Fifth Amendment claim when the plaintiffs incriminating statements were not used against him in a criminal proceeding); Ferry v. Doohan, No. 3:18-cv-00153-AC, 2018 WL 1173425, at *5 (D, Or. Mar. 6, 2018) ("[I]n the absence of criminal prosecution, Plaintiff cannot obtain damages under § 1983 for the alleged violation of his Fifth Amendment self-incrimination rights because no criminal charges have been pursued against him.").

         Without sufficient factual allegations, the Court's ability to assess the legal validity of Johnson's claims is limited. While this deficiency justifies dismissal, the ...

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