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Springer v. Hunt

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

July 11, 2017

RUTH-ANN SPRINGER, Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER BRIAN HUNT; SERGEANT WAKITA; SERGEANT TINGLE; OFFICER SHANE TRAVIS; OFFICER KENNETH ISHII; AND LORI HENBEST, Defendants.

          ORDER: (1) GRANTING APPLICATION TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS; (2) DISMISSING COMPLAINT IN PART; AND (3) DENYING REQUEST FOR TEMPORARY INJUNCTION

          J. Michael Seabright Chief United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On June 8, 2017, pro se Plaintiff Ruth Ann Springer (“Plaintiff”) filed a “Complaint for Violation of Civil Rights” (“Complaint”) against Hawaii County Police (“HCP”) Officer Brian Hunt (“Hunt”); HCP Sargent Wakita (“Wakita”); HCP Sargent Tingle (“Tingle”); HCP Officer Shane Travis (“Travis”); HCP Officer Kenneth Ishii (“Ishii”); realtor Lori Henbest (“Henbest”) (collectively, the “Eviction Defendants”); and State of Hawaii Judge Harry P. Freitas (“Judge Freitas”), [1] ECF No. 1, and an Application to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP Application”), ECF No. 4. On June 23, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Temporary Injunction. ECF No. 9. For the reasons discussed below, the IFP Application is GRANTED, the Complaint is DISMISSED in part for failure to state a claim, and the Motion for Temporary Injunction is DENIED.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Plaintiff's IFP Application Is Granted

         Plaintiff's IFP Application indicates that she receives $1, 071 per month in social security disability payments, expects to receive an unspecified amount in State of Hawaii public assistance payments (SNAP benefits), and has assets of $50 in a bank account and a 2007 Ford Focus. IFP Appl. ¶¶ 2-5. Plaintiff's monthly expenses include $110 for rent, $130 for a car loan, $89 for car insurance, $100 for gas, $40 for propane, $60 for water, $43 for Oceanic cable, $225 for electricity, $25 for “service animal meds, ” and $100 for food, for total monthly expenses of $922. Id. ¶ 6. Because Plaintiff has made the required showing under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 to proceed in forma pauperis (i.e., without prepayment of fees), the court GRANTS Plaintiff's IFP Application.

         B. The Complaint is Dismissed in Part

         1. The Complaint

         This action appears to arise from State of Hawaii foreclosure and eviction, and subsequent criminal proceedings. As alleged in the Complaint (which the court accepts as true in this Order), on January 15, 2016, the Eviction Defendants were involved in evicting Plaintiff from her home, on the Big Island of Hawaii, pursuant to an expired writ of possession. Compl. at 6 (“3 Officers, 2 Sargent's, [(sic)] and a Real-estate agent, using an old writ of possession that the statute of limitation had run out . . . took possession of my property.”). Hunt allegedly “took down the KAPU sign that was . . . protecting [Plaintiff] on her land.” Id. at 9. The Complaint further alleges that in conjunction with this action, Hunt arrested and finger-printed Plaintiff. Id. at 9, 10; see also Id. at 11 (“Officer Hunt made a personal decision to make it a criminal matter.”). Plaintiff was then detained, subject to bail. See Id. at 7 (“I was detained without my consent for violating a statute, I have just been kidnapped.”); see also Id. at 11 (“[T]he prosecutors and Sargent Wakita set the ransom for my liberty . . . [and state court] Judge Freitas confirmed the charges and the ransom[.]”).

         The Complaint alleges that during the course of Plaintiff's arrest:

Officer Hunt assaulted me . . . tearing my rotator cuff when he grabbed my right arm and jerked me up from where I was sitting. After hand-cuffing me, he picked me up by my hands that were cuffed behind my back, forcing me to bend my body in half to ease the pain in my shoulder joints. I begged him to stop hurting me and that I was not resisting arrest. . . . My arm has limits of motion that cannot be fixed. . . . Also, when Officer Hunt was finger-printing me, he grabbed at my fingers and squeezed hard. I complained because my fingers are very sore and hurt when touched because of my osteoarthritis disfiguration.

Id. at 9-10.

         Further, at some point during the eviction, Henbest “assaulted me by shoving [me] into the hall wall hard enough to knock the wind from me.” Id. at 10. The Complaint alleges that Henbest had the locks replaced on the home and removed Plaintiff's possessions. Id. “[B]anks and the real estate agent allegedly sold [Plaintiff's] home.” Id. at 9. Subsequently, “people were moved into my home and after the case was dismissed, my property was never returned.” Id. at 11.

         The Complaint alleges that all Defendants and a state prosecutor conspired to deprive Plaintiff of her rights. Id. at 5, 6, 7, 11. The remainder of the Complaint is filled with nonsensical opinions, assumptions, conclusory allegations, and pronouncements.[2] As a result of the foregoing, Plaintiff allegedly suffered severe mental anguish and depression, physical injuries, had a nervous breakdown, lost everything, and became homeless. Id. at 11, 12.

         The Complaint asserts 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against Judge Freitas, and the Eviction Defendants in their individual capacities only, [3] for violation of, and conspiracy to violate, Plaintiff's statutory and/or constitutional rights, particularly those protected by the Fourth Amendment. Id. at 4-7, 11.[4] The Complaint further asserts state-law tort claims. The Complaint seeks (1) compensatory damages for permanent injuries to Plaintiff's shoulder; (2) $1, 012, 500 from Judge Freitas (who allegedly presided over the criminal action); (3) $2, 785, 750.00 in compensatory damages for the lost property and the toll on Plaintiff's physical and health; (4) $6, 913, 002.00 in “actual material losses”; (5) $25, 000, 000.00 per violation (12 violations) of Plaintiff's rights protected by the United States and Hawaii constitutions;[5] and (6) the incarceration of all Defendants for five years, and forfeiture of all they own. Id.

         2. Standards of Review

         The court must subject each civil action commenced pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)[6] to mandatory screening, and order the dismissal of any claims it finds “frivolous, malicious, failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeking monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); see, e.g., Calhoun v. Stahl, 254 F.3d 845, 845 (9th Cir. 2001) (per curiam) (holding that “the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) are not limited to prisoners”); Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (stating that 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) “not only permits but requires” the court to sua sponte dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint that fails to state a claim).

         To state a claim, a pleading must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A complaint that lacks a cognizable legal theory or alleges insufficient facts under a cognizable legal theory fails to state a claim. See UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Shelter Capital Partners LLC, 718 F.3d 1006, 1014 (9th Cir. 2013) (citing Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990)). A plaintiff must allege “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to 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)); see also Weber v. Dep't of Veterans Affairs, 521 F.3d 1061, 1065 (9th Cir. 2008). This tenet -- that the court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in the complaint -- “is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         Plaintiff is appearing pro se; consequently, the court liberally construes the Complaint. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Eldridge v. Block, 832 F.2d 1132, 1137 (9th Cir. 1987) (per curiam). The court also recognizes that “[u]nless it is absolutely clear that no amendment can cure the defect . . . a pro se litigant is entitled to notice of the complaint's deficiencies and an opportunity to amend prior to dismissal of the action.” Lucas v. Dep't of Corr., 66 F.3d 245, 248 (9th Cir. 1995); see also Crowley v. Bannister, 734 F.3d 967, 977-78 (9th Cir. 2013). A court may, however, deny leave to amend where further amendment would be futile. See, e.g., Leadsinger, Inc. v. BMG Music Pub., 512 F.3d 522, 532 (9th Cir. 2008) (reiterating that a district court may deny leave to amend for, among other reasons, “repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed . . . [and] futility of amendment”).

         3. Application of Standards to Complaint

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants in their individual capacities, “a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); see OSU Student Alliance v. Ray, 699 F.3d 1053, 1061 (9th Cir. 2012). The second prong may be met with a showing of “state action.” Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., Inc., 457 U.S. 922, 935 n.18 (1982) (“[C]onduct satisfying the state-action requirement of the Fourteenth Amendment satisfies the statutory requirement of action under color of state law [under § 1983].”). This requirement “excludes from [§ 1983's] reach merely private conduct, no matter how discriminatory or wrongful.” Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 50 (1999) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Further, § 1983 requires an actual connection between a defendant's actions and a plaintiff's allegations. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 692 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 371 (1976). “A person ‘subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of section 1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made.” Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978). That is, to ...


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