Casavelli v. Johanson, No. CV-20-00497-PHX-JAT

CourtU.S. District Court — District of Arizona
Writing for the CourtJames A. Teilborg Senior United States District Judge
PartiesNicholas Casavelli, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Donna J Johanson, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date14 August 2020
Docket NumberNo. CV-20-00497-PHX-JAT

Nicholas Casavelli, et al., Plaintiffs,
Donna J Johanson, et al., Defendants.

No. CV-20-00497-PHX-JAT


August 14, 2020


Pending before the Court are three motions to dismiss, (Doc. 38; Doc. 61; Doc. 63), and Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to File 2nd Verified Amended Complaint (Doc. 68). Each motion is ripe. The Court now rules on the motions.1


In short, Plaintiffs claim that Defendants have conspired against them in a pending state court action in Maricopa County Superior Court. (Doc. 14). Defendants include the parties to that state court action, counsel, Maricopa County Superior Court judges, and a bank. (Id.). Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint (Doc. 14) asserts eight causes of action, includes 274 paragraphs of allegations that span fifty-nine pages, and cites to violations arising from over twenty sources of law, including the United States Constitution, the United States Code, and Arizona law. (Doc. 14). Since filing the Amended Complaint

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(Doc. 14), Plaintiffs have sought leave to amend and attached a proposed amended complaint that addresses some of the asserted defects raised by the motions to dismiss. (Doc. 68). This proposed complaint includes about 500 paragraphs of allegations and 100 pages. (Doc. 68-1).


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that a complaint include, among other things, "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This statement "need not contain detailed factual allegations; rather, it must plead 'enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Clemens v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 534 F.3d 1017, 1022 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Rule 8(a) "demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although a court must accept all factual allegations at the pleading stage, courts may not accept legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Id. at 678-79. As such, "threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements" are not sufficient to state a claim. Id. Indeed, the short and plain statement required by Rule 8(a) must "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (alteration in original) (citation omitted).

Further, "[e]ach allegation must be simple, concise, and direct." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(d)(1); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(b) ("A party must state its claims or defenses in numbered paragraphs, each limited as far as practicable to a single set of circumstances."). "Where a complaint contains the factual elements of a cause, but those elements are scattered throughout the complaint without any meaningful organization, the complaint does not set forth a 'short and plain statement of the claim' for purposes of Rule 8." Chagolla v. Vullo, No. CV-17-01811-PHX-SPL, 2018 WL 10602297, at *2 (D. Ariz. Mar. 30, 2018) (citing Sparling v. Hoffman Constr. Co., 864 F.2d 635, 640 (9th Cir. 1988)).

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A complaint may be dismissed where it "fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). All facts are read in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Shwarz v. United States, 234 F.3d 428, 435 (9th Cir. 2000). Moreover, a pro se litigant's pleadings must be liberally construed. See Blaisdell v. Frappiea, 729 F.3d 1237, 1241 (9th Cir. 2013). But the liberal construction owed to pro se pleadings is not a form of immunity from the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, including federal pleading requirements. Ghazali v. Moran, 46 F.3d 52, 54 (9th Cir. 1995).

When the complaint does not state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the next inquiry is whether amendment can cure the defect. See Lacey v. Maricopa County, 693 F.3d 896, 926 (9th Cir. 2012) (en banc); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2) (providing that courts should "freely give leave [to amend] when justice so requires"). Rule 15(a)(2) establishes a "policy favoring liberal amendment." Verizon Del., Inc. v. Covad Commc'ns Co., 377 F.3d 1081, 1091 (9th Cir. 2004). Nonetheless, leave to amend should be denied if amendment would be futile. See Airs Aromatics, LLC v. Op. Victoria's Secret Stores Brand Mgmt., Inc., 744 F.3d 595, 600 (9th Cir. 2014).


The Amended Complaint includes eight causes of action. (Doc. 14). Defendants seek dismissal of all of them. (Doc. 38; Doc. 61; Doc. 63). As will be discussed, Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint (Doc. 14) fails to meet federal pleading standards as it constitutes an impermissible "shotgun pleading." Plaintiffs articulate a host of claims and present myriad allegations often without clearly indicating which of the Defendants did exactly what to harm them. See Chagolla, 2018 WL 10602297, at *2. Nevertheless, there are certain claims that the Court is able to specifically address. The Court will now take those claims in turn before pivoting to the global issues within the Amended Complaint (Doc. 14).

a. Count Three: Court-Created Danger

Plaintiffs assert claims against Defendants for "court-created danger" under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 14 at 39). The central allegation is that Defendant Flores, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge, held a hearing on March 11, 2020 in the underlying state

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court action in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Id. at 39-40). Plaintiffs identify no constitutional or federal statutory right infringed as a result of holding a court hearing during a pandemic. The Court is aware of none either. While the Court will dismiss this claim, it will give Plaintiffs leave to amend.2 However, Plaintiffs must establish a particular federal right—either constitutional or statutory—that was infringed by holding a hearing on March 11, 2020. Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 700 (1976). A vague reference to due process or other constitutional rights will not do. See id. at 701 (asserting that there is no right under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment "to be free of injury wherever the State may be characterized as the tortfeasor"); (cf. Doc. 14 at 39 ("[T]he acts of Defendants, their employees and agents, have created a danger for Plaintiffs by exposing them to the deadly COVID-19 virus without adequate protection or just cause[] [w]ith the sole purpose to violate plaintiffs' civil rights.")). Plaintiffs' claims for court-created danger are dismissed without prejudice.

b. Count Four: Document Fraud

Plaintiffs' fourth cause of action appears to center on what they call "document fraud." (Doc. 14 at 40). Plaintiffs cite a litany of sources underlying their right to relief for this cause of action. (Id.).

Plaintiffs assert that this alleged document fraud violates their constitutional rights, specifically the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Thus, Plaintiffs claim that Defendants violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Their constitutional claims and their claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for document fraud are dismissed as Plaintiffs do not sufficiently establish factual allegations that show a plausible violation of the First, Fourth, or Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Plaintiffs do not specifically explain how this alleged document fraud infringes on any of their federal constitutional or statutory rights. Paul, 424 U.S. at 700-01. If Plaintiffs choose to refile based on this cause of action, Plaintiffs must specifically allege how their federal constitutional or statutory rights were violated by alleged document fraud. If they fail to do

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so, their document fraud claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 will be subject to dismissal with prejudice.

Plaintiffs' claims under 18 U.S.C. § 241 fail as 18 U.S.C. § 241 provides no private right of action. See Allen v. Gold Country Casino, 464 F.3d 1044, 1048 (9th Cir. 2006). Indeed, Plaintiffs note they intended to omit any reference to 18 U.S.C. § 241. (Doc. 53 at 7). Their document fraud claims under 18 U.S.C. § 241 are dismissed with prejudice as a result.

Plaintiffs' claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 are not factually developed at all, which subjects them to dismissal as well. In fact, it is not even clear which subsection Plaintiffs invoke. Briefly, the Court notes that Plaintiffs have not stated a claim under any subsection of 42 U.S.C. § 1985. Plaintiffs have not stated a claim under subsection (1) as they have not alleged that they are federal officers or federal officeholders. Whitehorn v. F.C.C., 235 F. Supp. 2d 1092, 1101 (D. Nev. 2002). Plaintiffs' document fraud claims fail under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(2) as well. Subsection (2) provides a cause of action under two scenarios. The first scenario is where a conspiracy "deter[s,] by force, intimidation, or threat[,] a party or witness in federal court." See Bagley v. CMC Real Estate Corp., 923 F.2d 758, 763 (9th Cir. 1991) (citation omitted). Plaintiffs' allegations do not support such a claim here. The other scenario prohibited by 42 U.S.C. § 1985(2) occurs where a conspiracy, motivated by class-based animus, "obstruct[s] the due course of justice in any State or Territory with intent to deny equal protection." See Bagley, 923 F.2d at 763. There are no allegations of class-based animus here, so any claim under subsection (2) also fails. Finally, a plaintiff asserting a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) must show a conspiracy, again motivated by class-based animus, to deprive the plaintiff of equal protection of the laws. Sever v. Alaska Pulp Corp., 978 F.2d 1529, 1536 (9th Cir. 1992). Plaintiffs do not state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) for document fraud as Plaintiffs did not allege any facts relating to class-based animus. Plaintiffs' document fraud claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 are dismissed, but the Court gives Plaintiffs...

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